Parenting and Climate Change

, , Peter Hutchinson, Somewhere. 2017, Watercolor, photo collage, drawing and text. 31 22/25 × 21 22/25”. Courtesy of the artist and Freight+Volume.

The following panel was held at n+1’s office in Brooklyn on September 26, 2019. It was organized by n+1 contributor Christine Smallwood in cooperation with Sunrise Kids, a group for parents, babies, and young children that works within the Sunrise Movement to fight for climate justice and to take on the politicians and corporations who are driving the climate crisis. This transcript has been edited and condensed for publication.

—Editors

Christine Smallwood: Thanks, all of you, for coming. I’m guessing there are some parents here, and I know how hard it is to get out on a weeknight, so we will make this worth your while.

I’m going to quickly introduce our panelists in the order they will be speaking, and then they’re each going to give some opening remarks. After that I’ll ask questions, they’ll talk to each other, and we’ll open it up to group discussion.

Kate Marvel is a climate scientist at Columbia University and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. She uses satellite observations and climate models to observe present-day climate changes and explore possible climate futures. Kate writes the Hot Planet column for Scientific American, has appeared on Meet the Press and NPR’s Weekend Edition, and has given a TED Talk. Tomorrow she is speaking at the United Nations.

After Kate we’ll hear from Jill Kubit, the director and cofounder of DearTomorrow. Jill’s work has been recognized by the MIT Climate CoLab, Grist 50, TED, Vox, Public Radio International, and Yale. She is a founding member of the Our Kids’ Climate global network of climate parent groups.

Jedediah Purdy is a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene and This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth, which just came out. Jed is also a new dad, so we are super lucky that he is able to be here tonight.

Katy Lederer is the author of three books of poems and a memoir. Her poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker online, the Paris Review, and elsewhere. She writes regularly about climate change for n+1.

And Mari Tan is an attorney and a member of Sunrise Kids.

Let’s start with Kate.

Kate Marvel: I’m going to start out by talking a little bit about the science. As a scientist, I love talking about things that we don’t understand. I want to be clear, though, that uncertainty is not ignorance. We don’t know everything, but we don’t know nothing.

We know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. We know that it is the inevitable by-product of combustion. And we know that we have increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere by about 45 percent since the beginning of the industrial revolution. We know that carbon dioxide traps heat within the atmosphere, and we know that the temperature has risen about one degree Celsius since the beginning of the industrial revolution. We know that this has consequences beyond just increasing the global average temperature. We know that heat waves are increasing in frequency and severity, and that’s something that is robustly attributable to climate change. We also know that we’re affecting precipitation patterns. Warm air holds more water vapor, and for every degree Celsius of warming, you can hold about 7 percent more water vapor in the atmosphere. That means that when it rains, it pours. The deluges and downpours, like what we saw in Houston during Hurricane Harvey, are very, very unlikely to have happened without that additional boost from the water vapor in the atmosphere.

We also know that warm air is thirstier air, and it drives more evaporation away from the surface of the planet. A paper that came out last year argues that we have already seen the human fingerprint in drought risk, and can actually see that as early as the first half of the last century.

We know that warmer sea surface temperatures are basically hurricane food. And so as oceans warm, we expect to see stronger hurricanes on top of rising sea levels. We know that sea levels are rising both because water itself expands when it warms and because ice that used to be safely parked on the land is now melting and rolling into the ocean.

That’s what we know for sure. But nobody can predict the future. When we talk about the future, we can list the things we’re fairly confident about, but there will always be some uncertainty. That uncertainty comes from three sources. The first is weather—climate is not weather. Even on a warming planet, you can still have cold days. You can even still have cold years, you can have bad winters, but you can’t say exactly what the weather is going to be in five, ten years from now. What really matters is the long-term trend.

There’s a lot that we actually don’t understand about how Earth reacts when you kick it so hard. What feedback systems will be triggered on a warming planet, and how can those intensify climate change? That’s a second source of uncertainty. But the primary source of uncertainty is that we don’t know what human beings will do in the future, particularly with our emissions.

