I must have been sixteen, sitting in the local movie theatre with my best friends C_ and B_, watching the very first Muppet Movie. Our generation didn’t grow up with Sesame Street but it was a close thing: I would have been seven years old when Kermit the Frog, Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird first made their debut on our black-and-white television screen back in November 1969.
And a few years later, here he was; our beloved Kermit, sitting on a log in a swamp, playing the banjo on the big screen of our local movie theatre, still speaking (and singing) with Jim Henson’s dear and familiar voice. It remains one of the sweetest songs I have ever heard. My friends and I glanced over at one another with sentimental, goofy grins on our faces and then back at that huge movie screen, our eyes shining with tears and our faces rapt with attention. It is one of the loveliest memories of my teens.
Not long after, I entered young adulthood and lost touch with the Muppets for a good many years. By the time my children were born and watching Sesame Street themselves, Jim Henson had passed away and Kermit’s voice had changed a bit. While that always made me a wee bit sad, it didn’t bother either of my children, who loved Kermit every bit as much as I ever had.
Like all adults, my working years were busy ones for me. I did try to be present to the world around me; I did try to pay attention; but, well, as the song goes, ‘there were planes to catch and bills to pay’ and – driven by my own worries – I barely glanced up as the world changed around me. So many of those years come back to me in the form of a television newsreel: the night the Berlin Wall came tumbling down; a lone man looking tiny and fragile as he stood like a sentinel in a square called Tienanmen to face down an army of tanks; the twin towers in New York crumbling before the horrified eyes of millions of people glued – just like me – to their television screens.
There is so much that I tuned out, though. Greenpeace and David Susuki – and so many others – warning us of the dangers of global warming and species extinctions and our overuse of everything from natural resources to plastic. Oh, I did my best: I recycled my plastic and I returned my returnable bottles. But mostly, I kept my head down and doggedly went about the business of raising my children and earning a salary, oblivious to the dangers the Earth was in.
Very recently, I finally opened my eyes. I began reading a large and impressive variety of renowned and credible books and scientific reports. The horror I found there was every bit as riveting as any Stephen King book I have ever picked up. I discovered that I won’t be able to stop reading until I have heard every last, awful detail.
I learned with horror that in the decades since I sat in that theatre way back in the 70s and watched Kermit play that banjo and sing that sweet song, 50% of all plant species and 50% of all animal species on this earthly home of ours have gone extinct. Since my several-times-great-grandparents participated in that world-changing time known as the Industrial Revolution, human beings have burned so many fossil fuels that the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere, as of 2018, is the highest it has been in 3 million years. Seventeen of the warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000. Scientists all over the world are banding together to confirm that the climate change we are now witnessing is worldwide: destructive flooding, monster storms and devastating forest fires are not only here to stay; such events will get worse. And throughout all of this mayhem, our government ‘leaders’ have bowed their heads in worship and obedience to the big corporations that plunder and pillage at will.
The result is that in the decades since I watched Kermit strum his little banjo in the middle of a verdant swamp, the filthy rich have become the obscenely rich and the poor and middle class have been getting progressively poorer.
And ever more compliant.
Somehow, though, nothing has hit me harder than learning recently that the frogs and other amphibians that have lived on this earth for hundreds of millions of years are gradually going extinct. It started in the Amazon (the only remaining Amazonian frogs are being raised in captivity because they will die if released) and is working its way north. It has crossed oceans to invade Italy, Spain, Switzerland, France, Australia and New Zealand. While it is a fungus that is killing them, scientists strongly suspect that human activity lies at the root of the problem. I won’t cite all the science here – it’s easy for the reader to do a search which will yield all kinds of credible information.
I didn’t want to see it, but at our worst, we humans are a destructive, greedy, voracious, invasive species. There is no such thing as ‘enough’ for our kind. And it’s not like we didn’t know. Scientists and climate activists have been warning us for decades. I am ashamed that I – like so many others – didn’t pay closer attention to them.
And oh, a part of me wishes I hadn’t opened my eyes. But I cannot sit back now and pretend I do not see the destruction. Now that I am aware, I am beholden to the generations that came after me to do something, even though I fear anything any of us will do is now too little, too late.
I’m glad that Jim Henson immortalized Kermit on the big screen. And I’m relieved he didn’t live to see the extinction of Kermit’s kind.
I can’t help but think that it would have broken his heart…
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com