As Climate Mamas and Papas, we know we are living a climate emergency. For those living in the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest – or really pretty much anywhere in the USA at the end of June 2021 – even our youngest children are seeing and feeling extreme weather events. If not directly impacted themselves, our children likely know someone who has been effected by extreme heat, floods or forest fires. Our children hear about our climate emergency on the news, via social media, in school or even as you discuss it at home and with friends and family. When our children come to us with questions, we need to be prepared with answers.
Being able to discuss the climate crisis also requires that we understand it. We must educate ourselves and be prepared for questions and know how to find answers. In a nutshell, we all must get comfortable with the uncomfortable fact that we will be living with the climate emergency for the rest of our lives. This means, I believe, adding climate truth teller to the long list of parental responsibilities we already have.
My book How to Talk to Your Children About Climate Change, Turning Angst into Action, which has now won two national book awards -The IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award and the Nautilus Book of the Year Award, and is a finalist in the Forword Indie Book of the Year – has many of the answers you will need, and references or lists resources to find others.
How can you help your children understand that this climate phenomenon,
- isn’t going away;
- isn’t the norm, but that it is now the new norm;
- that it’s caused by us;
- and most importantly that we can do something about it.
Regardless of their age, remind them that many caring parents and caregivers the world over are wide awake to the fact of our climate emergency. That all these people are working hard not only to address the crisis at hand, but to help children – at every age – understand what’s going on and be empowered to take action. These folks include scientists, engineers, teachers, elected officials, and people from all walks of life and political persuasions. Being honest and realistic with our children we can also share with them the incredible opportunities that the unfolding climate crisis presents to all of us. Being alive at this very moment of climate chaos brings with it a role and a responsibility for each of us. Whatever our passion, if we view it through the lens of the climate crisis, we can help build solutions and slow down the runaway train we are on. We need artists, musicians, teachers accountants, biologists, carpenters, engineers – we need everyone and anyone.
Here’s 4 questions and answers that can start the conversation as you talk to your kids about what’s going on.
- What is climate change and why is it important?
Climate change is a broad term that refers to long term changes in climate, including average temperature and precipitation.
Global Warming is the increase of the Earth’s average surface temperature, due to a buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
- What are the effects of climate change and is this extreme heat part of climate change?
The effects of our climate emergency include extreme weather events (stronger and more powerful storms) sea level rise, rising temperatures, more wildfires, ocean acidification and warming, the wider spread of vector born disease, health impacts like increased asthma and breathing related problems, more powerful forms of poison Ivy and the spread of Lyme disease. Climate scientists tell us that our extreme heat – breaking day time temperatures with regularity – and in particular the evening heat records – and the fact that temperatures don’t cool down at night like they use to, are all signs of human created climate change in action. Our planet is overheating and trying to tell us she is out of balance; we need to listen and hear what she has to say.
- Why does an increase of only one or two degrees make a big difference?
To paraphrase climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe, the planets temperature is as stable as that of the human body, and has been stable for thousands of years, since the last ice age; that’s how our human community has been able to develop, evolve and prosper. But we know that if our body’s temperature goes up 1.5-2 degrees, we go to the doctor. If our temperature goes up 3 or 4 degrees we go to the hospital. This is what’ happening to our planet. It is running a fever. That fever is affecting us. It is creating huge changes to our planet, on a planetary scale, and that hasn’t happened before in such a short time period.
- Do we have time to fix this?
Scientists, who study climate breakdown tell us we still have time, but that we don’t have a lot of time. The door is closing, it’s spring loaded, so we need to move quickly.
For more detailed answers and options for talking to your kids, order How to Talk to Your Kids About Climate Change, Turning Angst into Action, today! Find it wherever books are sold, including:
For a good explanation of the current heatwave in the Pacific North West, take a look at the June 30th Guardian article by Eric Holthaus, How Did a Small Town in Canada become one of the Hottest Places on Earth which provides some useful background.