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Alison Schweichler: Son’s birth inspires me to look at big picture

Having a baby last summer has made me reminisce about my own mother and wonder what she would think about some of the issues facing her first grandchild, now a lively, expressive 8-month-old boy.

If she heard about the threat of fracking looming over our region, I’m sure she would think it was an idea created by a mad scientist – forcing water into the ground to break up ancient rocks and collect gas, leaking methane into our atmosphere, and leaving behind poisonous water whose true toxic chemical content is known only by a select few, already threatening the safety of water supplies.

I think with a danger like this so close by, she would want me to move from just telling my son about threats to our planet, to taking action to protect it.

My son may not say much yet, but like most babies, he can communicate a lot about what he wants by his grunts, smiles and where his gaze is drawn to. I love the intensity of his stare when he looks around outside. I’ve realized that I never really knew what a tree looked like until I watched this brand-new person grab at a branch and furrow his eyebrows at it.

He examines sharp blades of grass, reaches out to touch piles of dirt and seems to count with his eyes each cloud that floats above us. He’s making me take inventory of the simple beauty of my back yard, but he also has me thinking about the big picture of the state of the planet he joined.

If fracking is allowed to occur, I can’t help but wonder what the climate and environment will be like for him when he’s my age. He has entered a dramatic battle he didn’t ask for: humans and their fossil fuels versus a stable climate and access to clean drinking water.

The planet wasn’t in such great shape in my childhood either, but the attacks on our atmosphere in those days could at least be written off to ignorance. My mother used to tell me she worried about what the future held for our planet, but a lot of her concerns had to do with the extinction of species and poisons in the atmosphere.

People once chose to ignore these issues, but as hurricanes, powerful snowstorms and frightening droughts become more common, that is rapidly changing. In the past, people who worried about landfills were told things would be OK because we were doing more recycling. If there was worry about air pollution, they were reassured that cars were becoming more efficient.

Unfortunately, it seems as if new environmental threats like fracking are more frightening and bizarre than those of the past.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I hope that when my son is old enough to ask me about types of trees and the different shapes of clouds in sky, I’ll be able to tell him that we as adults are doing everything we can to leave him the healthiest planet possible, so he can continue his focused, careless gaze at the sky.

If my mother were here, I’m sure she would remind me that things only change when we all step up and take action. If our citizens get involved, we can demand that our elected officials protect future generations by prohibiting fracking throughout Erie County and New York State.

Then, we’ll be a little closer to leaving behind a healthy planet for all of our kids.

Alison L. Schweichler, who lives in Lancaster, is a licensed clinical social worker, nature lover and activist.