That awkward conversation (about the climate)

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about climate change liars. Those people who make a living deliberately deceiving the public about the scientific consensus on climate disruption. These people are awful, they know who they are. They have to live with their lies.

But what’s worse is the other lie I’ve discovered in the process. It’s the lie that I’m telling. It’s the lie that we all tell to our children and each other when we don’t talk about climate disruption. It’s the lie of us all pretending that everything will be OK.

People have lots of opinions about what it takes to be a great parent. But I’m pretty sure that this isn’t on anyone’s list: Lying to your children about the unraveling of nature and the catastrophes that will certainly follow.

That’s Richard Wiles, co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, on HuffPost.  Prior to EWG, Wiles was a senior staff officer at the National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Agriculture.

My daughter just turned 4, so I’m a long way away from having to have this conversation, but, of course, anyone who reads this blog knows what is coming (see A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice and links below).

The Wiles’ piece continues:

It’s not on my list. But that’s pretty much what most of us do everyday, at least those of us who know anything at all about the reality of ongoing climate disruption.

If someone told all the parents of the world that there was a 98 percent chance that radical environmental changes in the next 10 – 50 years will wipe out half of all known life forms on earth, and that famine, plagues, floods and droughts on a scale not seen in thousands of years would become routine for billions of people, you would think they would tell their kids.

Well most climate scientists in the world have been telling us that, but we don’t do anything about it.

Sure, there is a 2 percent chance, probably less, that we can continue to pump 1,000 tons per second of CO2 into the atmosphere every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of the year, and that it will have no effect. But there is at least a 98 percent chance that it will.

For the record, doing nothing would appear to have a greater than even chance of bringing multiple, simultaneous catastrophes to countless future generations (see Intro to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water and links below) — and only a small chance of it not bringing even one catastrophic impact.

Given those odds, what are parents to do?

What most of us do is lie. Well, not exactly lie. We just don’t talk about it. We don’t bring it up. We hide from the truth and hope somehow that it will go away. But it isn’t going away.

Why do we behave this way? Three reasons: Most of us feel powerless, in the face of industry lobbyists and lying politicians, to force the huge changes needed to fix the problem. This is not something that is pleasant to admit, and we don’t know how to tell our children just how powerless we have become. Parents aren’t supposed to be powerless. And even if we could face up to that, for most of us a climate-disrupted future is too overwhelming and painful to talk about.

And even if we decided to talk about it, what would we tell the kids? “Gee, I’m sorry, but our completely irresponsible unwillingness to make any of the changes necessary to avoid massive and unprecedented disruption of the earths climate means that we have sent the planet careening toward a catastrophic convergence of events that almost certainly will destroy life on earth as we know it.”

“Sure we built some windmills and threw up a few solar panels, but in the end it was just too hard to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions. And rather than upset you, we just decided not to tell you any of what we know about the perilous future we are leaving you.”

I’m not real happy with that strategy.

Maybe as a first step in fighting climate disruption we need to figure out how to talk about it with each other and with our children. Maybe we should man-up, or woman-up for that matter, and actually do something about the problem. Why not? The fortunes to be made on the solutions will make the internet revolution look like chump change.

And maybe we should give our children a fighting chance to beat the problem, because after all, they’ll have to live with it, not us.

It’s way past time to start talking about climate disruption. If we don’t have the courage and common sense to begin this conversation, it’s pretty unlikely we will ever find the resolve to fix the problem.

— Richard Wiles is currently consulting on communications strategies to combat climate disruption.

The thing is, of course, that not talking about the problem won’t protect your kids or anyone else from what’s to come.  Quite the reverse.  Not talking about with the climate change science actually says — as opposed to what much of the media reports (or fails to report) and what many ill-informed opinion makers claim it says — is the road to Hell and High Water.

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87 Responses to That awkward conversation (about the climate)

  1. Great, great question Joe. Thanks for posting this.

    Of course we need to prepare our children for their future.
    Hiding reality is a real disservice. And parents will craft the appropriate message for the right age.

    Another awkward conversation perhaps:

    What should our children do with liars who speak dangerous untruths?

  2. Ben Lieberman says:

    Telling the truth as a first step.
    When are we also going to risk breaking the normal social contract and start telling the truth to all too many of our friends, relatives, and neighbors: it is not ok for you to keep voting for climate zombies who will unleash environmental and economic devastation for generations.

