CLIMATE CHANGE AND CHILDREN
Compiled by Dick Bennett for a Culture of Peace, Justice, and Ecology, April 2, 2016
What’s at stake: A few days ago, it seems, NWA had a third of a million people. Now it has half a million! GROWTH on a roll—roads being built and widened, exchanges increased. XNA always EXPANDING, buildings torn down and rebuilt, bull-dozers scraping the earth. Time to read The Lorax again. CO2 production, methane multiplying, atmosphere warming, climate changing, weather extreming (nice try): ice melting, seas rising, drought enlarging, fires raging. The upside is: there’re plenty of people in NWA to join OMNI to resist the ravages of climate change. The peace, justice, and ECOLOGY movement must be systematic, be comprehensive, attend to all, and we must not forget the children.
Contents: An OMNI Awareness Program of Fact, Impact, Choice, and Action
GLOBAL WARMING: CO2 AND METHANE!
CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT ON CHILDREN
DECISION TO HAVE CHILDREN IN AGE OF WARMING
TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
(Contact OMNI to volunteer to be a leader.)
GLOBAL WARMING: CO2 AND METHANE!
FRACKINGCLIMATE CHANGEFEATUREAPRIL 11-18, 2016 ISSUE
“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry
Our leaders thought fracking would save our climate. They were wrong. Very wrong.” By Bill McKibben, MARCH 23, 2016, The Nation (April 11-18, 2016) http://www.thenation.com/article/global-warming-terrifying-new-chemistry/
A fracking well in the Eagle Ford Shale region, near Karnes City, Texas. (AP Photo / Aaron M. Sprecher)
Global warming is, in the end, not about the noisy political battles here on the planet’s surface. It actually happens in constant, silent interactions in the atmosphere, where the molecular structure of certain gases traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space. If you get the chemistry wrong, it doesn’t matter how many landmark climate agreements you sign or how many speeches you give. And it appears the United States may have gotten the chemistry wrong. Really wrong.
There’s one greenhouse gas everyone knows about: carbon dioxide, which is what you get when you burn fossil fuels. We talk about a “price on carbon” or argue about a carbon tax; our leaders boast about modest “carbon reductions.” But in the last few weeks, CO2’s nasty little brother has gotten some serious press. Meet methane, otherwise known as CH4.
In February, Harvard researchers published an explosive paper in Geophysical Research Letters. Using satellite data and ground observations, they concluded that the nation as a whole is leaking methane in massive quantities. Between 2002 and 2014, the data showed that US methane emissions increased by more than 30 percent, accounting for 30 to 60 percent of an enormous spike in methane in the entire planet’s atmosphere.
To the extent our leaders have cared about climate change, they’ve fixed on CO2. Partly as a result, coal-fired power plants have begun to close across the country. They’ve been replaced mostly with ones that burn natural gas, which is primarily composed of methane. Because burning natural gas releases significantly less carbon dioxide than burning coal, CO2 emissions have begun to trend slowly downward, allowing politicians to take a bow. But this new Harvard data, which comes on the heels of other aerial surveys showing big methane leakage, suggests that our new natural-gas infrastructure has been bleeding methane into the atmosphere in record quantities. And molecule for molecule, this unburned methane is much, much more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
The EPA insisted this wasn’t happening, that methane was on the decline just like CO2. But it turns out, as some scientists have been insisting for years, the EPA was wrong. Really wrong. This error is the rough equivalent of the New York Stock Exchange announcing tomorrow that the Dow Jones isn’t really at 17,000: Its computer program has been making a mistake, and your index fund actually stands at 11,000.
These leaks are big enough to wipe out a large share of the gains from the Obama administration’s work on climate change—all those closed coal mines and fuel-efficient cars. In fact, it’s even possible that America’s contribution to global warming increased during the Obama years. The methane story is utterly at odds with what we’ve been telling ourselves, not to mention what we’ve been telling the rest of the planet. It undercuts the promises we made at the climate talks in Paris. It’s a disaster—and one that seems set to spread.
The Obama administration, to its credit, seems to be waking up to the problem. Over the winter, the EPA began to revise its methane calculations, and in early March, the United States reached an agreement with Canada to begin the arduous task of stanching some of the leaks from all that new gas infrastructure. But none of this gets to the core problem, which is the rapid spread of fracking. Carbon dioxide is driving the great warming of the planet, but CO2 isn’t doing it alone. It’s time to take methane seriously.
To understand how we got here, it’s necessary to remember what a savior fracked natural gas looked like to many people, environmentalists included. As George W. Bush took hold of power in Washington, coal was ascendant, here and around the globe. Cheap and plentiful, it was most visibly underwriting the stunning growth of the economy in China, where, by some estimates, a new coal-fired power plant was opening every week. The coal boom didn’t just mean smoggy skies over Beijing; it meant the planet’s invisible cloud of carbon dioxide was growing faster than ever, and with it the certainty of dramatic global warming.
So lots of people thought it was great news when natural-gas wildcatters began rapidly expanding fracking in the last decade. Fracking involves exploding the sub-surface geology so that gas can leak out through newly opened pores; its refinement brought online new shale deposits across the continent—most notably the Marcellus Shale, stretching from West Virginia up into Pennsylvania and New York. The quantities of gas that geologists said might be available were so vast that they were measured in trillions of cubic feet and in centuries of supply.
The apparently happy fact was that when you burn natural gas, it releases half as much carbon dioxide as coal. A power plant that burned natural gas would therefore, or so the reasoning went, be half as bad for global warming as a power plant that burned coal. Natural gas was also cheap—so, from a politician’s point of view, fracking was a win-win situation. You could appease the environmentalists with their incessant yammering about climate change without having to run up the cost of electricity. It would be painless environmentalism, the equivalent of losing weight by cutting your hair.
It’s possible that America’s contribution to global warming increased during the Obama years.
And it appeared even better than that. If you were President Obama and had inherited a dead-in-the-water economy, the fracking boom offered one of the few economic bright spots. Not only did it employ lots of people, but cheap natural gas had also begun to alter the country’s economic equation: Manufacturing jobs were actually returning from overseas, attracted by newly abundant energy. In his 2012 State of the Union address, Obama declared that new natural-gas supplies would not only last the nation a century, but would create 600,000 new jobs by decade’s end. In his 2014 address, he announced that “businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in factories that use natural gas,” and pledged to “cut red tape” to get it all done. In fact, the natural-gas revolution has been a constant theme of his energy policy, the tool that made his restrictions on coal palatable. And Obama was never shy about taking credit for at least part of the boom. Public research dollars, he said in 2012, “helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock—reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.”
Obama had plenty of help selling natural gas—from the fossil-fuel industry, but also from environmentalists, at least for a while. Robert Kennedy Jr., who had enormous credibility as the founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance and a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote a paean in 2009 to the “revolution…over the past two years [that] has left America awash in natural gas and has made it possible to eliminate most of our dependence on deadly, destructive coal practically overnight.” Meanwhile, the longtime executive director of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope, had not only taken $25 million from one of the nation’s biggest frackers, Chesapeake Energy, to fund his organization, but was also making appearances with the company’s CEO to tout the advantages of gas, “an excellent example of a fuel that can be produced in quite a clean way, and shouldn’t be wasted.” (That CEO, Aubrey McClendon, apparently killed himself earlier this month, crashing his car into a bridge embankment days after being indicted for bid-rigging.) Exxon was in apparent agreement as well: It purchased XTO Energy, becoming the biggest fracker in the world overnight and allowing the company to make the claim that it was helping to drive emissions down.