You may have heard that supposedly we have twelve years to stop climate change—though I guess it would be eleven years now. We don’t have eleven years. We have negative thirty years to stop climate change. It’s already happening. We’re already seeing it, and it’s already hurting people. I don’t have a lot of patience for blind hope, but I have no time at all for nihilism. The truth in this slogan is that the decisions we make in this next decade matter—very, very, very much.

Jill Kubit: I’m the cofounder of a storytelling project, DearTomorrow, which I came to largely out of frustration about how we were communicating on climate. I have worked in climate since 2006, and for the first eight years or so I did traditional climate education for labor union leaders, bringing in a scientist or a policy maker to talk about climate. Although some people were moved by the scientific message, most went away with this idea that it was still very distant, hard to understand, and that it didn’t matter in their own lives. They couldn’t see themselves as either being impacted or being really active on the issue.

In 2013, the same year I became a parent, I took a break from that work to think about how we engage people. Then these two parts of my life merged—my reflections on engagement and strategy and the experience of bringing a young person into the world. I shifted from thinking about the years in a scientific way, in decades, to thinking about my own child’s life and the milestones he would experience.

I started working with Trisha Shrum, a behavioral scientist who also was studying climate communication, and in 2015 we launched DearTomorrow. For this project, we invite people to imagine yourselves in the year 2050, having a conversation with your own child or grandchild about what you did, now, in regard to climate change.

I’m of the mindset that the work to be done needs to be deeper, more creative, and engage people in ways they haven’t been engaged before. And I believe legacy and the idea of parental responsibility are huge motivating factors that we have not fully tapped into.

If there is going to be a politics that can address climate change, it will have to be a politics that takes the notion of the human being and their place in the world as part of its stakes.

Tweet

Jedediah Purdy: This is my first time out of the house since our child was born twenty-seven days ago—I’m really tired and disoriented—so I am here in two capacities, as a new parent and as a student of environmental law and politics.

I study the history of environmental mobilization, politics, and lawmaking over the American longue durée. I try to understand the ways that transformations in the human relationship to the nonhuman world have been connected to the broader themes and stakes of their times—to how social order works, to what people owe one another, to how people fit into a state or nation or landscape, and to what it means to lead a good life.

It seems to me that the history of the American natural and built environment has been deeply involved in political struggles and political mythmaking. Some pernicious, some morally and socially productive, and most double-edged.

The way climate change was talked about when I started this research twelve or thirteen years ago was predominantly liberal rationalist despair. “Look at how people are, we’re just not built to solve problems like this, too bad! We were built to make markets work really well for a while, but it turns out that we are not built to solve problems of externalities.” If there is going to be a politics that can address climate change, it will have to be a politics that takes the notion of the human being and their place in the world as part of its stakes. Looking back, it turns out that what we might call environmental politics has actually often had those stakes, in different ways at different times.

So while this is a terrifying and immensely troubling time, it’s also a hopeful time. We’re beginning to see a politics that’s not only potentially on the scale of the crisis, but also on the scale of other transformative moments. This has always meant visions of political economy, of how we’re going to live together, and of what value even is.

The Green New Deal is often derided as a kind of assemblage of left agendas and fantasies, but every successful environmental politics has been in some ways built out of the constitutive fantasies and felt imperatives of its time. It hasn’t been a narrow and technocratic politics. So this is good and hopeful. This is a way of engaging the crisis that fits the size of the crisis, and maybe fits our potential capacity to do something about the crisis.

I’m also a brand-new parent who has only questions about how to talk about any of this to a person who is going to be relying on me to explain the world. Among people who work on environmental issues, there’s a surprising number who will tell you in confidence that they’re only able to do the work through partial dissociation. People who can’t do that dissociation have told me they’ve gotten out of that work because it hurts too much. I think I’ve always managed a certain kind of intellectual dissociation from some of the stakes of this work. But to have a person who’s carrying the weight of the future, whom I love in a way that I can’t control or account for, really messes with my own equilibrium.

