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The Journey from 5-year-old Tomboy Ballerina to Climate Activist

Photo by Budgeron Bach on Pexels.com

In each of our lives, some years turn out to be more eventful than others.  Year 5 was a big one for me.

At 5 years old I figured out how to climb up to the top of the 7-foot tall, cinder block wall that stretched around our backyard in Culver City, CA and run along its 4” wide edge. It scared my parents, but I loved running and climbing, and I loved to imagine that I was running through the trees that surrounded our property.

The outstretched branches of beautiful green leaves shaded my path and seemed to extend an invitation to become a partner with nature. That year I also decided to be a ballerina and I saw a circus on TV. Both pivotal moments in the life of a 5-year-old. 

It was an old-fashioned, 3-Ring circus with acrobats and animals and sparkly costumes. The Ringmaster was a tall man wearing a black top hat, knee-high boots, and a red waistcoat with tails and shiny, brass buttons. 

After the first few minutes of enjoying the bright colors and festive atmosphere, I started to focus on the way the animals in the circus were being treated.  The more I watched the sadder I became.  Whips, chairs being pushed into growling faces, all types of animals being made to pose and bow and jump through hoops of fire!  To my 5-year-old mind, this was just unacceptable. It was clear to me that these animals did not belong here. And even though the animals seemed to cooperate I could feel their discomfort.  I just could not understand why anyone would take these beautiful animals out of their natural habitats and force them to perform.

My sadness quickly turned to anger. And it was at that moment that I became an advocate for animal rights and vowed to speak out whenever I witnessed any kind of abuse or neglect of these creatures with whom we share this planet. (Yes, I was a very intense little kid!)

As I grew up, I never lost my passion for animals or my love of the outdoors. In the third grade I beat the entire class in a race across the play yard! Anytime I wasn’t in a schoolroom or a ballet class I would be swimming in the outdoor pool or doing cartwheels on the lawn. 

When I was 12 years old my family moved to an upper, middle-class neighborhood in North Hollywood, California, located in a part of Los Angeles known as the San Fernando Valley.  From my bedroom window,  I could see open, blue sky and parts of the orange groves that blanketed the Valley.  I remember, as I walked to school each morning, being grateful for the sweet citrus smell and the serene skies.

In 1970, at the age of 15, I first became aware of how the environment was changing as I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood.  The growing development of housing tracts and business districts in our area had rapidly increased the number of cars on the road and slowly but surely eliminated the orange groves that had shaded our homes and helped to keep the air clean and breathable.

I remember wondering how the skies had become so brown.  Nobody talked to me about it but the adults knew it was the smog in the atmosphere caused by the use of fossil fuels to run our cars, homes, and businesses.

Smog. What a strange word. What was this thing that was suddenly beginning to impact our daily lives? Here is a definition from ScienceDaily.com:

SMOG:  Fog or haze combined with smoke and other atmospheric pollutants.

Smog is a kind of air pollution, originally named for the mixture of smoke and fog in the air…. Smog results from large amounts of coal burning in an area and is caused by a mixture of smoke and sulfur dioxide….  said Michael Bergin, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke. “If these chemicals are as bad for people as many researchers believe, then commuters should seriously be rethinking their driving habits.”

ScienceDaily.com

We started to hear air quality alerts almost daily on TV. “Restrict outdoor activity. Physical exertion can be dangerous to your health!”  Bad news for an active, athletic teenager.

At 19 years old, as I left college to begin my professional career as a performer in musical theater, my nice, middle-class neighborhood was no longer a place I would have wanted to move into.

As a young adult, it was obvious to me, and to anyone who bothered to look, that changes in the environment were impacting our health and the health of the planet.

Now, as an older adult, I mourn the loss of the calm, year-round, moderate temperatures and clear, blue skies of my childhood. And I live with a growing concern about the safety of the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.

All of that has turned that intense 5-year-old, animal-loving ballerina into a Climate Activist. 

That cinderblock wall around my family’s backyard has grown in size and now encompasses the entire planet. But the challenge of turning back the clock on climate change is not insurmountable if we act now. There is still room on top of that wall for future tomboy-ballerinas to run among the trees if we are all willing to adjust our daily choices, even just a little.

My first leap into learning about the history, science and possible solutions available to address the challenges of Climate Change happened when I was accepted into Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project Leadership Training Program.

In July 2020 more than 10,000 people from all over the world chose to participate in the first-ever, Virtual Global Climate Leadership Training program designed and presented by Mr. Gore. I was one of those new trainees who walked willingly into what was sure to be a daunting landscape.

But we persisted allowing ourselves to be pummeled by the frightening reality of the images and statistics being shown to us. We persisted through the evidence being presented to us bringing to full relief the damage done to our environment: the loss of habitat, the melting ice sheets, the rising temperatures, the pollution causing increased illness in both human and wild species.  We persisted through all of that to the discussions of sustainable practices and new energy industries that can help us to build a healthier, safer world for our children if we commit to following through on new ideas, concepts and actions.

We persisted, bringing the number of international climate activists associated with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project to more than 35,000 people.  Local Climate Reality chapters in more than 500 countries are working on multiple public policy and community outreach programs designed to heal our planet and redefine our relationship with the natural world.

And we are not alone in these efforts. There are many other organizations also working to address the challenges we face.  We have scientists, engineers, philosophers, teachers, healthcare professionals, artists, scuba divers, lawyers, photographers, writers, and, yes, one or two billionaires, working together to find answers.

For those of you who remember clear skies, orange groves, and neighborhoods designed to support the people who live in them, rather than the financial expectations of stockholders, it is not too late to join the fight.  Wherever you fall in the cascade of generations currently living on Mother Earth, you can be a part of the solution. Join us!


Tara Sitser - Leadership Member of Al Gore's Climate Reality Project

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