For a brief shining moment, you couldn’t have asked for more. As Obama told a joint session of Congress, “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.”
* * *
Unless, of course, you happened to live in the fracking zone, where nightmares were starting to unfold. In recent decades, most American oil and gas exploration had been concentrated in the western United States, often far from population centers. When there were problems, politicians and media in these states paid little attention.
The Marcellus Shale, though, underlies densely populated eastern states. It wasn’t long before stories about the pollution of farm fields and contamination of drinking water from fracking chemicals began to make their way into the national media. In the Delaware Valley, after a fracking company tried to lease his family’s farm, a young filmmaker named Josh Fox produced one of the classic environmental documentaries of all time, Gasland, which became instantly famous for its shot of a man lighting on fire the methane flowing from his water faucet.
This reporting helped galvanize a movement—at first town by town, then state by state, and soon across whole regions. The activism was most feverish in New York, where residents could look across the Pennsylvania line and see the ecological havoc that fracking caused. Scores of groups kept up unrelenting pressure that eventually convinced Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban it. Long before that happened, the big environmental groups recanted much of their own support for fracking: The Sierra Club’s new executive director, Michael Brune, not only turned down $30 million in potential donations from fracking companies but came out swinging against the practice. “The club needs to…advocate more fiercely to use as little gas as possible,” he said. “We’re not going to mute our voice on this.” As for Robert Kennnedy Jr., by 2013 he was calling natural gas a “catastrophe.”
In the end, one of the most important outcomes of the antifracking movement may have been that it attracted the attention of a couple of Cornell scientists. Living on the northern edge of the Marcellus Shale, Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea got interested in the outcry. While everyone else was focused on essentially local issues—would fracking chemicals get in the water supply?—they decided to look more closely at a question that had never gotten much attention: How much methane was invisibly being leaked by these fracking operations?
Natural gas was also cheap—so, from a politician’s point of view, fracking was a win-win situation.
Because here’s the unhappy fact about methane: Though it produces only half as much carbon as coal when you burn it, if you don’t—if it escapes into the air before it can be captured in a pipeline, or anywhere else along its route to a power plant or your stove—then it traps heat in the atmosphere much more efficiently than CO2. Howarth and Ingraffea began producing a series of papers claiming that if even a small percentage of the methane leaked—maybe as little as 3 percent—then fracked gas would do more climate damage than coal. And their preliminary data showed that leak rates could be at least that high: that somewhere between 3.6 and 7.9 percent of methane gas from shale-drilling operations actually escapes into the atmosphere.
To say that no one in power wanted to hear this would be an understatement. The two scientists were roundly attacked by the industry; one trade group called their study the “Ivory Tower’s latest fact-free assault on shale gas exploration.” Most of the energy establishment joined in. An MIT team, for instance, had just finished an industry-funded report that found “the environmental impacts of shale development are challenging but manageable”; one of its lead authors, the ur-establishment energy expert Henry Jacoby, described the Cornell research as “very weak.” One of its other authors, Ernest Moniz, would soon become the US secretary of energy; in his nomination hearings in 2013, he lauded the “stunning increase” in natural gas as a “revolution” and pledged to increase its use domestically.
The trouble for the fracking establishment was that new research kept backing up Howarth and Ingraffea. In January 2013, for instance, aerial overflights of fracking basins in Utah found leak rates as high as 9 percent. “We were expecting to see high methane levels, but I don’t think anybody really comprehended the true magnitude of what we would see,” said the study’s director. But such work was always piecemeal, one area at a time, while other studies—often conducted with industry-supplied data—came up with lower numbers.
* * *
That’s why last month’s Harvard study came as such a shock. It used satellite data from across the country over a span of more than a decade to demonstrate that US methane emissions had spiked 30 percent since 2002. The EPA had been insisting throughout that period that methane emissions were actually falling, but it was clearly wrong—on a massive scale. In fact, emissions “are substantially higher than we’ve understood,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admitted in early March. The Harvard study wasn’t designed to show why US methane emissions were growing—in other parts of the world, as new research makes clear, cattle and wetlands seem to be causing emissions to accelerate. But the spike that the satellites recorded coincided almost perfectly with the era when fracking went big-time.
To make matters worse, during the same decade, experts had become steadily more worried about the effects of methane in any quantity on the atmosphere. Everyone agrees that, molecule for molecule, methane traps far more heat than CO2—but exactly how much wasn’t clear. One reason the EPA estimates of America’s greenhouse-gas emissions showed such improvement was because the agency, following standard procedures, was assigning a low value to methane and measuring its impact over a 100-year period. But a methane molecule lasts only a couple of decades in the air, compared with centuries for CO2. That’s good news, in that methane’s effects are transient—and very bad news because that transient but intense effect happens right now, when we’re breaking the back of the planet’s climate. The EPA’s old chemistry and 100-year time frame assigned methane a heating value of 28 to 36 times that of carbon dioxide; a more accurate figure, says Howarth, is between 86 and 105 times the potency of CO2 over the next decade or two.
If you combine Howarth’s estimates of leakage rates and the new standard values for the heat-trapping potential of methane, then the picture of America’s total greenhouse-gas emissions over the last 15 years looks very different: Instead of peaking in 2007 and then trending downward, as the EPA has maintained, our combined emissions of methane and carbon dioxide have gone steadily and sharply up during the Obama years, Howarth says. We closed coal plants and opened methane leaks, and the result is that things have gotten worse.
Since Howarth is an outspoken opponent of fracking, I ran the Harvard data past an impeccably moderate referee, the venerable climate-policy wonk Dan Lashof. A UC Berkeley PhD who has been in the inner circles of climate policy almost since it began, Lashof has helped write reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and craft the Obama administration’s plan to cut coal-plant pollution. The longtime head of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, he is now the chief operations officer of billionaire Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate America.
We closed coal plants and opened methane leaks, and the result is that things have gotten worse.
“The Harvard paper is important,” Lashof said. “It’s the most convincing new data I have seen showing that the EPA’s estimates of the methane-leak rate are much too low. I think this paper shows that US greenhouse-gas emissions may have gone up over the last decade if you focus on the combined short-term-warming impact.”
Under the worst-case scenario—one that assumes that methane is extremely potent and extremely fast-acting—the United States has actually slightly increased its greenhouse-gas emissions from 2005 to 2015. That’s the chart below: the blue line shows what we’ve been telling ourselves and the world about our emissions—that they are falling. The red line, the worst-case calculation from the new numbers, shows just the opposite.
