by Christin Eigenmann
Switzerland is my home country; it is where I grew up and spent most of my life. And yes, Switzerland is beautiful, Switzerland is literally ‘perfect’. Everything works out perfectly, even the trains leave exactly the minute they were scheduled. Everything is perfectly organized, from the cities to the villages, even the green hills and mountains with its many hike paths. Everything is clean, perfectly clean. Even the forests are cleaned up. There are even rules on how to tie together your old newspapers for the recycling van the next morning.
Climate change? Climate crisis? Sure, I read about it on a regular basis in the local newspapers, heard about it on the news. There were photos of people demonstrating from time to time, I thought they exaggerated a bit, probably eco-nerds again. We had just bought a small condo which was fully energy net zero, we were using public transport most of the time. We were doing fine. No need to demonstrate, right?
When skiing in winter I had noticed that the glaciers in our Swiss mountains were shrinking, but they had always done so. Snow at Christmas was becoming a rare sight, but we mostly had snow for our skiing vacation in February. I did hear about the urgency of reducing our carbon emissions, but it was mainly background noise in my very busy life.
And nobody around me seemed to be particularly alarmed, politicians were shaking the topic off, the climate protocol was not really advancing, so why bother? My brain did know about climate change. But my heart did not understand.
And then, two years ago, we, 2 adults and 3 elementary school aged kids, moved from Switzerland to Hingham MA, U.S.
Hingham is a community at the coast and there is abundant nature all around it, from parks, to forests, to marshlands to river deltas to close by Cape Cod. Around our house there was half a forest, or at least that is how it felt at first. We awed at the bunnies, squirrels, turkeys, hawks and chipmunks right from our living room window. And with no big schedule next to work and school yet we spent a lot of time outside, in nature. Spontaneously I started visiting Nantasket beach on a weekly basis. It was like the ocean was an invisible force drawing me there, wanting me to know more. After these walks, I always felt calm and rooted. And I started feeling a deep connection to nature, to all the living things, to the earth. It probably had always been there but had been reduced to a background whisper, drowned by the busy everyday life in the city.
I started taking photos of nature with my phone. And I started seeing. The beauty of nature, its uniqueness but also its vulnerability. And I started feeling. The strong winds when the North Eastern storms passed, the fear of nature’s power. News about warming oceans, acidification of the water, sea level rises, erosion, the near extinction of the North Atlantic Right whales and the 6th mass extinction were suddenly not only news anymore but incidents which became very personal and tangible.
Still, it was only in January 2020, one late evening when reading Ocean Country from Liz Cunningham when the reality of the climate crisis sank in in its entirety. I was speechless. So much destruction, so many plant and animal species already extinct. So much to do and so little time left to stop the warming. It was not the far future we were talking about; we were talking about right now. Ten years. Time until 2030 to limit the temperature increase. This was about us and about our children. And their children. They did not choose to come to this world, we did. It was not their responsibility that the planet was in the state it was when they were born, it was ours. Our responsibility as well to make sure they were safe. Our responsibility to leave them a legacy worth living on. Looking at my three young children and the timeframes it struck me like lightning: they were going to be alive for this! I felt deeply sad, overwhelmed and paralyzed.
And then I started feeling angry and impatient. Angry at myself for not having realized these connections any earlier, for not having tried to prevent any of this any harder. For having been oblivious to the destruction caused by mankind and for having numbed myself all these years. Impatient at my surroundings for continuing to lead their life as if nothing major was happening at all.
But out of this anger and this impatience emerged a strong desire to do something. To use the scarce time. And to make more people truly see.
Make them see that our personal well-being is not enough anymore. That this is not about us anymore. That this is about planet earth. And that planet earth is our home. And home matters. It is what we share and take care of.
Make them see as well that despite the global path of devastation, there is still so much that can be saved. We are not done yet: this is not over!