Just off the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood where I did most of my growing up, we had a massive wooded area that ran from the Chizuk Amuno Arlington Cemetery off of Rogers Avenue all the way over to Patterson Avenue, not far from the Reisterstown Road Plaza.
The woods were crowded with giant old trees and a cornfield and a pond that froze over in winter, and a little patch of Eden where sunlight filtered down on a slender little stream, where I paused one day with my friend Joel and his father, David Kruh.
Grownups didn’t often come back to the woods, but we were lucky Mr. Kruh was with us that day. We were thirsty by the time we reached the little stream. I started to reach for some of its water.
“You’d better not,” Mr. Kruh said. “It might be polluted.”
I was probably 10, and I’d never in my life heard the word. Pollution, what in the world was that?
Imagine living on the planet earth, and being lucky enough to live an entire decade and never hear that word.
It’s a luxury not given to today’s children – and they will forever curse their elders’ generation because of it.
The news keeps getting worse, doesn’t it?
In this Thanksgiving Week, the United Nations Environment Program issues its annual Emissions Gap Report. The report uses a word to describe its findings: “bleak.”
Never mind all the warnings from scientists, never mind the “bleak” future we’re painting for today’s children and those not yet born — the planet’s worst polluters are still at it.
And the two biggest polluters, China and the U.S., actually increased their emissions last year, the report says, noting that the world’s 20 richest countries – which produce more than three-quarters of worldwide emissions — must take the biggest and fastest steps to move away from fossil fuels or we’re plunging into territory we may not be able to escape.
Are you listening, Donald Trump?
Yes, he’s listening but it doesn’t matter, as the U.S. has formally begun pulling out of the Paris environmental agreement.
According to the U.N. report, global greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 1.5 percent every year over the last decade. Average temperatures are on track to rise by 3.2 degrees Celsius, a rise that dramatically increases the likelihood of extreme weather events such as glacial melting and swelling seas.
And previously unimagined dangers to people all over Earth.
So I think of that big woods near my old neighborhood, and that slender, sunlit stream that looked clean to a 10-year old’s eyes but maybe wasn’t. I think of it as Eden, because it seemed so clean.
And I think of it now because so much of that big wooded area is gone now. It’s paved over. It’s Northern Parkway, between Reisterstown and Liberty roads, and instead of trees and ponds and cornfields, it’s got gas stations and burger joints and shopping centers.
And thousands of cars, all day and all night, belching out their poison, just one more little example adding to the troubles.
This is the holiday week when many of us gather with our children and grandchildren and give thanks.
While we’re at it, we ought to offer them apologies.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.