  3. Rab says:

    Cue Kloor and his protect-our-children-from-scary-stories rhetoric.

    [JR: How do we protect our children from the climate science deniers, the climate impact deniers, the confusionists and their enablers?]

  4. Rebecca says:

    Joe, I love reading your blog, but sometimes it makes me want to cry. Maybe I’m just tired from being up with the 4-month-old and the 2-year-old, but this post is making me so depressed. I wish you could see how much my 2-year-old loves animals. Especially large mammals. I hate it that almost all of them will be extinct in her lifetime. My strategy for hope is to take her out into nature and show her how to love it as much as I do.

  5. paulm says:

    It’s a moral issue…
    >Yes, our lives must be an expression of what we most deeply value.

  6. Stavanger says:

    We have had the talk – several times. When I retold the story of the Polar Bear swiming for 9 days searching for terra firma while losing 20% of her body wieght and her cub……she cried and plantively asked “What can one family DO?”

    It is difficult. It is painfull. We must have the talk to our children. And to those who will listen and to those who will not.

  7. Heraclitus says:

    I’ve thought about this a lot, my own children are 6 and 3. But I don’t think telling the (whole) truth is a necessary first step. I want to get them doing first and see us – their parents and, fortunately for me, their grandparents – doing as well. I want them to be proud of living as sustainably as possible and I want to instil that ethos into them. I talk about the need to save energy and to look after the environment in general, I talk about the steps we take and the steps the school takes and encourage my daughter to get involved in these actions. We do talk about some of the impacts of climate change, but this tends to be led by her. I answer her questions when she is ready to ask them.

  8. One of the great things about humans is the capacity we have to transmit knowledge and views through time. Admittedly, so far it seems to be in one direction only i.e. from the past to the present, but this key ability has much to do with our current success as a species. The accumulation of knowledge, learning from other’s experience and building on their discoveries has allowed us to do amazing things, including leaving the planet to visit our moon. As well as knowledge, there are questions that keep cropping up. Questions around morals, ethics, rights. What it means to be human and what, if anything, is the meaning of consciousness and even life itself.

    In the late 1970’s the subject of the meaning of life was explored in a playful way by the author Douglas Adams. It started out as a radio broadcast on the UK’s BBC, was developed into a series of books (which turned out to be a trilogy in six parts) and a cinema movie. The story is a wild feast of imagination but at its centre is the idea that a hyper-intelligent race of beings, construct an enormously powerful computer called Deep Thought to calculate the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. After seven and a half million years of pondering the question, Deep Thought provides the answer: “forty-two”. This being somewhat more opaque than expected, the quest is then on to discover the Ultimate Question, a task that falls to the human hero of the story, Arthur Dent and is eventually revealed as “WHAT DO YOU GET IF YOU MULTIPLY SIX BY NINE”. In the radio version of the story Arthur is heard to comment on the discovery by saying “I always said there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe”. (For anyone who is still struggling with the math, 6×9 is normally regarded as being 54, not 42).
    Funnily enough, the sum can work if you use base 13 rather than base ten for the calculation, which just goes to show that numbers can be used for pretty much anything.
    Unfortunately, in industrial civilisation, numbers rule. Things have to “economically viable”, the level of “profit” and “growth” are key indicators of how “well we are doing” as is “gdp”. All of them numbers and all of them wrong. This is simply because the way we account for our economic activity assumes that the Earth’s resources and services are infinite and therefore the use of them does not need to have a cost assigned to them (apart from maybe a tithe to the nominal “owner”).
    The big problem when we start to talk about climate change is that the obstructionists start to put people in fear of their jobs and so their livelihoods. As most people’s lives are lived in the moment and providing for their family is a key concern, this is a big issue.
    The really difficult conversation is how we are going to connect our economic system to our ecosystem in a nourishing, replenishing way rather than the destructive way that currently exists. And, because the ones who benefit from the system as is find an easy bogeyman in the T word, we need to shift the base for counting. How about “Hands up those that do not want a world with a safe climate, with clean air, water, soil and power”?

  9. Mickey says:

    I wouldn’t call all skeptics/deniers liars. Yes some are, but I think one has to look at their knowledge of the science and what they are basing their predictions. I would say most skeptics fall into four categories and I am only talking about those who regularly comment on the issue, not your average person on the street who has little understanding on the science and likely bases their opinion on what they’ve been told by others not what they actually understand.

