2018, High School, Prose
Sometimes I wish I lived in a world with superheroes. In a world so complex and multifaceted and confusing, it’s nice to relax into the comfortable predictability of a world with ruggedly handsome saviors in epic costumes and super-human strength to swoop in to save the day. There is something especially therapeutic of living in a world that simple – a world where good guys wear tight red costumes and the villains speak in deep voices and cackle maliciously.
This Technicolor world of fistfights and superpowers was always there to envelope me when the news screamed of political controversy, or when unimaginably sad tragedies flooded my Twitter feed. In my most cynical hours, I yearned for a world where handsome and strong strangers stood up to save the world, so assured in their moral compass that there was no time to hesitate, no need to sit back and hem and haw or internally debate for hours.
We didn’t have that here. In my world, even the strongest political powerhouses held secret agendas and hid clandestine scandals that would disappoint us all. In a world post #MeToo, post the election of 2016, post unspeakable gun violence that shook the nation but inspired no one to save the world, it was easy to convince myself that this world of superheroes was nothing other than a child’s fantasy, a patronizingly oversimplified view of the world that was meant to temporarily mask the ugliness of a world where good never won.
It took me awhile to realize that the apocalypse my favorite heroes fought so hard to prevent wasn’t going to come at the hands of a comically malicious villain or an alien with a chilling thirst for world domination. We were not going to fall victim to the incredible strength of a supervillain or the scientific genius of a corrupted government official. The world was not going to fall on the bloody battlefield of a war fought in vain, erupting in flames as the corpses of idealistic and beautiful heroes fell as overpowered martyrs in a larger game of chess. No, I realized, my world was going to fall at the hands of the so-called heroes that were supposed to keep us safe – the social advocates and brilliant scientists and good-hearted politicians and brave firefighters. And if you squinted, these people – these beautiful, intelligent, moral people – filled the caricatures of the powerful men that I used to idolize. But in spite of that, in spite of all the victories they won, all the villains they banished every day, they still managed to destroy the very world they were trying so hard to protect. Because how could I look up to these people, these heroes, when they took confident swigs from plastic water bottles, commuted every day to the state capital in a gas-guzzling Lamborghini, and stayed studying into the night with every light on? How could I knowingly endorse men and women who together threw 8 million metric tons of plastic waste into the oceans each year? These were our heroes, the real-world versions of our Avengers, a dream team of intelligent people who turned their faces away from Instagram campaigns and chilling articles and billboards all preaching the same message: “Please save our oceans.”
But they didn’t. Or they couldn’t. Instead they turned the other cheek, shrugged their shoulders as they went back to their glamourous tasks of saving the world with each fire doused and disease cured and law passed. They passed up this fight with every plastic bottle thrown away and recycling bin ignored, content to pass this battle on to the next generation, already eager to skirt the uphill climb that accompanied cleaning up their own mess and sacrificing efficiency and comfort for a cleaner world. There was no glory in that. There was no glory in fixing something that they would never see, in leaving a legacy that would never place their faces on the cover of Time Magazine or earn them a grateful parade acknowledging their hard work. But there is nothing heroic about running away from a fight. There is nothing heroic about hiding inside while a villain slowly destroys the world. And there is definitely nothing heroic about being a villain and actively driving the world to an apocalyptic global temperature.
And maybe, even with the discarded plastic bottles and Lamborghini, these are still today’s heroes. These are brave, well-intentioned people who were doing their best to make the world a better place. But they could be doing more. We all could.
We all could be doing more to minimize our carbon footprint, doing more to realize how much our daily consumption of gas and oil is leading to a world where sea caps are melting and coastlines are actively eroding. We all could be doing more to reverse this curse and clean up decades of environmental damage, battling the demons of our own regrettable pasts to save the world once again.
It feels horrible to paint the generation before mine as villains, to equate them to the cape-bearing, maliciously laughing monsters of my childhood obsession. It feels so horrible to cast these good people who I genuinely look up to in this one-dimensional light, and place the blame for the apocalypse that will ruin my adult life solely on their shoulders. These are the people who have raised me. These are my parents and my teachers and my neighborhood policemen. These are the professionals who offered me my first internship and the musical legends who taught me what it meant to have a good time. These are the people who kept the world safe for me while I waddled in diapers, the people who bought me my first Ironman pajama set and took me to my very first Marvel movie. These are the people who taught me what it meant to be a hero. So how can they be the villains of my story? How can they be the evil forces that I must fight against?