Katy Lederer: Last Thursday, my 6-year-old twins were first told what global warming is. Their teachers had shown them a two-minute video called “Climate Change (According to a Kid).” The narrator explained that greenhouse gas emissions are like a blanket wrapped around the Earth. The Earth gets hot, and when it gets too hot, it can feel weak and dizzy. The Earth needs our help to get cool.

I had dreaded having this conversation with my children from the moment they were born, but then it happened, unannounced. Like the birds and the bees, it was suddenly another uncomfortable talk the teachers at their school could just take care of.

We discussed it later over dinner. “So what is global warming, then?” I asked my son, the more sensitive of the two. “Stronger storms and rising seas,” he said, repeating a line from the movie I’d watch later. He seemed unfazed. I asked my daughter—bubbly, sweet—what global warming was. “I want to be a leader like Greta Thunberg,” she said. Also unfazed.

Before they were born, I was also unfazed. I remember reading Chad Harbach’s long essay in n+1, “On Global Warming,” from 2006. I got anxious about halfway through and put the magazine away. I couldn’t let it in. That is what I remember experiencing for many years: that somatic intermission. Then my children were born, and for whatever reason, I let the reality in. I sat for three months reading books and articles about climate change, and I let it into my physical person.

I cried a lot. I remember reading The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway—which I love to recommend to people; you should read it—and feeling a strong sense of grief that I had had children. It wasn’t just the fear of how their adult lives might look, but the sense that I had made a decision without complete information. What would I tell them?

I felt sad, and lonely. Most of my friends and family hadn’t taken in the reality of climate change. I paid a friend to read a few books1 under the auspices of helping me with research for an essay, but now I really think I wanted someone to understand the mental state I was in. He hadn’t been too worried about climate change, but after he read the books, he was worried.

I asked my brother to read the same books. This was a brother absolutely certain that the market would take care of it. It was the biggest market opportunity of our lifetime! But then he read the books and stopped believing. Not in markets—he still loves those—but in the notion that the markets will take care of global climate change.

Slowly but surely, over the past six years, I have alarmed all of my friends and family, sometimes aggressively, sometimes subtly. Over time, it’s worked, if working means they, like me, understand the hour has gotten very late, maybe too late, and understanding what the stakes and implications really are. I’ve shared my feelings, all my doubts and fears. But I try not to tell others how to feel, because I remember that feeling of keeping it out, of knowing that to let it in would be a permanent discomfort—ethical, existential, cultural, somatic, as irreversible as the accumulation of emissions themselves.

At the end of the climate change movie shown to my children, the narrator says the adults are going to be meeting very soon. The movie was made just before the Paris climate conference, and it says that the adults would soon decide what to do about the problem. I realized, when I watched the movie on YouTube, that this was why my children were unfazed. They thought the adults had it under control, that the adults had a plan.

When my children better understand the reality of global warming, understand how little the adults have actually done, I will let them feel whatever they feel. If they want to become activists, I will help them become activists. If they want to become artists, or politicians, or scientists, or journalists, or journalist-activists, or scientist-activists, whatever it is—I will help them become all of those things.

Mari Tan: My story begins on a night in November 2018 at around 2 AM. My daughter was about 6 months old, and after settling her down, I couldn’t go back to sleep. I was scrolling through the news when I came across the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. That’s when I really woke up. I thought about my daughter and what her outlook on her life will be when she is my age, whether she will have a sense of optimism and potential about her life and the world.

I had checked off all these boxes—college, grad school, job, kid—and was enjoying life. Then I was hit with this news that the environment was in serious decline, and that everything I was doing was actually contributing to speeding up the process of climate change.

I didn’t have anybody in my immediate circles who was reacting to the news in the same way. Eventually I found out about Alexandria Villaseñor, a local teenager who had been striking outside the UN. And so on a rainy morning, on December 28, I found Alexandria outside the UN, to strike with her. I reached out to her because she was doing something, and I felt like I needed to do something too.

I didn’t know what to expect. I sat in the rain with her for three hours and held one of her signs. I asked her what I should do, because I didn’t know. I was an adult looking to a teenager for moral and actionable guidance.