Lashof argues for a more moderate reading of the numbers (calculating methane’s impact over 50 years, for instance). But even this estimate—one that attributes less of the methane release to fracking—wipes out as much as three-fifths of the greenhouse-gas reductions that the United States has been claiming. This more modest reassessment is the yellow line in the chart below; it shows the country reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions, but by nowhere near as much as we had thought.
The lines are doubtless not as smooth as the charts imply, and other studies will provide more detail and perhaps shift the calculations. But any reading of the new data offers a very different version of our recent history. Among other things, either case undercuts the statistics that America used to negotiate the Paris climate accord. It’s more upsetting than the discovery last year that China had underestimated its coal use, because China now appears to be cutting back aggressively on coal. If the Harvard data hold up and we keep on fracking, it will be nearly impossible for the United States to meet its promised goal of a 26 to 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from 2005 levels by 2025.
* * *
One obvious conclusion from the new data is that we need to move very aggressively to plug as many methane leaks as possible. “The biggest unfinished business for the Obama administration is to establish tight rules on methane emissions from existing [wells and drill sites],” Lashof says. That’s the work that Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to tackle at their conclave in March—although given the time it takes for the EPA to draft new rules, it will likely be long after Obama’s departure before anything happens, and the fossil-fuel industry has vowed to fight new regulations.
Also, containing the leaks is easier said than done: After all, methane is a gas, meaning that it’s hard to prevent it from escaping. Since methane is invisible and odorless (utilities inject a separate chemical to add a distinctive smell), you need special sensors to even measure leaks. Catastrophic blowouts like the recent one at Porter Ranch in California pour a lot of methane into the air, but even these accidents are small compared to the total seeping out from the millions of pipes, welds, joints, and valves across the country—especially the ones connected with fracking operations, which involve exploding rock to make large, leaky pores. A Canadian government team examined the whole process a couple of years ago and came up with despairing conclusions. Consider the cement seals around drill pipes, says Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes, who was a member of the team: “It sounds like it ought to be simple to make a cement seal, but the phrase we finally fixed on is ‘an unresolved engineering challenge.’ The technical problem is that when you pour cement into a well and it solidifies, it shrinks. You can get gaps in the cement. All wells leak.”
With that in mind, the other conclusion from the new data is even more obvious: We need to stop the fracking industry in its tracks, here and abroad. Even with optimistic numbers for all the plausible leaks fixed, Howarth says, methane emissions will keep rising if we keep fracking.
“It ought to be simple to make a cement seal, but the phrase we finally fixed on is ‘an unresolved engineering challenge.’” —Naomi Oreskes
And if we didn’t frack, what would we do instead? Ten years ago, the realistic choice was between natural gas and coal. But that choice is no longer germane: Over the same 10 years, the price of a solar panel has dropped at least 80 percent. New inventions have come online, such as air-source heat pumps, which use the latent heat in the air to warm and cool houses, and electric storage batteries. We’ve reached the point where Denmark can generate 42 percent of its power from the wind, and where Bangladesh is planning to solarize every village in the country within the next five years. We’ve reached the point, that is, where the idea of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a renewable future is a marketing slogan, not a realistic claim (even if that’s precisely the phrase that Hillary Clinton used to defend fracking in a debate earlier this month).
One of the nastiest side effects of the fracking boom, in fact, is that the expansion of natural gas has undercut the market for renewables, keeping us from putting up windmills and solar panels at the necessary pace. Joe Romm, a climate analyst at the Center for American Progress, has been tracking the various economic studies more closely than anyone else. Even if you could cut the methane-leakage rates to zero, Romm says, fracked gas (which, remember, still produces 50 percent of the CO2 level emitted by coal when you burn it) would do little to cut the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions because it would displace so much truly clean power. A Stanford forum in 2014 assembled more than a dozen expert teams, and their models showed what a drag on a sustainable future cheap, abundant gas would be. “Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies,” the principal investigator of the Stanford forum explained. “If you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether.”
TELL PRESIDENT OBAMA: BAN FRACKING ON PUBLIC LANDS
TAKE ACTION NOW!
Of course, if you’re a cookie company, that’s not what you want to hear. And the Exxons have a little more political juice than the Keeblers. To give just one tiny example, during his first term, Obama’s then–deputy assistant for energy and climate change, Heather Zichal, headed up an interagency working group to promote the development of domestic natural gas. The working group had been formed after pressure from the American Petroleum Institute, the chief fossil-fuel lobbying group, and Zichal, in a talk to an API gathering, said: “It’s hard to overstate how natural gas—and our ability to access more of it than ever—has become a game changer, and that’s why it’s been a fixture of the president’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy.” Zichal left her White House job in 2013; one year later, she took a new post on the board of Cheniere Energy, a leading exporter of fracked gas. In the $180,000-a-year job, she joined former CIA head John Deutch, who once led an Energy Department review of fracking safety during the Obama years, and Vicky Bailey, a commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under Bill Clinton. That’s how it works.
* * *
There was one oddly reassuring number in the Harvard satellite data: The massive new surge of methane from the United States constituted somewhere between 30 and 60 percent of the global growth in methane emissions this past decade. In other words, the relatively small percentage of the planet’s surface known as the United States accounts for much (if not most) of the spike in atmospheric methane around the world. Another way of saying this is: We were the first to figure out how to frack. In this new century, we’re leading the world into the natural-gas age, just as we poured far more carbon into the 20th-century atmosphere than any other nation. So, thank God, now that we know there’s a problem, we could warn the rest of the planet before it goes down the same path.
Except we’ve been doing exactly the opposite. We’ve become the planet’s salesman for natural gas—and a key player in this scheme could become the next president of the United States. When Hillary Clinton took over the State Department, she set up a special arm, the Bureau of Energy Resources, after close consultation with oil and gas executives. This bureau, with 63 employees, was soon helping sponsor conferences around the world. And much more: Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that the secretary of state was essentially acting as a broker for the shale-gas industry, twisting the arms of world leaders to make sure US firms got to frack at will.
To take just one example, an article in Mother Jones based on the WikiLeaks cables reveals what happened when fracking came to Bulgaria. In 2011, the country signed a $68 million deal with Chevron, granting the company millions of acres in shale-gas concessions. The Bulgarian public wasn’t happy: Tens of thousands were in the streets of Sofia with banners reading Stop Fracking With Our Water. But when Clinton came for a state visit in 2012, she sided with Chevron (one of whose executives had bundled large sums for her presidential campaign in 2008). In fact, the leaked cables show that the main topic of her meetings with Bulgaria’s leaders was fracking. Clinton offered to fly in the “best specialists on these new technologies to present the benefits to the Bulgarian people,” and she dispatched her Eurasian energy envoy, Richard Morningstar, to lobby hard against a fracking ban in neighboring Romania. Eventually, they won those battles—and today, the State Department provides “assistance” with fracking to dozens of countries around the world, from Cambodia to Papua New Guinea.
So if the United States has had a terrible time tracking down and fixing its methane leaks, ask yourself how it’s going to go in Bulgaria. If Canada finds that sealing leaks is an “unresolved engineering challenge,” ask yourself how Cambodia’s going to make out. If the State Department has its way, then in a few years Harvard’s satellites will be measuring gushers of methane from every direction.
