Happy Earth Day!
I’m reading The Uninhabitable Earth at the moment, and wow. Never before have I read a book which has made me want to cry, be sick, scream, throw things, and stick my head in the sand all at the same time before. In it, David Wallace Wells argues that climate change and its (current and predicted) effects are far, far worse than we think.
The predictions are dire, and the picture he paints of the world that my daughter will grow up in regularly keeps me lying awake at night wondering how on earth this has happened. I wonder how I will look Frida in the eye when she is an adult and tell her that I knew this could happen, but yet I went about my daily life anyway. I wonder what she will say to me, if she will forgive us. When she says to me in her sweet voice “When I grow up I want to be a mum!” I wonder what that would look life, what kind of life her children could expect, if the optimistic act of having children will be something she will still want to do in twenty or thirty years time when the effects of climate change are more pronounced.
I wonder if humanity will continue to sleepwalk into a crisis or if we will miraculously pull ourselves back from the brink. People who are far smarter than me say that we have the tools we need already to drastically reduce carbon emissions and get a plan in place to halt the effects of climate change, we just don’t have the political will. I wonder if what it will take for that to happen, given how much already has.
Tackling climate change is not just a practical issue. For me, it is absolutely a social justice issue, especially if, like me, you are currently relatively protected from its impacts. Living in England, in a low flood-risk area of London, we are pretty cushioned from the impacts of climate change at the moment. But across the world, this is sadly not the case for millions of people affected by floods, wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, food shortages, conflicts, diseases, hurricanes, and other climate-linked disasters which have been exacerbated by emissions put into the atmosphere by countries like the one I live in.
Climate change isn’t something which will have a devastating effect; its effect is already being seen by millions across the globe. It’s the countries with the worst infrastructure, with the most poverty, which are hit worst. We owe it to those humans, those children, to do something – just as much as we owe it to our own children.
So what can we do? We can protest, we can write to our representatives, we can make earth-friendly lifestyle choices, we can educate ourselves (read this book to understand why we need to make changes and then read this book for practical things you can do), we can vote for politicians who are committed to taking environmental protection seriously, and we can donate to charities and organisations working to protect our planet, including those who support indigenous people (who are often vital in maintaining and protecting the lands they live on) such as Survival International. And we can commit to raising climate-conscious kids who will, hopefully, want to take care of our planet and fight for its future alongside us.
Talking to children about climate change and protecting the environment
Climate change is terrifying. There’s no two ways about it. And yet, as parents, we need to find ways to discuss our need to protect our planet with our children in a way which won’t terrify them or leave them stressed, but which will leave them feeling inspired and motivated to make positive changes.
For young children, rather than talking about climate change, you can focus primarily on helping your child to love and appreciate nature. After all, you can’t love what you don’t know, what you don’t have an intimate relationship with. This can start from birth. For a preschooler / young school age child, you can start to have conversations about taking care of the environment too – why we mustn’t litter, using less plastic, the importance of recycling, where energy comes from, using water carefully – but keep these conversations practical and light. You can also read books which deal with these issues in an age-appropriate way, making sure they are suitable for your child.
If climate change or related questions come up, then answer these in an age-appropriate way, focusing on the positive, practical solutions and the things we can do to help our environment. All children, especially anxious children, may feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty around climate change, or may pick up on your own worries and fears, so do be mindful when it comes to the kind of language you use and try and always keep things positive and practical, sharing examples of projects and people who have made a difference.
As children get older, you might have discussions around the climate activism youth movement and why this is important, the science around climate change, and focus on actions which you can do together as a family such as writing to political representatives and attending family friendly marches. As with all of these topics, be guided by your own child – you know them best and will know what is appropriate for them and what is not.
Here are some practical things you can do, wherever you live and whatever your budget:
Read about the natural world. This is the easiest place to start. Begin with books about your local flora and fauna, then move on to learning about wildlife from your continent, and all over the world. There are so many delightful picture books and reference books to choose from now, and most public libraries should have a good selection. Animals, habitats, the water cycle, volcanoes, coral reefs, microbes – the list is endless.
Get outdoors whenever possible. Start in your backyard if you have one, and take regular trips to local parks, woods, forests, beaches, ponds, rivers, hills…; in short, whatever you have available to you. If you are living in a harsh climate, feel unsafe outdoors, or don’t have accessible wildlife spots then you may need to get a little creative. What local trees are nearby? Do insects frequent the sidewalk? Open your window – can you see any birds flying past?
Get growing. Whether you have a huge garden or a sunny windowsill, grow food, herbs, or flowers from seed. Take care of a pot plant or two, using them as prompts to talk to your child about the carbon cycle (essential to understanding climate science later on).
Find ways to serve the natural world together. Feed birds, scatter flower seeds in unloved patches of dirt, pick litter together (this is a great group activity and young children love it – think of it as a game!), plant flowers which will attract pollinators, and if you have a yard or garden consider making it more wildlife friendly.
Model making earth-friendly choices. As always, our behaviour says so much to our children about our values, from shopping to transport to voting to how we engage with nature. In short, do what you can, whatever your circumstances allow to show your children that you care about the planet which you are passing over to their stewardship.