    1. They know that AGW exists and it is a real threat, but lie about it to suit their own personal interests. This would describe those as described in the above post

    2. They base their opinion on their ideology. Otherwise they have a certain ideology and only look at the facts that back up their ideology. This includes both the skeptics on the right and the supporters on the left who form their opinion based on their ideology not the facts. Even if the supporters are right (which they probably are), they are right for all the wrong reasons.

    3. They genuinely believe that AGW is not happening thus even if they are misguided they are not bad people who are trying to harm others, they simply don’t know all their facts.

    4. They believe that either humans can adapt or that warming will be beneficial to mankind thus even if they accept the science they don’t accept the solutions advocated by some

    Finally I should add a lot of people who don’t understand the science base their opinions on their personal observations, otherwise if it isn’t warming where they live, they assume it isn’t happening. Finally a lot of Americans tend to not care what happens outside their own borders thus as long as the US isn’t harmed its not their problem. Lets remember 1/3 of Americans favour withdrawing from the UN, most have never been outside of the country, and 2/3 in March 2003 supported the Iraq War despite the fact the rest of the World overwhelmingly opposed it and 51% voted to re-elect Bush in 2004 despite the fact 90% of the world’s population wanted to see him defeated. Otherwise arguing it will harm other parts of the world only works with about half the population, the other half will only listen if it can be shown it will harm them personally and their own country.

  10. PurpleOzone says:

    No way do I want my 6-year old grandson to know his world is being wrecked. Let him have his innocence while he can.

    In the meantime, we search for bugs, try to identify dragonflies, admire the birds in flight.

    When I was 6 I scooped tadpoles into a mason jar. I watched them grow until my mother said they were getting too big and needed to go in the pond. This spring I looked, but of course I didn’t find one tadpole. Sad.

    [JR: I think 6 is too soon for sure. But each parent does have to decide for his or herself.]

  11. Mike Roddy says:

    I watched An Inconvenient Truth with my son Malcolm when he was 12 (he’s 15 now). It troubled him, but he held it in. I showed it to him again about a year ago, and he held it in again, but I didn’t push it, because he’s too young to do much about it. I did tell him that it’s now worse than what Gore’s movie said.

    Certain truths have to be communicated, even if the fallout includes fear, resentment of us for adding to their troubles, and further pique about our being the generation most responsible for screwing things up. Bullshitting them, however, will just catch up later, and in a more damaging way, both to our children and for their ability to trust us.

    I also showed my son a movie called Excalibur, where the Arthur character asks Merlin:

    “What is the most important quality in a knight”?

    Merlin responds

    “It’s everything… courage, chivalry, wisdom…”


    “Stop meandering around. What is it”?


    “All right, I’ll tell you! It’s truth! Every time you tell a lie, you murder some part of the world”.

    This could now become literally true, as the creatures running our oil companies and government lie reflexively about everything from climate change to gas fracking.

    They are not knights. They are not even men. And if we don’t stop them, they’ll take all of us down with them.

  12. Stavanger says:

    Purple Ozone, I agree with you completely. My daughter is 22 years of age – her eyes are opening but she feels helpless and doesn’t know what to do….am trying to help with that. Knowledge begins all things transformative.

  13. pete best says:

    Growth growth growth – thats what we all know especially politicians and the notion of having a steady state economy is not what ppl want ot hear. Hard work leads to success – its leads to prosperity and it leads to having nice stuff, things, services and stuff that is they are told because it is marketed this way to be good for them and to enrich their lives.

    Now this throws up three energy camps: those thay say we can continue to grow as we are, BAU style. Those that say we can continue to grow with an new energy infrastructure based on improwed and increased nuclear, renewables an some clean fossil fuels going forward and the third camp who say that both the previous scenarios are unlikely and that we need the second scenarios and we also need to rethink how we consume essectially cutting down on what we consume in terms of energy, goods and services.

    I reckon the second scenarios goes for most environmentalists as its the only one that has a chance against the reticence of the general public and the political class. The third scenario would be better but you can forget it although it might be the third one that is needed to mitigate ACC in time whilst the second one although politically acceptable probably wont mitigate enough ACC to cause a lot of issues for humankind.