About nine months ago, I was absolutely focused on reducing my environmental impact. During the holiday season, I sent my family and friends articles about the negative impacts of air travel. But then I’d go to a store and refuse a plastic straw or a bag, then walk by an overflowing trash can and think, “What are my small reductions really doing?” I realized that I can’t make a difference by only reducing my impact, thinking that just by existing we harm the world more than we help it. But what if we increased our impact instead?

So one day after work, I took my daughter and we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest the Williams pipeline. I took her to canvass with me in Cobble Hill, approaching parents about climate change. I attended the climate strike back in March 2019, and the recent one in September. I started donating to Sunrise Movement, and in April 2019, I met up with other parents to start Sunrise Kids.

My daughter is now a year and a half, and she just started talking. I’m doing this because eventually I’m going to have to sit down with her and talk to her about the climate: about how serious the problem is, about the simple cause and effect that got us here, and about what I did when there was still time to act.

Smallwood: Let’s talk about parent activism. What has the parent climate movement been like? What are its strengths and weaknesses? What are the limits of that kind of politics, and what are the opportunities around it?

Kubit: The environmental justice movement has long consisted of women protecting their families and communities from the direct impacts of fossil fuel development. When we say the climate parent movement, by contrast, we mean those who are more specifically engaging people in climate activism through a parental frame.

The first person to do this work in the US was probably Harriet Shugarman, who started an organization called ClimateMama [in 2009]. After that, there were a number of US-based groups—Mothers Out Front, Moms Clean Air Force, and Climate Parents, for example—that focused on how to engage people through thinking about their children. To be honest, the leadership is a lot of white middle-class women, or upper-class women—including myself—coming into the movement. This isn’t to say that there aren’t a lot of other parents organizing; there are, they’re just organizing through other frames. So we need to build bridges across organizations. When we do, we’ll find a much more diverse group of people who care deeply about climate issues through the lens of protecting children.

Smallwood: If we approach the issue of climate on behalf of our children, we approach it as a problem of futurity. We all know the crisis is happening now, even though the effects are felt unequally. Becoming a parent urgently links the personal and political, for some people as never before. But I do wonder if any of you have thoughts about these issues being in the present as opposed to the future.

Lederer: I’m obsessed with the concept of salience. What is moving is different for everybody. The thing that really got me was finding out that the large percentage of historical emissions emitted by the Global North disproportionately impacted equatorial regions. It was just so unfair. That frame moved me.

My version of lowercase-a activism is trying to perceive what’s salient for people and what they can handle. For many people, the salient thing is parenting, but studies show that there isn’t a correlation between being a parent and how concerned somebody is about the climate crisis. I can see how that frame could become too scary and cause someone to back away. What galvanizes one person could drive another person in the opposite direction. It’s a particular problem for Twitter and media, where everything gets disseminated to everybody. So these are the things I think about—the salience of identity platforms, political platforms, and so on.

Purdy: One thing that’s struck me so far about the parenting frame is how the appeal to protect one’s own children can play into what you could call ecobarbarism.

On the one hand, there’s a political pressure to share out the burdens and the good things of a finite and stressed world, and find new modes of solidarity and cooperation—the ecosocialist model. On the other hand, there is the raising of walls and militarization of borders as a way of demarcating whom you’re responsible to in a climate-changed world.

Climate denial used to only be about denying the facts; now it’s also about denying that people who are carrying the burdens of it are your problem. That denial is very powerful and is connected, I think, with the new or resurgent nationalism. And it’s somewhat like that in a household. I care about the future, I care about my child’s future, and when I look at his future I know he’s going to enter the economy afraid and encouraged to see other people as his competitors and his problem, and that the world he’s entering isn’t organized as if it cares whether it goes on. I want to protect him from that, and I want to protect everyone from that. But protecting his interests and the interests of people all over the world are not always the same project.

Kubit: Because all my work is about legacy and parental involvement and engagement, I reflect on this question a lot. One powerful thing about the youth movement is that they understand the present situation—it’s happening now—while also talking about their future. They explain that we’re taking away their dreams, we’re taking away their hopes, and it’s something that they really, deeply feel.