* * *
Of course, we can—and perhaps we should— forgive all that past. The information about methane is relatively new; when Obama and Clinton and Zichal started backing fracking, they didn’t really know. They could have turned around much earlier, like Kennedy or the Sierra Club. But what they do now will be decisive.
There are a few promising signs. Clinton has at least tempered her enthusiasm for fracking some in recent debates, listing a series of preconditions she’d insist on before new projects were approved; Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has called for a moratorium on new fracking. But Clinton continues to conflate and confuse the chemistry: Natural gas, she said in a recent position paper, has helped US carbon emissions “reach their lowest level in 20 years.” It appears that many in power would like to carry on the fracking revolution, albeit a tad more carefully.
Indeed, just last month, Cheniere Energy shipped the first load of American gas overseas from its new export terminal at Sabine Pass in Louisiana. As the ship sailed, Cheniere’s vice president of marketing, Meg Gentle, told industry and government officials that natural gas should be rebranded as renewable energy. “I’d challenge everyone here to reframe the debate and make sure natural gas is part of the category of clean energy, not a fossil-fuel category, which is viewed as dirty and not part of the solution,” she said. A few days later, Exxon’s PR chief, writing in the Los Angeles Times, boasted that the company had been “instrumental in America’s shale gas revolution,” and that as a result, “America’s greenhouse gas emissions have declined to levels not seen since the 1990s.”
The new data prove them entirely wrong. The global-warming fight can’t just be about carbon dioxide any longer. Those local environmentalists, from New York State to Tasmania, who have managed to enforce fracking bans are doing as much for the climate as they are for their own clean water. That’s because fossil fuels are the problem in global warming—and fossil fuels don’t come in good and bad flavors. Coal and oil and natural gas have to be left in the ground. All of them.
BILL MCKIBBEN Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books, most recently The Bill McKibben Reader, an essay collection. A scholar in residence at Middlebury College, he is co-founder of 350.org, the largest global grassroots organizing campaign on climate change.
CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT ON CHILDREN
Children will bear the brunt of the impact of climate change because of their increased risk of health problems, malnutrition, and migration, according to a [PDF]. And food prices are likely to soar as a result of warming, undoing the progress made in combating world hunger.
The findings are published as scientists began meeting in Stockholm to produce the most comprehensive assessment yet of our knowledge of climate change. Over the next five days, the , bringing together the world’s leading experts, will thrash out the final details of a message to the world’s governments.
They are expected to warn that , and that it will lead to a global temperature rise likely to top 2 degrees C, with related effects including the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap and glaciers, a rise in sea level by nearly one meter by the end of this century, and more extreme rainfall in parts of the globe.
UNICEF argues that although children are more vulnerable to the effects of global warming, they have been largely left out of the debate. “We are hurtling towards a future where the gains being made for the world’s children are threatened and their health, well being, livelihoods and survival are compromised … despite being the least responsible for the causes,” said David Bull, UNICEF’s U.K. executive director. “We need to listen to them.”
Children born last year will come of age in 2030, by which time the effects of climate change in the form of an increase in droughts, floods, and storms are likely to be more in evidence. In the 10 most vulnerable countries, including Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines, there are 620 million children under 18.
UNICEF estimates that 25 million more children will suffer malnourishment because of climate change, with a further 100 million suffering food insecurity, where they and their families are on the verge of running out. Children among the 150-200 million people estimated to have to flee their homes because of climate change will suffer more than adults because of their relative lack of resources and higher vulnerability to disease. In heatwaves, likely to grow more intense and frequent under climate change, babies and small children are more likely to die or suffer heatstroke because they find it difficult to regulate their body heat.
Separately, a report by Oxfam warned that global warming would cause rapid rises in food prices, causing severe consequences in poor countries. In pointed contrast to climate sceptics, who have seized on some of the areas of uncertainty in the IPCC assessment to claim that global warming is a far-off and minor problem, Oxfam listed recent examples of extreme weather that have caused food shortages and raised prices, quoting scientific estimates that these are likely to increase in number as warming continues. “Today one person in eight goes to bed hungry. Analysis suggests that the number of people at risk of hunger is projected to increase by 10-20 percent by 2050 as a result of climate change,” the study found.
The authors cited the 2012 drought in Russia, which cut the grain harvest by a quarter, resulting in grain and bread prices rocketing and many farmers falling into serious debt and hardship. The same year, the worst drought in 50 years in the Midwest of the U.S. cut maize yields by a quarter, leading to a 40 percent rise in prices. Two years before, the devastating Pakistan floods destroyed 570,000 hectares of crops, and 80 percent of food stored was lost in some areas.
Oxfam also cites a study that suggested the 2011 drought in East Africa and famine in Somalia were made more likely by climate change. One of the problems with estimating the future effects of warming is that natural events such as storms, floods, and droughts happen anyway and it is hard to blame particular occurrences on global warming. On this, the panel is expected to say on Friday that extreme weather effects are more likely because of climate change but will stop well short of attributing specific events solely to climate change.
Tim Gore from Oxfam said: “We want a world in which everyone enjoys the right to affordable and nutritious food, and we cannot allow climate change to throw us off course. Leaders listening to the latest findings from climate scientists this week must remember that a hot world is a hungry world. They must take urgent action to slash emissions and direct more resources to building a sustainable food system.”
Fiona Harvey is an environment correspondent for The Guardian.
DECISION TO HAVE CHILDREN IN AGE OF WARMING
CLIMATE CHANGECHILDRENFEATUREAPRIL 11-18, 2016 ISSUE http://www.thenation.com/article/how-do-you-decide-to-have-a-baby-when-climate-change-is-remaking-life-on-earth/
“How Do You Decide to Have a Baby When Climate Change Is Remaking Life on Earth?” By Madeline Ostrander, MARCH 24, 2016, The Nation (April 11-18, 2016).
Any child born now could, by midlife, see massive storms inundate coastal cities and the Great Plains turn to dust. Could I have one, knowing I might not be able to keep her safe?
Illustration by Karl-Raphael Blanchard
The librarian was nondescript in the way that everyone standing behind a counter is, probably in her 30s, with straight, fox-colored hair. When she took my stack of books, I noticed the way her sweater draped over a conspicuous melon-shaped belly, and I felt a tug in my chest and warmth rise in my stomach. It took a moment to recognize this sensation as envy. Then came another feeling: shock. I had never been jealous of any woman for carrying what looked like an uncomfortable load, or for what would come next: the messy, exhausting job of mothering an infant. Something unfamiliar had come over me.
In my late 20s and early 30s, I was terrified of becoming the sort of woman who was “baby crazy,” afraid motherhood would circumscribe my life. I politely admired but didn’t gush over my friends’ new babies. Compared with many women, I was under little pressure to procreate; neither my nor my husband’s parents had ever expressed more than a tentative longing for grandchildren. But six years ago, when I first held my 2-month-old niece, wrapped in a flower-print onesie and murmuring delicious baby noises, I felt a rush of joy, an indescribable feeling of human closeness.
