By Kermit Hovey

My father died recently. Actually, it’s hard to believe it’s almost two months ago now — September 10, 2022, to be exact. If things had gone differently, might he still be alive today? It’s hard to say. He was 89 years old. He ran a good long race and lived a good long life.

At the same time, it seemed to be an abrupt and shockingly fast descent to his demise. In seemingly pretty good shape for the shape he was in, he sat with my wife Diana, sister Carol, and me at his dining room table for supper a week earlier to the day. He complained of fatigue and declared his intention to exercise more.

He shared stories of how his last employment as a quality control inspector had given him rewarding work while not winning him any popularity contests. As official bearer of bad news, he had to let people know when they weren’t doing what was needed to satisfy customers and stay in business. Management, engineers, technicians, and machine operators to varying degrees then got involved to make things right.

Ironically, when his body began to deliver bad news to him in the days after our visit, he refused to consider taking corrective action. He declined to be seen by any health care professionals — doctors, nurses, paramedics, or the like. As engineers and technicians of the human body, they might have been able to make things right, at least for a season. Sadly, yet perhaps all too understandably, he chose not to give them that chance.

I empathize with him, even as I grieve. It’s hard to estimate the odds for successful medical intervention, especially when peering into the foggy future of declining health. In the case of one’s own aging and eventual death, it becomes all the more individual, personal, and incalculable. Yet choose we must, and choose my father did.

He apparently considered the risks of submitting himself to the health care system’s interventions unacceptably greater than the risk of declining health and death. The system, however, granted him that right and freedom to choose. And choose he did, despite the entreaties and efforts of his children.

Things might have gone differently, but my dad did not give them a chance to do so. Not all that surprisingly, they didn’t.

All of this brings me to last week’s “visit” with our shared and metaphorical mother, Mother Earth. This visit, on the one hand, revealed a mother in pretty good shape for the shape she is in. On the other hand, it revealed a prognosis for a potentially abrupt and shockingly fast descent to a demise. Technically, this demise will not be of Mom herself, however. Mom as a planet will continue and life as broadly expressed will continue. Unfortunately, for us it will be personally devastating as Mom increasingly finds herself unable to take care of us and other life on this planet in the manner we humans need to survive and thrive.

By “visit,” I refer to multiple reports released last week describing declining indicators and deteriorating symptoms of good health for a livable Mother Earth. One, from the World Meteorological Organization, details how increases in emissions, especially methane, have hit new highs. Another, the Emissions Gap Report 2022 from the UN Environment Programme, describes how the international community is falling far short of meeting the goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid climate disaster. The third, from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, reveals that nations are falling far short of setting the goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid climate disaster.

Illness, death, and reminders of mortality are uncomfortable. Yet human life requires us to be aware of these if we are to stay alive and thrive. Ideally, we need to confront them seriously, then choose and act. If we don’t, we will still act — even if by inaction.

My father was responsible for his choices about his situation and life, as was his right. We likewise need to recognize and take responsibility for our choices about Mother Earth’s situation and life. While these choices are many, selecting our political leaders looms especially large this week.

We are in the process of momentous midterm elections that will settle control of the U.S. House and Senate as well as many other offices. All the early voting and mail-in balloting will culminate with final ballots on election day, November 8.

We need to choose and support political leaders at every level of government who recognize our Mother Earth’s precarious health. They need to own the reality of the climate crisis, its seriousness and human cause, and the fact that we can do something about it.

For the progress we need for a livable Mother Earth, we need to support such leaders.

Vote to get them in office, call and encourage them once they are elected. By doing so, we can choose to live and thrive as we give things a chance to go differently!

Kermit Hovey is a Climate Steward, Citizens’ Climate Lobbyist, Wisconsin Creation Care Ambassador, Climate Advocate, and Middleton Sustainability Committee Member.

An earlier version of this post appeared in the Middleton Times Tribune.