Talking to people about the unbelievable, mind-boggling specialness of Earth is an invitation. It’s not scary.

Tweet

The frames of legacy and parenting work because they connect with the values that we already hold. To be good parents, we need to actually care about the climate crisis. Adults need to step up to this challenge: adults make decisions in businesses and companies, run schools and workplaces and organizations, vote and make purchasing decisions. If we can connect the youth’s framing to the things that we actually do and the way we live our lives, I think we can use our power to really build the movement and change the trajectory of the crisis.

Marvel: I think there’s a tendency, even among people of good faith, to abdicate responsibility to nature. We think about climate change as rising seas that swallow up cities, as horrible storms and fires—and all those things are symptomatic of climate change. But when people ask me, “What scares you the most about climate change?” I answer: “What climate change is going to make us do to each other.”

I don’t think a nightmare climate-changed world is a world where Earth kills us all. I think a nightmare climate-changed world is one where society breaks down, and we do awful, awful things to each other.

I watch climate change happen every day on a computer, on a fake planet that I can do experiments on. But climate change doesn’t happen on a fake planet; it happens on our planet, in the world that we’ve built. You can’t put Bashar al-Assad in a climate model. You can’t put the legacy of colonialism in a climate model. The drying trend we’ve seen in the Levant region interacts with the world we’ve actually built. Climate change is not an abstraction, and it’s not something you can remove from the complexities of human society.

Smallwood: What have you learned about talking about climate change? Do you have concrete advice about how to talk to people of different ages or at different stages in their growing awareness of the magnitude of the crisis?

Marvel: Something I’ve found really effective is remembering that climate science is still sciencethere’s still that element of wonder and discovery. I didn’t train as a climate scientist; I trained as a theoretical cosmologist, someone who studies the entire universe. I switched to climate science because I realized that everywhere else in the universe sucks. Earth is actually the only good place.

We would not have an Amazon Rainforest if we did not have a Sahara Desert, because the winds blow the dust from the Sahara and it settles on the Amazon and fertilizes the rainforest. Talking to people about the unbelievable, mind-boggling specialness of Earth is an invitation. It’s not scary. It’s not judgmental. Even with all that’s happening, that’s something beautiful and resonant.

I also like to appeal to kids’ natural sense of curiosity and wonder. Kids are notoriously ungrateful, but they feel amazement all the time, and that’s a really good way for me to relate to them. Like, “Holy moly, this is so amazing, this place that we live in!”

Kubit: My son is 6, and we’ve been talking about climate change since he was born. The earliest discussions we had were around clean air and water. Super basic stuff. When he was about 3, we started talking about solutions. We would point out solar panels on rooftops, and talk about why we ride the bus, about composting and making sure we eat all the food that we buy. We used language that framed it around what we can do to have a healthy world.

Now that he’s 6, we talk a lot about consumption and wasteabout how our world has limited resources and we can’t have everything that we want. We can’t buy everything, and we can’t get twenty-five gifts for our birthday. I sometimes feel like a terrible parent. But I want him to see the value of nature, the value of experience, and the value of friends and family.

That’s where we’re at, at 6 years old. It feels a bit experimental. But as he gets older, we’ll get to a scarier conversation.

Purdy: I haven’t had this conversation yet, but I’ve been wondering how you say to a person: The world is good, really good, and you’re good, but you’re not good for the world, and none of us are good for the world, in a way.

I agree that personal transformation is important and part of it, but there are real limits, as we all know, to what that can add up to. We’re so deeply creatures of the built environment we’ve made, and all the things we do, we do through it: communicate, work, have families, participate in culture.

The rough estimate of how much built environment there is for each person, on a global average, is about three thousand tons. You carry that around like an exoskeleton. Your impacts in terms of energy use and consumption are locked into all that, to a certain extent. I try to imagine how I’m going to describe that.

Smallwood: If your kid is like my kid, in a few years he’ll be obsessed with steam trains and you’ll have a lot of conversations about coal, and you’ll really question what you’re doing as a parent.