My husband and I had made a home in Seattle for several years, and my friends of childbearing age tended to be writers and activists, scientists and scholars. When considering kids, they weighed not only their desires and finances but the state of the world. Many of them had read grim prognoses of what climate change would do to life on Earth. Even in the restrained language of science, the future holds unprecedented difficulties and disasters. For many people, these problems were an abstraction, but as an environmental journalist, I knew enough to imagine them in front of me. Driving across the bridge to my house, I pictured city beaches drowned by the rising sea. Watching the news, I wondered when the next colossal hurricane would strike the Gulf of Mexico or the mid-Atlantic. These thoughts are not paranoid. According to scientists’ predictions, if society keeps pumping out carbon dioxide at current rates, any child born now could, by midlife, watch Superstorm Sandy–size disasters regularly inundate New York City. She could see the wheat fields of the Great Plains turn to dust and parts of California gripped by decades of drought. She may see world food prices soar and water in the American West become even scarcer. By 2050, when still in her 30s, she could witness global wars waged over food and land. “It does make me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have kids,” one of my friends whispered to me. A year later, she was pregnant. What had changed her mind?
Any child born now could, by midlife, watch Superstorm Sandy–size disasters regularly inundate New York City.
I heard a lot of stray comments like this as I sat on the fence between motherhood and childlessness. A male musician I knew wondered when I might have a baby, then mused that most people he knew thought the world was too screwed up for children. A literary agent who took me to lunch asked if my reporting on climate change left me so gloomy that I didn’t want to have kids at all.
Sometimes when I considered the question, the sadness nearly suffocated me. Still, in the months after I saw the librarian, some kind of maternal sensibility was switched on in my mind, and I tuned in to the presence of children the way a bird-watcher is alert to avian activity. Grinning girls with micro-braids on bikes, the kids who left popsicle-stick art strung from trees near my house, my friends’ photographs of their newborns on Facebook—they struck me with a plaintive ache. On a flight back from a conference, I gave my window seat to a bespectacled 10-year-old girl traveling alone. She looked so shy that I had an urge to find out where was she going and if she was safe, though I said nothing.
One evening I confided to a friend, as her 4-year-old son ran toy trucks through the adjacent room, that I thought about having a baby, but I worried how to keep a child safe in a future wracked by global warming. “I know,” she said, her face tightening with fear. “I don’t know what to do about it. I feel so helpless.” For a moment, we both were silent.
* * *
In 1970, the biologist Paul Ehrlich leaned over a podium at Northwestern University and declared, “The American woman of the year is the sterile woman who adopts two children.” It was the beginning of a half-century of ambivalence among environmentalists over the nature of motherhood. Two years before his Northwestern speech, Ehrlich and his wife, Anne, had unleashed the best seller The Population Bomb (though the publisher insisted on removing Anne’s name from the byline). The book popularized the notion that the world was headed for a population explosion with catastrophic consequences: Too many people and too few resources would mean horrifying famine and world wars.
The Ehrlichs were willing to entertain extreme solutions, such as “the addition of temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food.” For some, their ideas conjured up America’s repugnant history of eugenics—in which medical authorities coerced thousands of men and women, especially women of color and the poor and disabled, to get surgically sterilized, a practice that began at the turn of the 20th century and continued through at least the 1970s. The Ehrlichs and other population-control advocates alienated a number of audiences of color—though Paul was also active in the civil-rights movement, and the couple has insisted that there was no racial bias in their case for population control. But at the dawn of the sexual revolution and the modern environmental movement, the book generated a groundswell of enthusiasm. With scientist Charles Remington and lawyer Richard Bowers, the Ehrlichs founded the organization Zero Population Growth; in just over a year, it grew to 102 chapters in 30 states. The popularity of these ideas helped stoke the public sentiment that led to the legalization of abortion. But the threat of overpopulation also became a cover for attacks on immigrants and the poor. Ellen Peck, founder of a 1970s anti-overpopulation group called the National Organization for Non-Parents, faulted government housing and welfare programs for bailing “irresponsible baby-breeders out of their partially self-created financial responsibilities.” As recently as 2004, white-supremacist and anti-immigration groups tried to vie for seats on the Sierra Club’s board in an effort to push the conservation group to oppose immigration to the United States.
Mothers carried moral heft in some environmental fights. Among the most iconic eco-heroes are women like Hazel Johnson, the mother of seven who, from the late 1970s through the 1990s, pushed city and federal officials to clean up asbestos and filter cyanide out of the tap water of some of Chicago’s mostly African-American neighborhoods. Lois Gibbs, mother of four, fought for the cleanup of Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York, built on a dumping ground for toxic chemicals. But today, having even one child can pose a moral quandary for some environmentalists. In a 2009 report, statisticians at Oregon State University determined that giving birth to one more American “adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female.” Factoring in grandchildren and great-grandchildren, it multiplies her “lifetime emissions” by a factor of nearly six.
The OSU study is one of many recent attempts to quantify the environmental impact of parenthood. But it didn’t make sense, I thought, to filter the world’s most pressing environmental dilemma through the private choices of an individual woman. That analysis left out significant pieces of the puzzle. The average woman couldn’t, by herself, wrench billions of barrels of oil and tons of coal out of North American soil and sell them overseas, or stonewall policies that might have steered the US economy away from fossil fuels years ago.
* * *
Conceivable Future founder Meghan Kallman. (Steve Ahlquist)
As a child, Meghan Kallman used to announce: “I don’t want to have kids.” She wasn’t sure it was really true, but she relished the look of confusion that would appear on grown-ups’ faces. Now in her early 30s, Kallman is a doctoral student in sociology at Brown University. In the fall of 2014, she and a former Occupy activist named Josephine Ferorelli launched the Conceivable Future project, which seeks a more compassionate way to talk about the decision to have—or not have—children in an era marked by climate change. The project’s mission statement is a kind of manifesto: “The climate crisis is a reproductive crisis…. As we consider having families, it becomes clear that the perils of climate change have made this a terrifying time to make such choices…. We now have to worry that the planet won’t support our children.” So far, the project consists of living-room-style forums, more than a dozen events held to date in places like Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Salt Lake City, New York City, and rural New England. Each event offers men and women space to share their feelings on children and climate change in small groups, sometimes on camera for the video statements collected on the project’s website.
I first glimpsed Kallman last June in Seattle, playing trumpet in an activist ensemble called the Extraordinary Rendition Band and dressed in a performance get-up of frothy tulle skirt, white fedora with a gold scarf twirled around the brim, combat boots, and torn fishnet stockings. I watched as the band honked out a set that was mostly boisterous and loud at an urban park near an abandoned gas plant. But their last number was a somber Mexican funeral march, and in the middle of the tune, Kallman—who also teaches in Rhode Island’s state prisons—held up a megaphone and recited lines adapted from The New Jim Crow: “We have not done away with racial injustice in the United States. We have merely redesigned it.” “That’s the truth!” hollered a man in the audience, and the crowd shrieked with enthusiasm.
