Letter to the editor: Kids focus on climate change
I was heartened to see so many families at last Wednesday night’s Bill McKibben talk, “Empowering Youth to Engage in our Climate Crisis,” which I attended with my own family. First, I want to extend deep gratitude to Bridge School, Woodchuck Cidery, and Bill himself for making this evening possible. We need to be having these conversations regularly.
I would like to add a few more concrete ways we can nurture climate activism in our children, rather than climate anxiety: first, we need to kindle a relationship between our children and the natural world — get them outside! Help them fall in love with this wonderful place. A deep connection to the joys and curiosities of the world is a prerequisite for interest in saving it. Help your children connect and explore the mountains, fields, and woods. Gaze at the stars and clouds. Listen to the birds, rain, and wind as it travels through the trees. Marvel together at this amazing world.
Second, help kids understand the facts of climate change without delving too deeply into the tragedies unfolding around us. Exposing kids, especially younger ones, to the horrors of starving polar bears or burned kangaroos may lead to what educator David Sobel termed “ecophobia,” which means a fear of the natural world. This fear can lead to a sense of powerlessness and withdrawal from nature (and activism). Instead, provide matter-of-fact explanations about the science and civics of climate change. (There’s a great book called “Buried Sunlight” by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm that explains what fossil fuels are and how their use is warming our planet.)
Third, help them find ways to make a difference right here, in our own community. Help them develop a sense of agency and power — the ability to make a difference right here, right now. Many kids are already familiar with United Nations’ Goals for Sustainable Development, which specify 17 goals that folks across the globe are working on together. Check them out, and as a family think of something to do locally that addresses one of the goals.
Together learn about our own contributions to the problem (in Vermont, as in many places, it is our transportation, heating/cooling, electricity, and food systems that are the biggest contributors) and do something about it: start a no-idling campaign in your school or church parking lot, grow your own food, start a carpooling group for afterschool activities.
Finally, parents, my last suggestion is that you get involved yourself: model being a climate activist for your child. I don’t really want to either, and it’s hard to find the time, but nothing is more important than trying to create a livable future for my children. And time is up. So here I am, a somewhat reluctant activist, a member of Extinction Rebellion Champlain Valley. And I promise you there is even some joy and fun to be found in coming together in climate activism. We are in this together. And we need everybody. Now.
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