What if carbon dioxide was colored pink, and each day as we humans generate 90 million tons of it and send it up into our atmosphere (like we do when we burn fossil fuels to run our cars, factories and homes) the sky turned pink? Climate Papa Gregg Kleiner, in his new book, Please Don’t Paint Our Planet Pink, A Story for Children and Their Adults, does just this! Gregg’s book helps us and our kids easily imagine this “pink sky” which in turn opens up opportunities for conversations about climate change and provides our children with ways to empower them to take actions to slow down the climate crisis we face.
Gregg’s new book is a wonderful guide that helps us tell the climate change story to our children. The book allows us to clearly share our ClimateMama mantra: “tell the truth, actions speak louder then words, and don’t be afraid.”
We sat down recently and asked Gregg some questions about why he wrote Please Don’t Paint Our Planet Pink and to share some of his ideas about what we all can do, as parents, to tackle the climate crisis head on and help our children see that they can too. Smart, caring, and wise, Climate Papas like Gregg build our climate hope by encouraging us to open our eyes and see that solutions are not only possible, but within our grasp.
Take some time, sit down and read Gregg’s answers to our questions. In light of the increasingly piercing sirens and warning bells of the worlds scientists, i.e. the recent IPCC Synthesis Report, coupled with the hope and excitement of the Peoples Climate March, Gregg helps us remember that as we work to activate our elected officials to put in place big solutions to the crisis we face, in the immediate, we all can be part of the solutions now. Personal actions do matter, and we need to remember this and remind our children too. Together we all can make a difference as we work collaboratively and collectively to create a livable future for us all.
1. What/who inspired you to write this book and why?
The inspiration, ultimately, were my two children. I found myself lying awake nights worrying about the world they’re going to inherit and inhabit, given the growing impacts of the climate crisis. We don’t have a lot of time to act if we’re going to have a shot at slowing climate change, so I wanted to reach out to the younger generation – and their adults! – for several reasons.
FIRST, the children of today are going to live in an altered climate, so I wanted to use storytelling and humor and a dash of science to inspire them to SEE carbon dioxide in the air and then act – now, when they’re young. I wanted to inspire, not scare. I wanted to encourage courage and inquisitiveness.
SECOND, kids have incredible imaginations, so I wanted to tap these imaginations in young minds, in hopes they “get it” faster than my generation has (and, really, we’re the ones who are to blame for much of the whole climate mess!). I chose children – and their adults! – because we need all hands on deck when it comes to healing the climate, and that means young people with their fiery imaginations blazing bright as can be!
THIRD, when my kids, or grandkids, one day ask me what the hell was I was doing back when everybody knew climate change was coming fast down the tracks, I want to be able to tell them that I was doing something, that I was using the power of story to inspire people to SEE climate change and change our ways. That I was working as hard as I could to move the masses to action.
I lived for a year in Thailand as an AFS student when I was 16, and that year changed my life. Because I saw people who had so very little, and I saw that people everywhere just want to love and be loved, to have enough to eat, to watch their kids grow up, to share stories, to laugh and cry together, simply to live. If I were Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, I would bankroll a worldwide exchange program for kids, so every 16-year-old could see how people in other places live. War would be obsolete within a generation, of that have no doubt. So my year in Thailand was an inspiration, too.
2. What do you think we, as parents, can do to tackle climate change?
I think the key for parents is to model for our children how to reduce energy consumption on many different levels, including not buying so much stuff. In the west, we live in a consumer-based society, but that consumption is a big contributor to climate change, because consumption is ultimately tied to the destruction of natural resources the world over. Helping kids understand that connection is key.
During the holidays, for example, slow the gift-giving; make something simple, give the gift of time together doing something special, or draw names and give only one gift — focus on community instead of consumption.
We need to model gratitude for all we have and teach our kids that many people around the world have precious little. And teach what “having enough” really is. Teach that material goods don’t bring happiness, but relationships do.
We need to teach our children where greenhouse gasses come from (help them see the pink I describe in my book, puffing out of chimneys and smoke stacks and the tailpipes of cars!). If they can understand the sources, they can help slow emissions by taking action.
It’s important to also model:
— reusing things instead of throwing them out
— buying locally whenever possible
— shutting off lights (implement a fine or reward system for this the whole family can get into!)
— shopping at used stores first
— turning off the shower when soaping up (I lived in Japan and saw how they take showers…the water is quick on to get wet, then quick off to soap up, then rinse fast…they don’t do 20-minute showers!)
— taking super-short showers (set a timer and see who can shower the fastest)
— riding bikes and taking mass transit
— this list could go on and on
All these small things are tangible ways children can pitch in and feel like they’re doing something. But we the parents have to model this, and talk about it honestly without frightening them, which is the objective of my book. And we must tap their active imaginations to SEE carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What if CO2 were really pink? How might we respond?