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Conceivable Future’s logo. (Artwork: Josephine Ferorelli)
A few hours earlier, I’d been sitting with Kallman outside a bagel shop, both of us shivering in the chilly morning air. The daughter of a public-school teacher and a builder from rural New England, Kallman started attending protests when she was in college. In 2011, she was arrested in a Washington, DC, demonstration against the Keystone XL pipeline. She told me haltingly that she’d had an abortion two years before. “It would be disingenuous for me to say the whole reason I had an abortion was climate change,” she added. For one thing, she hadn’t yet found the right person to start a family with. “But there was also this lingering doubt about whether I feel like it’s fair to create new life in the face of this mess.”
In 2014, she met Tim DeChristopher, an activist who’d spent two years in prison for posing as a bidder to block the auction of drilling leases on public lands in Utah. On his release, he relocated to the Northeast, and the two had begun dating that summer. The following spring, they had moved in together, and now, Kallman asked herself the question again: Given global warming, could she consider having a child, even with someone she loved?
Conceivable Future cofounder Josephine Ferorelli. (Christopher Salveter)
It was a question she didn’t feel comfortable asking out loud until she met Ferorelli, who had wrestled with similar feelings. Every time Ferorelli heard a piece of positive news about the environment—such as President Obama’s announcement of a climate deal with China—she would be seized by optimism, thinking: “Maybe I could have a baby.” The next piece of bad news would send her back into despair. To both women, this was the heart of the climate-change crisis: not melting ice sheets or crashing oil prices, but the impact on the people you love and the life you could imagine for yourself.
As far as Kallman knew, no one had ever talked about climate change and childbearing choices this way before. In the 1980s and ’90s, scientists had assumed that world leaders would take action to curb the impact of global warming. But by the mid-2000s, emissions were still rising and the worst-case scenarios were playing out, setting the world up for heat waves that could devastate food supplies and rising seas that could drown coastal areas and island nations. So the Conceivable Future parties were a form of consciousness-raising: Kallman didn’t know exactly where the project would lead, but she pictured such conversations happening across the country and helping to create a political platform.
“The climate crisis is a reproductive crisis…. We now have to worry that the planet won’t support our children.” —Conceivable Future mission statement
She asked about my own views, and I found myself making a confession. “The part of me that wants to have a child is very much about joy and love,” I said. “I’m not sure that it’s reasonable to try to tamp those feelings down, but I still have these thoughts like, ‘Is it right thing to do?’”
“Who the hell knows?” Kallman replied. “We’re not pushing any single idea. We’re just trying to make a space where people can have their feelings.”
Kallman was still wrestling with her own emotions. “I’m with you on the love thing,” she added. “When I think about the possibility of not having kids, that’s what I would miss the most.”
* * *
“Whenever I talk about having children, climate comes up,” said a buoyant 23-year-old woman named Morgan. “And whenever women I know talk about climate change, the subject of having kids comes up.”
I sat beside her in a room buzzing with the conversations of some two dozen people. We had all assembled on a hot day in July for Conceivable Future’s Seattle meeting, hosted by a local health-food store. Two women in their 20s led the event; both had met Kallman at a conference in April. The participants, ranging from their early 20s to 60s, made a round of introductions. Natalie had recently flip-flopped from never wanting kids to fiercely desiring them. Yin was a first-generation immigrant whose grandparents had raised eight children in Taiwan and didn’t understand why she was deferring having her own family. Frederica, the mother of a toddler and pregnant with a second child, said she was searching for ways to raise kids who would know how to handle themselves even if life in general became less hospitable.
The attendees were a group deeply involved with the environmental movement; several worked for local environmental organizations. That didn’t make them complete anomalies—40 percent of Americans fear that climate change will harm their family members, and a majority under the age of 40 believe it will affect them over the course of their lives. But for the people in the room, the problem was immediate and tangible, and it influenced decisions big and small.
“Whenever we talk about climate change, the subject of having kids comes up.” —Morgan, 23
Morgan and I joined a discussion group at the edge of the room. Beside us were two veterans of environmental campaigns in the ’70s. Richard introduced himself as a baby boomer with stepkids but no biological children; Shannon was a former nanny who’d read Ehrlich early in her life and become convinced that it was “completely wrong to have kids—I took a pretty hard stand on it.” But the two were sympathetic toward Morgan, who was born in the early ’90s and could have been the same age as the daughters they’d never had. Morgan said that she had never known a time when global warming didn’t consume her thoughts. “I can’t turn it off,” she added. “I think that gives you permission to do whatever you want as a survivor,” Richard offered kindly. “Yes!” Shannon chimed in.
The tone of these conversations reflected an openness and a lack of judgment that I’d never experienced before on a topic so charged and personal. No one claimed they had the best answer. Instead, we shared a collective grappling with questions of how to cope with the future.
Conceivable Future hosts its first house party in Chicago. (Marya Spont)
Even much of the population movement no longer takes a hard line on such questions. I asked John Seager, head of Population Connection, the organization once known as Zero Population Growth, if he would offer advice for a project like Conceivable Future. I could almost hear him recoil over the phone: “No, I absolutely wouldn’t,” he replied. “These are the most personal and private decisions.” In the years since the publication of The Population Bomb, his group went through an identity crisis, followed by a profound shift in message, when study after study showed birth rates dropping on their own once women had access to contraception, education, healthcare, and legal abortion. (The American birth rate decreased after birth control became easily accessible in the 1970s. Millennials now have dramatically lower fertility rates than any previous generation.) The global population is still surging, and it’s predicted to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. But to Seager’s group, the solutions looked more systemic. “If I could [boil] the whole issue down to two words, it’s ‘Trust women,’” Seager said. “If women are empowered to lead the lives they want to lead, the problem just evaporates.”
* * *
“Becoming a mother is like walking through a door,” a writer friend in her 50s told me. “There’s a whole set of experiences that you can’t understand until you’re on the other side.”
By last fall, I’d finally decided to open that door. My pregnancy arrived in October like a sickness. I wanted to work but lay in bed while my stomach churned; I tried to energize myself by jogging down the street, but afterward, I collapsed on the couch. I alternated between moments of all-encompassing pessimism and moments of unbridled joy. I followed the development of the creature in my abdomen on websites that gave facts about its size: as big as a lentil and then a blueberry, built like a delicate tadpole or a brine shrimp.
Then, after 10 weeks, I began to miscarry. I knew the early weeks of pregnancy were fragile; I had told myself that I would be rational if this happened. But the grief welled up from a part of my psyche that I’d never been aware of before, like an unused muscle. The sadness was deep and physical, torrential and uncontrollable. For weeks, I was embarrassed by all the ways that my body had left me raw. Yet, at times, the grief was like a strange new power—I was as sensitive to the world around me as a barometer. I cried for parents who had to bury children killed by bombings in Syria. I wept for a friend who lost her mother to cancer. I felt like I finally understood what was at stake in these conversations about the future of the planet: the value of what we create and of those we choose to love.