Now I think we should open it up to the audience for comments, personal experiences, and questions.

Mathew Jacobson: I have been doing environmental campaign work for twenty-five years now, full-time, as my profession. I work in forest conservation. My kid is 9, and I brought him to the last big climate march in New York when he was 4. It was his first introduction to global warming, and I didn’t get into the details of it, but he picked up on how big this particular problem is.

He’s always had an existential bent to him, and he started having fears about the world ending. He couldn’t sleep. I asked him what he was scared of, and he said, “The apocalypse.” He asked, “Do grown-ups ever get scared?” and I was like, “Yeah.” He asked, “What kind of things do you get scared about?” And inside my head I was like, “. . .The apocalypse.” But I said, “I get scared that something might happen to you.”

As parents, part of our job is to protect our children from some things and help them cope with othersthe proportion changes from the former to the latter as they get older. I think it’s very important for him to have an environmental ethic and care about the world, other people, and other animals, but it’s also important for him not to feel like he’s going to get killed.

I was thinking about Greta and how impressed I am with her, and my son should see that there are kids that are doing something about it. Her argument about the existential nature of this threat is scary stuff for me, let alone for my 9-year-old. But he’s going to have to understand how big it is, and if he doesn’t hear it from me, he’s going to hear it or read it somewhere else.

Then he’ll ask me if it’s true, and I’ll say “Yes,” and he’ll say, “Why didn’t you tell me?” And I’ll say, “Because I didn’t want to scare you.” And he’ll say, “What else haven’t you told me about because you didn’t want to scare me?”

So I’ve been gearing myself up for talking to him about how scary things really are. He’s been asking me for years now, “What’s the point of life?” Maybe the point of his life is to fight this fight. I don’t know, but it matters.

Marvel: I have a 3-year-old who doesn’t listen to anything I say, so I don’t know how much this works on kids, but I find it helpful to think about how terrified I would be if this really was out of our control. Imagine if this really was a natural cycle, and there was nothing we could do about it. I find that infinitely more terrifying than the fact that we know exactly what is causing this problem. We know 100 percentor, our best guess is 108 percentof the warming trend is attributable to human activities. We are so sure that we know what is causing this, and that gives us a little bit of hope. I don’t really like talking about hope because I don’t think we need it. We know what the right thing to do iswho cares if we have hope? Just do it. But it does reassure me to have that clarity about what to do.

Caleb Crain: I grew up in the 1970s, and in California there was a willingness to actually expose children to scary narratives about what would happen to the environment if it wasn’t taken care of. When I was 10, I read a children’s book called The Owl Hoots Twice at Catfish Bend, about little forest animals who get together and have a little society, and then some of the forest animals make a deal with some humans to pave part of it. It’s a political story, and it ends badly. Basically all the animals die, except for two, who live to tell the tale.

And in school we watched a future dystopia movie in which some scientists figured out that the world was becoming polluted and built a greenhouse space where they could survive. At the end, angry people outside threw rocks at the scientists who had the foresight to build the sanctuary.

All of this to say, I wonder if the difficulty of explaining the problem to children is also analogous to explaining the problem to people who don’t want to hear it. People will shut out what is too disturbing. I didn’t like The Owl Hoots Twice at Catfish Bend, for example.

Ben Statz: I’ve had discussions, and heard about discussions, where parents shut down because they feel like they are being addressed as contributing to the problem in some way they didn’t realize. I’m not suggesting that people should feel guiltyI’m wondering what tactics you have used or found useful to try to disarm that guilt.

Marvel: The potential of guilt to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is basically zero. I’m not going to police how anybody feels, but I’m not convinced of the efficacy of guilting or shaming people. Whether or not you have a kid, your moral responsibility is to the children who exist in the world. And even though presumably none of our children are being separated from us at the border, none of them are being mistreated, we each have a responsibility to those children. I feel that way about climate change as well.

Kubit: Elke Weber, a well-known social scientist, and her colleagues published a study this past year that concluded that doing something out of pride is more motivating than doing something out of guilt. In my own work, I try to get people to see themselves as agents, as people who are taking action, and to feel a sense of pride about that.

