My family and I had dinner at the home of some new friends the other night. Imagine my surprise when I learned their weekend guest, and our dining companion, was to be none other than Al Gore.
Yeah, that’s right, ex-vice president, Nobel Peace Prize-winning, Oscar Award-winning, presidential almost-winning, climate activist, Al Gore. It was a pinch-me moment, only this one left bruises.
I, like everyone else around Our Fair City, had seen An Inconvenient Truth when it came out. And I, like everyone else, committed to being more green. I became passionate about recycling. I reduced the water flow in my showers and toilets. I nagged the kids to “turn off the lights!!!” when they left a room. I even bought a Prius, smugly ignoring said kids when they complained it was too small for three large teenagers to sit in back.
“Sorry for the inconvenience,” I explained, “but a dying planet isn’t a walk in the park. It takes work to make change.” They rolled their eyes and turned the volume up on their iPods. Despite my admonitions, they were just not that worried about the planet—until now.
After a dinner with much laughing and sharing of stories (who knew an icon could be so funny and easy to be around?), Mr. Gore graciously took us through his latest data on the destruction of the planet. In the five years since the movie came out, the news has only gotten worse.
My children saw what is hard to ignore: The earth, their future, is getting awfully close to the tipping point. Floods, erratic weather patterns, rising sea-levels, droughts, insect infestations devouring full forests, bird migrations in disarray, a multitude of dying species, the list goes on. The bruising our planet is taking by the actions of me, and you, and all the rest of us, may well be beyond recovery. Sadly, a recent report indicates that Americans are cooling on their concern about global warming. Al Gore said it best, "Climate deniers can spend all the time in the world ignoring the facts, if only we had all the time."
My kids left the dinner party unusually subdued. Instead of listening to their iPods, they just looked out the window at the moon. Finally, my 11-year-old son asked, “Mom, I’m just one person. What can I do?”
I reached out to my neighbor, environmental activist Amy Rao. She co-founded the 11th Hour Project, a nonprofit committed to helping us understand the human impact on global warming. Amy and her team offered these recommendations on how we can empower our children to make a difference:
Start the conversation. There are a lot of articles online about how to start a conversation about climate change with your kids. I think this could be a good first step. This article by Sandra Steingraber is great, as well as this article on Grist by Jospeh Romm. In these articles they point to a few “kid lit” books about climate change that would be good recommendations, too. You can also have a family movie night, as we did, and show them An Inconvenient Truth. That will get the conversation going—trust me!
Encourage your children to Do One Thing a day – Check out the Alliance for Climate Education’s “Do One Thing (DOT) Campaign." It gives simple suggestions that kids, teens and parents can do to help solve climate change. Some easy ideas:
- Walk or bike to school.
- TURN OFF THE LIGHTS when you leave a room.
- Unplug your computer, printer, TV, appliances when you aren’t using them.
- Take shorter showers.
- Have Meatless Monday dinners (turns out cow manure is major source of CO2).
- Take water in reusable bottles to sports practices and games.
- Ban the packaged snacks after sports games (bake something or just pack fruit from the farmers market).
- Shop at the farmers market (we have TWO here in Our Fair City).
- Keep a record of what they have done. In just one week, kids will see they are making a difference.
Show them you care about their future earth by modeling environmentally positive behavior. Where to start? Today you can send an e-mail to Congresswoman Anne Eschoo and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein to ask for support of President Obama’s energy plan, which includes comprehensive support for clean technologies.
Helping our children change their future won’t be easy, but I believe we don’t have a choice anymore. As Jane Lubchenco, the marine scientist who heads National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a recent article on global warming, “How the world rises to this challenge is a reflection of our commitment to one another and to the natural world that gives us sustenance, wisdom and a reflection of our souls."