Throughout the winter, I sank deeper into my grief. I slept fitfully and clenched my teeth as I dreamed. I still worked, but barely, as if in a kind of daze. Then I awoke one morning in February to the opening of plum-tree blossoms in my backyard and walked among the decayed remains of last year’s leaves. In the woods nearby, the salmonberries had begun to open their green buds. Last year, spring came early and warm, followed by a summer of record-breaking heat that lit the Pacific Northwest’s forests on fire. Now that it was spring again, I wondered if I would try once more to conceive. I imagined my hypothetical child walking alongside me. What would I say about this place, the renewal of faith, the seasons of life, and whether we could rely on them as we always had? Would I know how to prepare someone for what lay ahead? There was no calculation I could make to tell me the right thing to do. There was only this moment, and the knowledge that everything we choose in it creates or forecloses possibilities for those who live after us.
MADELINE OSTRANDER TWITTER Madeline Ostrander is a contributing editor to YES! Magazine and a freelance writer based in Seattle.
APRIL 11-18, 2016 ISSUECLIMATE CHANGECHILDRENFEATUREAPRIL 11-18, 2016 ISSUECLIMATE CHANGE
What the Climate Movement Can Learn From Bernie Sanders’s Political Revolution By Chloe Maxmin
MAR 23, 2016
Bill, McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry,” The Nation, April 11-18, 2016.
Age 24, Nashua, NH. Tagged: testimony climate change climate crisis conceivable future Nashua New Hampshire nh · Permalink Share on Facebook Share on ...
Mission The climate crisis is a reproductive crisis. For some of ...
Who We Are Conceivable Future is a women-led network of ...
Conceivable Future's Meghan Kallman addresses “The ...
Conceivable Future: Testifying for Climate and Reproductive ...
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Conceivable Future is raising funds for Conceivable Future website on Kickstarter!Conceivable Future is a women-led network of Americans bringing ...
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Conceivable Future. 300 likes · 73 talking about this. A women-led network of Americans bringing awareness to the threat climate change poses to...
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"In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future." - Alex Haley quotes from BrainyQuote.com.
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Mar 5, 2016 - Eventbrite - Arts + Public Life presents Conceivable Future: Testifying for Climate and Reproductive Justice - Saturday, March 5, 2016 at Arts ...
TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
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Jul 20, 2012 - In a new article, "Parents Need to Act Against Climate Change for Their Kids' Sake," Hertsgaard writes: "Beyond the distress and discomfort, the ...
Climate Parents is the brainchild of two parent entrepreneurs—Lisa Hoyos and Mark Hertsgaard—who are working to make fighting climate change part of every ...
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A place to meet, organize and make our voices heard.
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Oct 8, 2014 - How one environmentalist made combating climate change part of everyparents' job description.
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Parents Against Climate Change. 18826 likes · 85 talking about this. Their Legacy is our Failure - Education and World View Change.
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How To Talk To A 5-Year-Old About Climate Change
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 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 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.
Climate change can be kind of scary, especially for her age group
“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 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 “” 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.
You’re going to have ignorant adults who think everything’s a fairy tale land, and it’s not
“My area is so concentrated and polluted with, not only carbon pollution from the plants, but fracking pollution, and methane. So it’s all tied in, because we live in a sacrifice zone. There’s a lot of people out there who are sick and dying — cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, asthma. My son has had breathing problems since he was born. Some people say it’s genetic. But it’s not only family members — it’s friends of family members. A lot of people are sick.”
Asked how she talks to her 4-year-old about such serious, scary issues, Gutierrez said, “I talk to him like I’m talking to you.”
“You have to be honest with your child,” she said. “Look at the world we’re raising our children in. It’s not all fun and games. And if you want to prepare your children for the things we’re going to have to be dealing with, you have to start in now.”
“Because otherwise you’re going to have ignorance,” she said, glancing toward the Capitol dome. “You’re going to have ignorant adults who think everything’s a fairy tale land, and it’s not.”
“Young children don’t explicitly know what’s going on, but they’re taking it all in,” she said. “We don’t talk to him about it directly all the time, until he asks certain questions. Children are smart. He’ll say ‘Mama, what is that big smoke, in the sky?’ — and we’ll tell him those power plants are where the pollution comes from. And a lot of the electricity that comes from those power plants… we don’t benefit from it, New Mexico doesn’t get that power.”
It would be a mistake to minimize the role parents talking to their kids about such topics can play. Psychiatric epidemiologist Helen Berry has found that children who do not feel connected to their families and communities risk being by climate-related natural disasters than better-connected kids.
Some moms at the event come face-to-face with impacts of fossil fuel use in their day jobs.
It’s just making these plants overgrow and become more toxic. Poison ivy can also set off his asthma, too.
“The amount of children that have asthma exacerbations is just repetitive,” Suzanne Fortuna, a nurse in Cleveland, told ThinkProgress. “That means more emergency room visits.” She treats members of the community suffering from asthma, and has noticed an increase that she relates to air pollution and climate change.
Fortuna has a 9-year-old son, Aaron, who got diagnosed with asthma when he was 13 months old. She says she is “lucky” to have the education to stay up on his treatments, but not everyone can do that. Aaron loves to be outside, so asthma flare-ups are a constant battle, as are other less-obvious climate impacts.
“Just recently,” Fortuna continued, “this year in baseball, he got covered in poison ivy because the whole fenced area by the baseball field — it used to just be a little bit but has really proliferated, and I think it’s related to carbon emissions. It’s just making these plants overgrow and become more toxic. Poison ivy can also set off his asthma, too. There are a lot of impacts, it’s all related.”
Poison ivy does indeed in higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, as does . Fortuna says these impacts add up and make it necessary to adjust her family’s behavior in response.
“Probably in the last five years or so it’s become more recognizable that we have so much that we could do to decrease carbon emissions,” she said. “It’s important to talk to him. From the use of electricity to natural gas, how do we teach him that there are other ways to produce energy, because these are going to be the kids that are going to create that in the future.
“It’s impacting his life so much now, that putting it in his head that we need to be doing things cleaner and better.”
She talks to her son about sea level rise impacting Atlantic beaches her family visits through erosion. “We try to tell him look at what has happened over your mom’s lifespan, and yes it makes him anxious,” she said. “Because then he’s like ‘well that means one day I might not be able to come here at all because it might be gone.’ We have those conversations — take pictures and remember things — but how do we change it so that it doesn’t happen in the future?”
“That’s why Aaron is more proactive about ‘who didn’t turn out the lights’ or ‘who didn’t recycle’ or ‘could we walk instead of ride.’ He brings that up, which I think it good.”
All too often, the numbers — — explaining climate change can be boring to adults, let alone children. Yet to some kids, numbers drive the point home.
He kind of turns into the policeman of the household … He stays on us
Melanie Gibbs and her 7-year-old son Bryce live in Boca Raton, South Florida, and climate impacts surround them.
“He happens to love statistics, and math,” she told ThinkProgress at the Play-In event. “We were reading a recent issue of Time magazine, which had loads of these great, colorful infographics, very open and accessible and visual. I was looking at that with him and we were talking about carbon output and what that meant, and when we breathe out that’s carbon dioxide, and the plants absorb that. But now the problem is there aren’t enough plants to match the emissions.”
“I think the key is to not drop all the info on them at one time,” she continued, “just keep the conversation going a little bit at a time. He reads something and he asks us about it or we see something and we tell him about it. It needs to be a daily conversation.”