And so, to all the adults who I grew up loving, to all the true heroes who make my world a little safer every day, thank you. I know that you fight hard every day. I know that you face your own battles and wear your own epic costumes. I know you have devoted your life to fighting off the bad guys and I know you did it for me. I know that you are, in a lot of ways, just as golden-hearted and morally inclined as the superheroes I adored. But I also know this: I know that Tony Stark didn’t build a villain in his basement to unleash on the next generation of Avengers. I know that Batman didn’t purposely leave the biggest battles for his children to fight before skating safely into retirement. And I know that Superman didn’t knowingly give power to the biggest villain in the world in full acknowledgment that he would not have to fight it.
I’m almost 18. We’re almost all grown up and you are almost all done. Soon, we will come of age and receive our own superhero costumes and superpowers. Soon, you will fade comfortably into the safety of retirement and pass the baton into our hands. Soon, we will become the next cohort of fearless crime-fighting Avengers. I hope we are ready. Because I know that climate change will soon become the largest villain we will have to face. I know that soon climate change will become an issue so prevalent, so dangerous, that we can’t afford to shirk it to the next generation of tiny crime fighters who will rise to power. I know that the next few decades will bring crippling heat waves and tragic hurricanes. I know that the next few decades will bring environmental issues to the forefront of our battlefield, and we will have no choice but to face them.
And face them we will. We will develop renewable sources of energy and use bioremediation techniques to clean up the oceans. We will find new ways of creating zero-carbon technologies and we will tear down your monuments until the world is renewable, efficient, and safe. Inch by inch, day by day, year by year, through our hard work and effort and sacrifice we will clean up the world.
But Mom, Dad, this fight will cost us everything. I know thousands of us will devote our lives to this and still not succeed. I know we will become sick because of toxin accumulation in our fishing supply and starve because our crops can’t survive in the blistering heat of a changed climate. I know we will scan survivor lists with tears in our eyes as we learn that our cousins and siblings drowned in tragic hurricanes. I know we will stand by the bedsides of our toddlers as they are treated for skin cancer from UV radiation seeped in through the hole in the ozone. I know that the casualty list for this war will be high, too high. I know we will watch our favorite beaches become trashed with plastic and animal carcasses. I know our world will become the ravished battlefield that we used to gawk at in the movies. I know that this fight will be hard and long and terrible. And I know that this is your fault.
So please. The time is running out for your adventure. Soon, you will become too old to fight your battles anymore. Soon you will be too old to be my hero. When that happens, I will be there. I will be there to take the baton and continue your legacy. I will be there to take the weight of the world on my shoulders and to fight the good fight. I will be there. But not yet.
There is still time between now and the impending passing of the baton. There is still time for you to do real work, to fight a real fight. There is still time for you to do something for me, to do something for all of us. There is still time to make our fight easier, and to make yourself less of a villain. There is still time left in the movie for a redemption arc, and I truly hope it’s yours. I hope you find new alternatives to plastic, and invest in a car that won’t ooze carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I hope you find it in you to be conscious of your electricity usage and avoid electing officials who are determined to ignore this battle. I hope you find it in you to be my hero, one more time.
Cynicism is easy. It’s easy for me as I watch you become the villains I will have to face. It’s easy for me as I see how much work still needs to be done. It’s easy for me as I grow into my superhero costume and start testing my new powers. It’s easy to be cynical when I see heroes morph into villains and the complex reality of human nature makes it hard for anyone to fully step into the heroic caricature that I naively dreamed of. But, when I see the work that is done each day to change the world, when I see protests and campaigns and solutions that revolutionize the negativity and bitter hatred of the world, I find it easier to be optimistic. I’m optimistic every time I pass a fuel-efficient car on the highway or see my neighbors installing solar panels. I’m optimistic every time I see someone choose to bypass the plastic bags at the grocery store or use a reusable water bottle at the gym. I’m optimistic every time I see a social media campaign to clean up the oceans or reduce carbon emissions online. I’m optimistic that someone somewhere is listening. And with every Prius, every solar panel, every water bottle, and every social media post I realize something.
I used to wish I lived in a world of superheroes. But now, I realize that maybe I do.
In anticipation of Avengers: Infinity Wars, I re-watched a lot of my favorite superhero movies. However, while seeing these classic movies for a second time, I was struck by how the simple caricatures of “hero” and “villain” often didn’t apply in real life. I have been particularly frustrated by how there has been a lack of action about climate change occurring in the current political climate. In my piece “Superhero,” I wanted to re-imagine efforts to prevent global warming as a classic battle between good and evil that fits with the superhero lexicon. My hope is that my piece will inspire people to reconsider if they are personally and professionally acting like a hero would in concern to carbon emissions. I especially wanted to voice my concerns that the current professional world is leaving a mess for the next generation of “superheroes” to clean up by not acting currently to prevent a future disaster.