“Patriot” is one of those terms that has evolved and expanded over the centuries. Its origins come from the 16th century, used to reference ‘fellow countryman’ and the ‘fatherland’. The definition that pops up from a Google search is: “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors”. In 2008, then Senator Barack Obama dedicated an entire speech to his interpretation of patriotism. He focused on the shared “love of country” as the best way of defending it. Over time, leaders have used “Patriot” in their rhetoric to divide as much as unify a country. With 75 million people in this country voting in one direction and 70 million voting in another, it is a term that I have been giving a great deal of thought lately. I have been wondering if the term can be melded once again to unite …. or if a new term would better serve that purpose.
The lens through which I am looking at this topic is “climate change” – one of the greatest threats and opportunities that this nation has ever faced. For purposes of addressing it, there are multiple ways to portray climate change. Some are most comfortable describing it as a “foe” to do battle with, while others characterize it more like an illness to cure. If you subscribe to the science that shows human activity as a primary root cause, climate change represents our past catching up with us. If you elect to dismiss the science, the consequences of a warming planet are still a major threat. Wildfires, drought, flooding and storms of increasing duration and ferocity, predicted decades ago, are clear evidence of this. These disasters assault different parts of the country in vastly different ways. It is akin to the Goths, Vandals and Sassinads attacking the Roman Empire in different regions and different ways as it endured a devastating pandemic. Remarkably, the empire survived these concurrent strikes and persisted another two centuries – not so much by overpowering its foes, but rather through adaptation.
There are those who paint Climate Change as a leftist plot to steer the American agenda away from what made it “great”. Big cars, big homes, and domestic oil wells have all been integral to the American brand of its “great” past. Suffice it to say, modern branding of American patriotism has enjoyed universal acceptance when aligned with production, consumption, and national defense. Thus far, efforts to draw similar alignment with conservation, innovation, and caring have achieved comparatively lackluster results. Evidence of global warming impacts, pouring in from around the country and globe say its high time for that to change. Threats aside, there are many benefits to adopting climate change as a universal challenge across the political spectrum, regardless of its root cause or characterization. Diversifying critical resources, rebuilding infrastructure, reducing emissions, national reunification, economic recovery, enhancing global competitiveness and lowering total energy costs are examples of such benefits. The benefits don’t just accrue to the so-called “Blue States” either. Far from it. According to 24/7’s analysis of EIA data, so called “Red States” represent five of the top ten renewable energy producing states today. Looking to the next ten years, eight of the forecasted top ten renewable energy producers are categorized as “Red States”
Patriotism is in support of the “nation”, but it is enacted, expressed, and perpetuated most effectively at a local and individual level. Conventional exhibitions of patriotism such as flying American flags, singing the national anthem, and thanking our military personnel and veterans for their service are all especially important. I posit that picking up litter, swapping out gas powered equipment & vehicles with electric or manual alternatives, purchasing energy efficient appliances, reducing waste, and recovering rainwater are also important acts and expressions of patriotism. They should not be construed as competing with military service, but rather as complementing it. Like military service, climate action should be recognized as such by each of us at every chance we get.
Perhaps the word “patriot” itself, derived from “pater”, Latin for “father” is insufficient for those who act on the climate crisis – even if it is on behalf of our nation. The Urban Dictionary cites the word “matriot”, drawing from “mater” the Latin for “mother”, as one who loves of the earth. Wiktionary offers another definition as love of “society” versus love of “state”. Maybe it is a more appropriate term – one that better reflects today’s climate actionists. Still “matriot” is not part of the widely shared lexicon – at least not yet. Even if it was, can it inspire the many folks with whom the term “patriot” so passionately resonates - regardless of gender or political persuasion - to join in the climate change battle? After all, to tackle the mammoth and pressing challenge of climate change – and turn it more towards opportunity and benefit - rather than threat and catastrophe - we need “all hands, on deck, NOW!”