It can be very challenging to talk to children about the problems facing the environment, including climate change, increasing levels of waste, and endangered species. There is a seeming tension between wanting to raise environmentally conscious children, and traumatizing them by talking about problems that can seem overwhelming and unmanageable.
The New York Times’ website has an interactive guide called “A Climate Change Guide for Kids.” This beautifully illustrated feature starts by explaining how we got here. It explains the connection between the things we use every day, the electricity used to power them, and how electricity is generated. The guide describes the energy usage that goes into things like the food we eat, the structures we inhabit, and the transportation we use. It continues to explain the effects of the energy usage, including increased greenhouse gases and pollution, and what that means for the planet. The feature presents a version of what the future will look like if we fail to act to curb emissions. However, what makes this feature so useful when talking with children, is that it also presents solutions; most importantly, it presents solutions that already exist. Whether talking about eating less meat, using renewable energy, switching from gas powered transportation to electric, using public transit, biking and walking, and building energy efficient homes and buildings, all of those solutions are real and within reach. As the feature says, “the biggest challenges we face are not about science, but about people.” Rather than presenting the problem of climate change as futile, because it would require some magical technological breakthrough, the guide reminds us that we have the tools; we just need to pressure business leaders and politicians to use the tools to effect real and meaningful change – before it is too late.
There are lots of books about climate change for children, no matter the agegroup. Books like The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, or The Lonely Polar Bear might be appropriate for younger children, whereas older children might be ready for Analyzing Climate Change: Asking Questions, Evaluating Evidence, and Designing Solutions. Books like How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate, and Its Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired, & Get Going, not only provide information about climate change, but also offer proactive and accessible suggestions and ideas for actions for children and their families.
As adults, we want to protect children from the harsh realities of the world. However, there is a difference between protecting children from real danger, and insulating them to the point where they are ignorant of the troubles in the world, and unable to engage or empathize. We encourage you to start educating and exposing your children. Show them the connection between ourselves and the world we inhabit, and how the choices we make, on both an individual and societal level, can have big impacts.
The beautiful art work in this post is from the New York Times feature, and the artist is Yuliya Parshina-Kottas.