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A wise woman – Whitney Houston – once said that children are our future. We need to “teach them well, and let them lead the way.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’re teaching our children when it comes to climate change and, more importantly, what they’re teaching us.
I’m Dianne Nice, a Globe and Mail editor and mom of two kids I hope will some day help lead the way to a sustainable future. My children, now 12 and 14, never cease to amaze me. They have so much enthusiasm, so many great ideas and a seemingly endless desire to do good in the world. Some days I struggle to keep up with their energy levels, and then I remind myself how important it is to encourage them, so they won’t fall into the lazy habits that have brought us here, to the brink of environmental ruin.
You don’t have to look far to find young people who are trying to lead the way. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, has rallied millions of students in more than 100 countries to join the school strike for climate movement. Her work, including her speech last year at COP24, the UN’s climate conference, has earned her a Nobel peace prize nomination. “You are never too small to make a difference,” she said. “Imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to.”
Closer to home, students are also taking a stand on government inaction. In Quebec, a high-school exam question about adapting to climate change – rather than fighting it – has rallied students to organize a protest. “It’s like they want to abandon the fight against climate change, and just make do and adapt,” said Francis Claude, a 17-year-old student at Mont-Ste-Anne School in Beaupre.
If you think climate change is frightening, imagine how it feels for our children. Some of us won’t live long enough to see the worst effects of global warming, but our children will. My daughter recently came across an article about the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning that there are only 12 years left to cap global warming at 1.5 C, after which time, the risk of extreme heat, drought and flooding will be significantly worse.
She was understandably upset, and wanted to know what was being done. I was dumbstruck. I didn’t know what to tell her. Should I acknowledge that, sadly, some world leaders are still denying there’s a problem?
If you haven’t had this conversation with your kids, you might want to prepare yourself. Just like the awkward birds-and-bees chat, it’s inevitable that they’re going to ask difficult questions, and you may find yourself as tongue-tied as I did.
I tried to be positive. I told her about how, when I was her age, people were very concerned about acid rain and the holes that had appeared in the ozone layer. I explained how scientists discovered that certain products were causing these effects and, as people adapted their behaviours, the damage slowed and, in some cases, reversed.
I also pointed out the things we can do to help, such as conserving water and energy, reducing waste and leaving the car at home. I, for one, stopped driving to work several years ago, and have vowed to make our next car purchase an electric vehicle. Every little bit helps.
Fortunately, environmental groups have put a lot more thought than I have into explaining climate change to children. Clean Foundation suggests making the topic less scary by encouraging kids to take action. Some ideas: writing to elected officials, taking part in a community clean up or tree planting, and fundraising for an environmental charity. My kids have raised hundreds of dollars over the years for Earth Rangers and WE Charity by selling homemade cookies, and it has made them feel empowered, knowing they are not too young to make a difference.
Of course, it’s hard to teach your children to love nature if you never spend time in it, which is why I let my husband drag us camping every summer. If, like me, you think roughing it is not your thing, here’s the story of how I got back to nature on a rocky road trip to two Quebec campgrounds. The moral of the story: there were a few mishaps and a lot of bugs, and still, we had a great time.
Want to have “the talk” about climate at your house? Here are some suggestions for further reading:
- Just for kids: What’s climate change and what can I do?
- 50 simple ways to cut carbon
- NASA climate kids: big questions
What else we’re reading:
Speaking of awkward conversations, here’s something parents of teen boys may relate to: it’s not always easy getting them to talk, Michael C. Reichert writes in this Washington Post piece, but the first step is simply to listen: “Listening to boys seems quite basic, but is not always easy. Many boys respond to the pressures of boyhood with mistrust, disconnection and reticence. They learn to play it cool, showing little of what they feel and adopting a pose of indifference, boredom or irritation.”
Sound familiar? Try joining whatever your son is doing, Reichert suggests. He needs to know he matters, and that you want to spend time with him. Whether you’re shooting hoops or playing video games, your son will hopefully feel comfortable enough to open up.
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