(How I wish President Obama would use the bully pulpit to challenge kids to take action on climate change, kind of like the John F. Kennedy physical fitness challenge issued back in the 1960s. Obama’s a parent, yet he’s only recently started to say much about climate change. Let’s get him on our side!).
3. Do you think that the world, and in particular the US is waking up to the challenges we face from our changing climate? And if so, can you give us some positive examples of how you see this happening?
Awareness of climate change is growing, albeit slowly. And that cheers me, because even five years ago, it wasn’t a term you heard very often. Now it’s regularly mentioned in the news and is taking a front seat in elections. Part of the reason I wrote “Please Don’t Paint Our Planet Pink!” is that climate change is hard to see, because CO2 is invisible. So there’s no enemy to point at and say, “There! That’s what we need to stop! Let’s do it!” So how do we respond to something we can’t really see for feel or hear or taste? Well, I believe we have to collectively tap our imaginations, and then take action. I’m cheered by the multitude of groups, like ClimateMama, who are working hard in the trenches to slow the climate crisis and raise awareness. This is paying off, but we must keep pushing, imagining, taking action. It will take all of us, working together and engaging our children. And I’m seeing this happening, and that gives me a great deal of hope!
The world is starting to see the early effects of climate change (more powerful storms, droughts, the effects of ocean acidification), so it’s becoming more tangible for people. But we need to keep working to connect the changing weather patterns to our emission of greenhouse gasses, which is again something I try to do in my new book. Again, you have to be careful, with the little ones at least, not to frighten. But we need all the little helpers we can get, because they’ll be the adults of tomorrow.
4. How can we help our kids understand the realities we face from our changing climate without scaring them, and vice a versa? Same/different advice for parents with elementary school age kids, middle school, high school…and beyond.
The biggest challenge of writing this book was to find the right balance between offering a good story with some science and humor, but not frightening kids or overwhelming them with dire predictions or stacks of facts. The doom-and-gloom scenarios generate fear that paralyzes instead of motivates. So as parents, we need to talk with our kids about climate change, clearly and honesty and age-appropriately, and show them what they can DO to help out. For the little ones, challenge them to notice when lights are left on, inspire them to walk or bike or bus more, challenge them to take faster and faster showers (set a timer!). And let them know how much carbon (pink!) their actions are keeping from entering the atmosphere (could do this with a chart or a jar that fills representing the savings from their actions).
For the middle schoolers, get a gang of them to ride bikes to school together. Challenge other neighborhoods to have their kids ride to school. Kids love that sort of competition. Schools could help sponsor these sorts of things. Launch an Alternative Transit Tuesdays, or something like that. It kills me the see the lines of traffic near schools of parents dropping kids off one by one, or high school kids driving the 3/4 mile to school in a parent’s car.
By late middle school and high school, they need to know the honest truth about climate change BUT ALSO what they can do about it. We need to have these kids taking ACTION that they can feel good about. This will help address the scariness. I grew up scared to death of being nuked or getting drafted. A whole generation did. There wasn’t much I could do, and I don’t think that did my psyche much good. So I believe, we need to tap the imagination, use story and art and song and science to move people into ACTION. (If we really get going, we need to reduce our meat consumption, because the factory farms where much of the meat we eat today is produced, are huge contributors to greenhouse gasses, but that’s a story many people might not want to hear.)
5. Our mantra at ClimateMama is: Tell the truth, actions speak louder then words, don’t be afraid. Can you give us examples folks you know who are putting these ideas into practice and how?
I think the “don’t be afraid” is huge. Because as I said, fear paralyzes. Telling the truth is key, because we need honest communication, especially for a topic where there are still divergent opinions. And action is the salve for our fear and the fuel that will help us keep working on this important issue.
The Alliance for Climate Change Education is doing great things by coming into high schools to present. A local high school teacher here in Corvallis, Oregon has started a very cool project called Seeds for the Sol that helps people get solar panels on homes by working together. Bill McKibben – 350.org – is tireless and relentless and is having an impact (people are hungry for action, or else those 400,000 people wouldn’t have marched in New York in September).
If we all do a little something, we’ll hit the tipping point, and just maybe we’ll be able to turn the aircraft carrier that is climate change. And if we can inspire kids to put down their digital devices and hold hands and stick together and take action…well, we have a gazillion brilliant young minds out there able to help: help imagine, help sing, help tell stories, help inspire, help dance us toward solutions that will work. And if that happens…wow! My hope is that my little book might in some way add to the collective action underway by so many people worldwide who care so deeply about our beautiful planet. My gratitude to everyone who is a part of that collective action. Together, we’ll get there!
With the holiday’s approaching, we think Gregg’s book, “Please Don’t Paint Our Planet Pink, A Story for Children and Their Adults” would be a great addition to any family’s library. It’s now found in ours!