2023, Senior, Creative Writing
Climate Hero: Rose Abramoff
Does the persecuted scientist exist outside of history books? The lone defender of a lonelier truth, ousted from institutions and ostracized by their peers. She thought it was a thing of the distant past – Galileo on trial; gallant, futile, regretting nothing. She knew better now.
She knew better at the moment that she was asked to leave the conference she was presenting at, all for calling to action her colleagues. Wake them up, wake them up to our dying planet. No one listened.
No one listened when they pushed her out on to the streets (“Ms. Abramoff. Ms. Abramoff, we’re afraid we must ask you to leave”). No one listened when her superiors fired her (“misuse of government resources, Ms. Abramoff. Simply unacceptable”). Which was just as well, because what was the point of being an earth scientist if all she could do was to see with more clarity than those around her that the planet was dying? What was the point if she could only stand quietly, turning into data and spreadsheets the melting permafrost of the Alaskan plains, writing dutiful report after dutiful report that gathered dust.
The January wind bit hard and cold into her skin as she hurried down the deserted afternoon streets (Global warming is an expensive hoax! Thank you, Mr. Trump). She wrapped her coat tighter around herself and thought of the time she had chained herself to the gate of the White House. The first chain around her waist she locked herself; then they undid it and cuffed her wrists. It was irony, such sweet, sweet, irony, that she should be her most empowered when she stood in chains. But she remembered that little girl watching her with open admiration on her face, and knew that she had won a hard-won battle that day.
Then she thought of bread. The bread that she must still put on the table after Oakridge fired her. Not that she had not thought of it before – she had known that there would be opposition and retaliation from those who wished to profit, to keep their jobs, to keep their heads buried in the sand, but that had not precluded her from serving the cause. Because I can’t sit there anymore. I can’t sit there and watch the world burn and know better than anyone else that it is burning and do nothing. I can’t.
The apartment was dark when she put her keys back into her pocket. She shuddered at the blast of cold air that followed her inside and slammed the door shut behind her. Reached out to turn on the heater. Stopped. She saw the cat giving her a disgruntled look from where it was curled up on the sofa (“Sorry, Miss Kitty. But I see you’ve hogged the blankets already”), and turned to go into the kitchen instead to answer her ringing phone.
“Hey, Rose. Heard about your job. Are you alright?”
“Of course I am.” She put the kettle on boil and reached for a box of tea, adjusting the way the phone was positioned on her shoulder. “I had half a mind to leave that place anyway after what they did.”
“Mm. Well, give me a call if you want to get a drink or something.”
“Thanks, Elle.” She hung up. The cat had slinked through the kitchen door and was watching her from behind the cupboard. She sighed and scooped it up into her arms, scratching it absentmindedly behind the ears. “What do you say, Miss Kitty? Is activism overrated? Is our fight futile? What is the point of all of this?”
The cat said nothing.
The next morning brought a phone call from the New York Times, asking her to write a guest piece.
That had been four hours ago. A Word document sat on her computer now, blank. She had spent the better part of the day pacing her floor in rage – how dare they fire her for speaking the truth –and when that rage had worn itself out, she lay on her bed in resignation. All the repressed emotions from the day before had come sizzling to the surface, and she let it wash over her like a tide. She was a coral, dying from its acid, unable to move.
Here’s your chance. Here’s your chance to tell the world that they need to do something, your chance to make them listen. Why aren’t you doing anything?
How do you save someone who doesn’t want to be saved?
She rolled over so that she was facing her desk. The blank page stared back at her, silent and accusing.
Hours passed – or perhaps entire days, she would have no way of knowing – before the doorbell rang. She dragged herself to the front door. It swung open to reveal Peter, bright-eyed and excited the way he always was. As though they were in the middle of summer.
“Private jets,” he said, the moment he saw her. “We need to ban those bastards. The march is on Thursday. You in?”
She hesitated for only a single moment. “Of course I am.”
“You’re a hero, Rose. What you pulled off that day at the conference? People are too afraid to say anything, but they support you. We just have to show them that they have nothing to be afraid of. Or at least they should be less afraid of retribution than climate change.”
Evening. She sat down at her desk and began typing.
Shortly after the new year, I was fired from Oak Ridge National Laboratory after urging fellow scientists to take action on climate change.
She was. That was precisely what had happened – they, an institution of truth, had exiled her for speaking it.
I am the first earth scientist I know of to be fired for climate activism. I fear I will not be the last.
It was midnight when she looked up again, pulled from her work by a flurry of white kissing her windowpanes.
“Look, Miss Kitty,” she whispered to the cat, who had curled up in the middle of the bed. “It’s snowing.”
I came across Rose Abramoff's piece in the New York Times quite by accident one day, and was immediately inspired by her work. I went for an introspective, stream-of-consciousness style of writing in hopes of capturing the duality of empowerment and futility that climate activism entails. Climate change is a topic I have been following for a very long time, and while I do try to live a sustainable lifestyle as much as possible (recycling, public transportation), none of it seems to be doing the world any good on a grander scale. Writing this story has helped me put some of this anxiety into perspective.