There’s a gap between those who care a lot about this issue and those who articulate that care. Something like only 25 percent of people hear about climate change from somebody they personally know on a regular basis, and a much smaller percentage of people frequently talk about climate change. But there are overwhelming numbers indicating that people are concerned or alarmed and do want action and do care about this.

So just talk about climate change. Tell your story, talk about why you care about it, what you would like to see in the future, and what are you doing. At the end of the day, even though we think we’re all making our own individual choices, we’re social beings, and we take our cues from everybody around us.

Julia Chang: I’m not a parent, I don’t have kids, but I teach science in community gardens, and my students are asking a lot of questions similar to those you’re dealing with as parents. They want to know what’s going on, what this is caused by, and what there is to do.

You’ve talked about people in the Global South carrying the brunt of the burden of climate change caused by the Global North. The climate crisis is deeply connected to racial capitalism, and the kids I teach come from communities who will see this change first and foremost, who will bear the weight of it. There has to be an acknowledgment of the difference of scale. Some kids growing up right now will really, really feel the effects of the climate crisis, while others will feel it, but not nearly to the same extent. I was wondering if there are adults in the room who are talking to kids about how climate justice is directly connected to decolonial struggles, racial justice, and all other fights against oppression.

Lederer: It’s so hard to articulate, but the problem with climate change is, again, that certain frames galvanize one group and then totally decommission another group. Diversity of the movement is important. But also, generally wealthy, European-ancestored people are historically responsible for this.

The north/south injustice can be very confusing, because it’s a racial justice issue, but the structure’s a little more like traditional colonialism. If you’re an American of color, how does that salience hit you? What side are you on? I don’t know the answer.

Right now, the Trump Administration is executing an imperialist exportation strategy. As the energy mix here changes, the Trump Administration is actively exporting fossil fuels to other countries. There are some clear beneficiaries, and that’s where the scrutiny should be.

Laura Fenton: What do we do if loved people in our lives don’t see the problem for what it is? Is it OK if not everybody sees it? How do we talk to all these people who truly don’t get it?

Tan: Fortunately and unfortunately, climate change cuts through everything. If you’re interested in skiing, the snow season is getting shorter. If you’re interested in fishing, fish populations are declining from ocean warming and acidification. You can look at the person you’re talking to and try to find a common ground.

Kubit: The message is important, but the messenger is more important. You as a messenger are the most important thing in a conversation around climate. Talk to the people in your own network, your closest personal friends, your family members, your coworkers, your neighbors. Have conversations about what you care about, why you’re concerned, and what you love. Then really listen to them.

  1. Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, George Marshall (Bloomsbury, 2014); The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert (Henry Holt, 2014); Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming, McKenzie Funk (Penguin Press, 2014); This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Naomi Klein (Simon & Schuster, 2014); and The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes (Columbia University Press, 2014). 

More from Issue 36

Issue 36 Get Help

How long until we become indentured servants living low-emission lives for the world-traveling ruling class?

Issue 36 Get Help
White Square
Issue 36 Get Help
Issue 36 Get Help
The Custom of the Capitol
Issue 36 Get Help
Issue 36 Get Help
Issue 36 Get Help
An American Education
Issue 36 Get Help

The breathing is getting weaker, a faint echo of its now extinguished life force.

Issue 36 Get Help
We Had a Shakespeare
Issue 36 Get Help
Issue 36 Get Help
Issue 36 Get Help

Today, rather than serving as a model for conservatives, the memory of El Salvador and the solidarity movement it generated may…

More by this Author

December 20, 2016
What I Had Lost Was a Country
May 16, 2010

The poop face is funny because it connects the parts of the body—something hidden… united to something visible.

May 15, 2019
Eating the Frog
August 23, 2010

Even when psychotic—even when they are drag queens who murder old ladies—Denis’ characters radiate calm self-possession.

Issue 19 Real Estate
The Accidental Neoliberal
February 24, 2011

There is a can you believe they can do that? quality to the reception of things created only to be gaped at.