“He kind of turns into the policeman of the household, makes sure that we’re recycling things, we don’t want to drive too far, walk if we can, turn off lights. He stays on us,” Gibbs said.
Practicality, rather than big concepts or rite of passage “talks” about the birds and the bees, seems to be the name of the game to these parents.
The severity of it, nobody tends to take seriously. … It’s changing, slowly but surely.
“It starts in the household,” said Natalie Prime, who has three teenagers and lives on Long Island. “You use particular products. It depends who the vendors are, and we buy and use accordingly, always recycle. Simple stuff.”
“We live on an island, surrounded by water” she told ThinkProgress at the Play-In event. The family lost power during Superstorm Sandy, which brought home the reality climate-related disasters.
“The severity of it, nobody tends to take seriously. Fear is not there. Knowledge, awareness, it’s being applied. But the fear’s not there. It’s changing, slowly but surely.”
If the fear of climate change’s impacts isn’t always there, the hope and excitement that accompany the innovation behind low-carbon solutions, often is.
“The budding scientists at the Moms Clean Air Force event, and elsewhere, are captivated and challenged by clean energy technology in the same way that a Sputnik-era generation was fascinated by rocketry,” said RL Miller, cofounder of Climate Hawks Vote. “Today’s kids aren’t building rockets to the moon — they’re building ships with solar sails and they’re racing cars powered by the sun. And they’re getting a real life education in climate politics when their moms talk with their leaders.”
“It’s not a good idea to leave a child in a place of fear,” said Lisa Hoyos of the group Climate Parents. She noted that kids have many real-life examples of youth advocacy — divestment movements in schools, kids serving as in , green conventions like , and groups working with educators like the .
“The truth of the situation is that we can either absorb the news and feel immobilized or we can absorb it and the get involved in working to implement solutions,” Hoyos said.
Parents raising children today can draw upon the original ecologically-minded child hero, Captain Planet.
In 1992, the of the eco-cartoon Captain Planet and the Planeteers was called “Greenhouse Planet.” Its plot involved a villain who denied the existence of climate change, and who had convinced the American president that doing something about this “crazy theory that might not even happen” would be bad for the economy. The solution involved the president on a rocket trip to Venus — which started as the villain’s assassination attempt and ended as an up-close demonstration of a runaway greenhouse effect — but to save the day the protagonists had to have “courage” and switch to solar and wind energy.
Nowadays there are exponentially more resources parents can access to their child’s climate education. These range from games to videos to apps to museum exhibits to sample projects — there are many basic everyday activities to slowly teach the concepts.
Many museums are steadily featuring climate exhibits. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History climate change in several of its exhibits. The one that sticks out is a funded by the Koch brothers that features a game allowing visitors to change cartoon humans’ biology to adapt to future climate conditions. While not exactly the at the Creation Museum purporting to disprove mainstream climate science, parent-child conversations prior to seeing museum exhibits can make a world of clarifying difference.
We are ‘now’ people and our children, under our watch, have become ‘instant’ gratification kids
To some, there is a deeper purpose behind talking to children about climate science, energy, and the environment. Environmental philosophers like Glenn Albrecht have coined terms like eco-anxiety or “solastalgia” — which he as “an emplaced or existential melancholia experienced with the negative transformation (desolation) of a loved home environment.”
“We are all struggling to talk about that which is so hard to understand and see,” Albrecht told ThinkProgress via email. “We are ‘now’ people and our children, under our watch, have become ‘instant’ gratification kids.”
“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 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.”
5 Ways to Teach Children About Climate Change
| January 30, 2015. Eco Watch Comments
Climate change is a big topic that can be difficult even for adults to wrap their minds around—especially, it seems, if they are elected to Congress. Although indicators of it are all around us, it can be hard for someone who’s not a scientist—as members of Congress keep telling us they aren’t—to put together cause and effect.
For a child, the concept is even more abstract. But the good news is that kids are receptive to new information and there are fun ways out there to make real to them how the climate is changing and what humans are doing to make that happen.
Kids can participate with their parents in projects such as a beach cleanup, where people gather to pick up trash on local beaches. Photo credit: Shutterstock
1. Play a game. By their very nature, games are fun and kids have that spirit of friendly competition. NASA’s Climate Kids Eyes on the Earth website has a series of online games kids can play or parents came play with very young kids. There’s a climate trivia game that offers multiple choice answers and clear, simple explanations for why a choice is right of wrong; kids can vie to see who can come up with the right answer. Play Climate Bingo, “Recycle This,” or get into the Climate Time Machine to see how the climate has changed over time and how it might look in the future. All of the games provide copious information, stated in clear terms kids can understand, about what is happening to the climate. EcoKidsoffers games for different age levels, such as “The Case of the Warming Planet” in which child detectives match up greenhouse gases with their source to “solve” the case and learn what they can do to slow climate change.
2. Watch a video. There’s a wide variety of short videos online covering climate change in different ways, ranging from the humorous and to the strictly informational. Sustainability Hub has picked the “Ten Best Videos on Climate Change.” Most are bite-sized clips suitable for a child’s attention span. Free Range Studios’ animated 3D video Change for the Oceans demonstrates the impacts of rising sea levels and melting ice on various marine animals. Others, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s The Physical Basis provide a meatier but still easy-to-understand explanation of the science of climate change. One intriguing video, Song for a Warming Planet, features a project by University of Minnesota grad student Daniel Crawford who used fluctuating global temperatures to “compose” a piece of music that illustrates climate change aurally. Watch him perform it on his cello!
3. Download an app. There’s a sea of apps out there that will bring facts about climate change to your phone to share with your child. Painting with Time: Climate Change lets kids explore how a certain location has changed over the years due to climate change. They can “wipe away” the changes at different speeds. The app also includes information about why these changes are occurring and tips for taking photos to monitor climate change in their own communities. Voodoo Skies: Normal or Not could appeal to an older child (or adult), allowing the user to compare the current weather in his location (or another) to the historical weather on that day. Its huge database of weather history could be a real time suck for the weather-obsessed.
4. Do a project. Nothing drives home an idea to kids more than actually DOING something. Encourage them to think about climate change for their next science fair project. They can measure how weather conditions impact how fast a puddle melts or explore how frost forms, drawing larger conclusions from the evidence in front of them. Kids can also participate with their parents in projects such as a beach cleanup, where people gather to pick up trash on local beaches. Huge bags ofplastic picked up from a single beach provide a concrete reminder of what dumping non-degradable waste can do to the environment.
5. Join a museum or nature center. An outing to your local natural history museum or nature center puts information in front of a child in a memorable way. They’re be able to look at and explore exhibits which these days are increasingly interactive at all but the most basic nature centers. Most offer specialized programs including films, lectures, storytelling, hikes and nature fairs. Plus a membership in a museum or nature center is not only a great gift for a child who can then feel a sense of ownership and belonging, but they—and you—are supporting an organization that is actively working to educate people of all ages about the actual science of the world around us and helping inoculate them against the politicized talking points of climate deniers.