I’m launching a project reaching out to colleagues, mostly fellow eco-activists with children, to ask how they’re parenting at this very moment of climate change. I’m seeking ideas, companionship, advice to help shift my mindset, and of course ways to make an impactful difference.
I’m doing this project here and now because something is happening. My Google Alert for “climate change” email comes in daily fuller than ever. People are paying attention. Maybe 2019 is the turning point?
This should make me feel hopeful. And yet I do feel stuck. I’m still making gallows humor jokes to my daughters, currently 6 and 13, about how they’re never going to be able to have children – “No grandkids for me!” I shout weirdly. I hate the way my teenager looks at me when I say this. Just like I hated the look on Greta Thunberg’s face when she yelled at all of us for looking to children for hope when she addressed the U.N. Climate Summit in September.
She was so right.
Here’s the thing: I do environmental health work. When I learn about a new scary chemical. I have a plan of action: I research and figure out how to avoid it. Then I, as a writer, translate the science and explain the concerns to other laypeople and tell them how to avoid it. I also tell them how to get active pressuring companies and government officials alike to ban said chemical. This is tidy. It’s proactive. Also, it’s energizing.
Sometimes environmental health overlaps directly with climate work; maybe a chemical I go after is linked to air pollution. But when it comes to the bigger climate crisis, my normal methods don’t work. My model for making an impact, which centers around consumption, avoidance, and putting pressure on the market to push for change does not translate to global warming. Training conscious consumers is too small in the face of melting glaciers, rising oceans, super storms, and an uncertain future. I feel confused, impotent. I mourn.
I know this is sometimes how people feel about going green, and I’m able to coach them through the process. If I, of all people, feel uncertain, I can’t be alone. For me, as I think for many people, fear about the future focuses on my children. What kind of planet will they inherit? What can any of us reasonably hope for? And how best to talk to them about it?
I’m not interested in doom or gloom. I want to be proactive. For this project, I will be asking people in the environmental movement, some of them at the very forefront of climate research, exactly how they’re putting one foot in front of the other right now. I’ve only had a few interviews so far, but these conversations already feel revelatory. I am getting tips and camaraderie. I am shifting my thinking. My hope is that they will help you, too.