Daddy, I dont want the Earth to gethotter
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Raising children in the age of global warming
OK, I admit it; I am one of those parents who wants to shelter his kids from the worst of what’s out there. Don’t get me wrong; I know it I’ve got to keep my papa bear protective instincts in check, lest my kids end up unprepared for the real world that awaits them as adults and even teenagers.
But at the same time, I want them to enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood, unspoiled by the stress of all the problems that face the adult world.
So I do what a lot of crunchy, tree-hugging parents do: limit time spent in front of screens or earshot of the daily news report; try to give them lots of access to nature; and teach them how to grow and harvest their food. Moreover, my partner and I try to feed their voracious curiosity about nature, even when it means playing host to their snail and insect collections — some members of which have escaped and taken up residence somewhere inside the house!
If that’s the price of fostering a lifelong love of nature, I’m happy to pay up. But the other day my seven-year-old daughter said to me,
Daddy, I don’t want the Earth to get hotter.
Damn, kids are smart. Even when you think you’re talking over their heads, their little brains are churning away, trying to figure out the puzzle of grownup conversation. And sure enough, they crack the code long before we realize it. So I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised by her insightful declaration.
But, how do I respond? How do I foster their inherent love of nature, and at the same time tell them that the world is changing in ways that are bad for the Earth they love? What’s more, how do I tell them the truth, without scaring them?
If that weren’t hard enough, then I hear a story on NPR about Travis Rieder Ph.D., a bioethicist who is advocating for adults not to have children. This point of view wasn’t a new idea for me. In fact, it’s one I struggled with before my partner and I decided to have kids. But the numbers in the story were sobering: Each child the average American chooses not to have saves 9,441 metric tons of carbon. Compare that to the mere 488 we can save by making green lifestyle decisions.
Back when I was grappling with this question myself, I also had to ask if it would be ethically right to deny my partner the deep — and very natural — fulfillment that she sought by having children.
There’s no easy answer.
In the end, we decided to have two children, only enough to replace us, with no net increase in population. And I feel good about our choice.
But that doesn’t help me answer my daughter. And the fear she expressed about climate change scratched at my own fears for her future. We live in rural California and face the annual reality of wildfires and drought. In 2050 when my kids are approaching middle age, will the home, surrounded by nature that they grew up in, have succumbed to wildfires? If it is still standing, will there be enough water to grown the garden to keep the fruit trees alive?
These are the kinds of questions that parents in the age of global warming grapple with. Some, like Rieder, might say that the answer is to just stop having kids. (And my daughter might just agree — she’s often talking about how there are too many people and not enough room for the animals!)
But the reality is that many people are going to keep having children. And parents are going to have to figure out how to give their children hope and tools to face the future in light of climate change.
I, myself, am still figuring it out.
I, myself, am still figuring it out. Recently, I took my daughter to her aerial dance class (imagine ballet class but hanging in the air from long silk ropes). And there she is, hanging upside down 10 feet from the floor, and once again my overprotective inclination starts to take hold. She seems so fragile and precarious hanging there with an uncertain future.
But you know what, she’s also smiling and having the time of her life. And even though I am aware she could fall, I also know that it’s an adventure I wouldn’t dream of taking away from her.
So we’re going to start talking about global warming, and yes we’ll talk about how scary it can be. But we’ll also talk about how I work hard every day at Friends of the Earth to make it better, and how good people all around the world are joining in to help create a brighter future.
Together, we can be her hope. And maybe, thinking about children like her and their love of nature can give us adults the hope we need to keep fighting.
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