Climate change can be a scary thing to talk about with grown-ups, let alone children. It is also very complex, with long-term effects that reach into future decades and centuries, and causes that include an invisible, odorless gas. When the president’s top science adviser encounters problems explaining climate change to members of the House Science Committee, the prospect of explaining fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, or ocean acidification to a 5-year-old or pre-teen can seem daunting.“When we talk to our kids, we have to explain the science of what’s happening,” said Lisa Hoyos, co-founder of Climate Parents, an organization focused on mobilizing families on the issue. “But it’s important to quickly pivot to what we can do to solve it.”
The grassroots organization Moms Clean Air Force hosted a “Play-In for Climate Action” last week, with parents from all over the country rallying in a park north of the U.S. Senate with their children. They played games, danced to music, heard speeches, and then marched to the front of the Capitol building.
Moms attending the event had different perspectives on how they talk to their kids about climate change and pollution. Many did their best to tie it into simple, everyday topics like not being wasteful or leaving things better than how you found them. Some found a way to make climate change real to their kids by monitoring household buying habits and energy consumption. Others got into the details of the science, and their children became the climate enforcers of the household. Some parents admitted they mostly avoided the topic.
“I don’t know how well I’ve done with talking about climate change and pollution to my kids,” said Caroline Armijo, who lives with her two children in Greensboro, North Carolina. “In general I talk about it a lot, but that’s because I work in my community to advocate for coal ash cleanup. So I think my daughter hears about it a lot but I don’t know how great a job I’ve done.”
She asked her 6-year-old daughter, Lucy, if she knew a lot about climate change.
“No,” said Lucy, sitting on the lawn. “I don’t know what that is.”
Her parents then asked her about clean air, clean water, being outside in hot weather, and wasting energy. Lucy became very interested in the grass and said no more.
“Climate change can be kind of scary, especially for her age group,” Armijo said. “For her, because of what she can comprehend as a child, and also the impact it’s going to have on her generation — it feels almost futile. I know it’s not. But you can see the change as it happens.”
Armijo now reads Lucy and her brother children’s books that talk about cleaning the environment, recycling, planting trees, and helping their community. They talk about doing those things in their own lives. Climate change thus far has not been on the agenda.
“I guess I should do a better job of being more direct and trying to talk with her.”
It’s perfectly understandable for a parent to hesitate talking about climate change and the impacts of fossil fuel pollution with young children. A report from the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica said that children “tend to be especially vulnerable to the psychological impacts of climate change, especially those related to stress and anxiety.”
Some parents, however, can’t avoid it.
“Climate change always comes up,” Victoria Gutierrez, an attendee of the Play-In, told ThinkProgress. Gutierrez lives with her patient and curious 4-year-old son Albino in the San Juan Basin, New Mexico. “We live on the Navajo Nation. We have to protect the water — water’s one of the most important things we have out there.”
Water conservation is also part of the family’s daily life.
“A lot of Navajos, especially younger ones — a lot of friends of mine who think like ‘Why are you conserving water? We’re surrounded by lakes and water.’ That doesn’t mean you waste the water — look at California.”
The San Juan Basin is also the home of the largest methane “hot spot” in the country thanks to coalbed methane production. That, she says, combined with the two major power plants she lives between, and the oil and gas fracking operations that have cropped up in the area, have made climate change and its causes an immediate, tangible presence in her child’s life. He suffers from childhood asthma, as do many other people on the community.
The choice is now between life and death, sickness and health,” he said. “Parents struggle because of their own guilt about a life of excess and its pollution — in all forms.”
The Australian Psychological Society recommends getting kids out in nature, finding something good to do for the environment, listening to their concerns, letting them talk about the environment, finding out what they know and sharing what you know while monitoring what they hear. Finally, they say: give children hope.
Albrecht imagined he would tell his nine-week-old grandchild in a few years’ time “that I have done everything in my power to prevent a nasty future for her and her generation.” He said he had “converted a life from fossil fuel ignorance and maximising to one that minimises everything to do with fossil fuel energy within my means and my value system. I am now carbon neutral or negative and proud of it!”
He said his house has solar rooftop generated electricity with battery storage and solar hot water. All of his water is stored rainwater and all waste is recycled back into the ecosystem. He also grows a lot of his own food and distributes the excess to his community.
“In other words, you cannot tell young children about climate change and a nasty future,” Albrecht continued. “We must tell them about a bright future and how by living in more sustainable ways right now, we can live well and be happy with how we live. We cannot just talk about maybe living a better life, we must demonstrate such a life style and the set of choices needed to attain it.”
Press link for more: Ryan Koronowski | thinkprogress.org