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The book 'The Quickening' looks at bringing a child into a world with climate change


In "The Quickening," author Elizabeth Rush documents her voyage to Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. It's been called the Doomsday Glacier because if it were to fall apart, Thwaites could cause catastrophic sea level rise. Woven into this story of climate science is a reflection on parenthood and what it means to bring a child into this world. NPR's Julie Depenbrock reports.

JULIE DEPENBROCK, BYLINE: In "The Quickening," Elizabeth Rush offers us two narratives - one, a planet reeling from climate change; the other, a little life beginning. Here's Rush reading from her book.

ELIZABETH RUSH: (Reading) The year I go to Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is also the year I decide to try to grow a human being inside of my body. It's the year of becoming two - me and you. The year we all get on that boat, my shipmates and I, the year we sail past 73 degrees south to the untouched edge of Thwaites is also just another year in which the ice lets go, a little more this time.

DEPENBROCK: Rush has been writing about climate change and sea level rise for more than a decade. She says she had grown accustomed to a certain degree of uncertainty.

RUSH: Like, are we going to have three feet of sea level rise or six feet of sea level rise by century's end? We don't really know.

DEPENBROCK: But then Rush learned about Thwaites, how it's breaking apart and what that could mean for the planet.

RUSH: I kind of wanted to see the source of this great instability, of this potential for, you know, even more accelerated or catastrophic sea level rise firsthand. So I applied to a really cool grant through the National Science Foundation that sends an artist or a writer to the ice. And I was very lucky to receive it.

DEPENBROCK: Her mission set out from Chile at the end of January. It would take close to a month to arrive at Thwaites, crossing the Southern Ocean, the Drake Passage, some of the wildest seas in the world.

RUSH: We arrived on one morning in February, and it was, like, a solid wall of ice with some rumbling and some slumping and some cracking. But it was - you know, it kind of looked like the wall in "Game Of Thrones."

DEPENBROCK: To go on this expedition, Rush had postponed her plans to have a child by almost a year.

RUSH: I feel like I carried my desire to have a child onto the boat with me, and it came with me to Antarctica.

DEPENBROCK: Rush says that choice about whether to have a child is so deeply personal.

RUSH: For many people, this moment of facing a certain kind of end time, which we most certainly are facing - like, worlds are ending all around us - I think that that feels inherently overwhelming and scary.

DEPENBROCK: But when asked where she finds a sense of determination in a time of climate crisis, Rush says this.

RUSH: There are many people on this planet who have lived through many different kinds of endings before. I think of the Indigenous inhabitants of the Americas. Like, their worlds have been ending for five centuries. And at some level, of course, climate change is a different scale of transition. But I also think that these kinds of Earth transformations have happened before, and there's a lot of wisdom in how to survive them.

DEPENBROCK: Elizabeth Rush, now a mother, says she takes heart in that. Julie Depenbrock, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF 9TH WONDER'S "SIDEBYSIDEJAM!!!") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Julie Depenbrock
Julie Depenbrock (she/her) is an assistant producer on Morning Edition. Previously, she worked at The Washington Post and on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. Depenbrock holds a master's in journalism with a focus in investigative reporting from the University of Maryland. Before she became a journalist, she was a first grade teacher in Rosebud, South Dakota. Depenbrock double-majored in French and English at Lafayette College. She has a particular interest in covering education, LGBTQ issues and the environment. She loves dogs, hiking, yoga and reading books for work (and pleasure).

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