  14. slp says:

    Okay, it looks like I’m in the minority here, but I see ABSOLUTELY NO REASON why we shouldn’t be discussing climate change and the state of the world with our young children. I have a 3 year old and a 4 year old and I don’t hide anything from them. We have discussions on a daily basis about what people are doing to the world and how people can try to change things. This morning my 4-year old son told my 3-year old daughter not to stand in front of the fridge with the door open for so long. I asked him why he said that and he told me “because it is killing the fish in the oceans”. I asked him to elaborate, and he told me that the fridge uses extra energy to stay cool when we keep the door open, and that energy is electricity which comes from coal which puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and that warms the planet up and makes the oceans acid which kills the fish. On a daily basis he tells me he is going to save the jaguars and the rainforests when he grows up, while my 3-year old chimes in that she will save all the animals in the oceans. They are incredibly bright happy little kids, and are in no way depressed or despondent about life, but they do have an awareness of the climate change problem and what people are doing to this planet by continuing to pump CO2 unabated into the atmosphere. I don’t think that any age is too young to begin this conversation.

    [JR: Well, I certainly think we should answer any questions we get in as age-appropriate a fashion as we can. Given that we are ruining their world for the sake of small bit of extra wealth and to spare ourselves a modest inconvenience, I see a moral requirement to tell the truth. Again, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all for every family. I don’t really expect climate science to come up for a few years in my family.]

  15. spacermase says:

    @14 Pete Best

    I actually suspect the ultimate solution will probably be a combination of camp 2 and 3, as it could probably be framed to the public in terms of a candy-with-medicine approach. “No, you can’t buy plastic disposable whatevers anymore, and yes, prices have increased on a lot of other goods, but here, have some inexpensive solar panels for your roof (watch your power meter run backwards!) and some delicious, fresh, toxin-free sustainably farmed food.”

  16. Prokaryotes says:

    Are climate change deniers worse than paedophiles?
    by James Delingpole

    James Delingpole argues like some Holocaust Denier.

    [JR: Delingpole already admitted he doesn’t concern itself with the actual science. Now he’s quoting reviews of plays as evidence!]

  17. Joan Savage says:

    One lie that we tell ourselves is that we can get things wrapped up before we have to hand off to the next generation. But there is no discrete moment when we hand off, and many a problem is not solvable in a decade.

    My children are twenty-six and twenty-nine now. When they were very young, I didn’t tell them everything I knew.

    I was initially naïve myself about how fast the changes were compounding. I thought there as more time for me to do other things.

    Last summer my daughter alerted me to a Bill McKibben post on Grist, and I took a fresh look at the changes. She then bought me a tee shirt for me on my 60th birthday. Last week my son posted Paul Krugman’s recent diagram.

    I tell them they will be living further into the future than I, so I want to work with their preferences about what we can still do.

    What gives us meaning and joy is to be able to share, to go forward together. It helps tremendously to not be alone with miserable news.

    For perspective, we come from family that doesn’t hide much from children. Six generations back my great-great-great grandmother ran a station of the Underground Railroad out of her farmhouse. Her daughters grew up seeing ugly truths that most of the people of their time could ignore.

    Love for one another makes us strong. Our kids shouldn’t have to face it alone.

  18. Steve H says:

    If we go back to that horrible, discredited study on AGW communications, and apply it here, then we do have some change at sending a somewhat positive message to our children.

    I had the opportunity last summer to give a short lesson on sustainability to my son’s elementary school (our district has, I’d guess, about 50% of the children enrolled). I was able to use simple lessons, such as where things go for the younger grades, and where things come from for the older kids. I was amazed that many of the children already understood the fundmentals. They may not have known where the chemicals used to make styrofoam came from, but when they were made aware that they came oil, they understood that this was a negative. I think many of the children would have no problem understanding our collective circumstances. I just don’t know that we want them on children’s chewable prozac this early.

    When time is right, I’ll tell my 5 and 7 year old children about their grim future. But until that time I will teach them how to be resiliant, in their own lives, to climate change.

  19. rob says:

    I am sick to death hearing that you can never attribute one extreme climate event directly to global warming. These are mealy mouth weasel words meant to inform readers that the writer is not some kind of whack job. Of course you can do just exactly. Quit fudging or hedging your bets.
    We are on a mass extinction course set by human action. Stop hiding behind scientific dogma and have the courage of your convictions. Stop being so worried about what others think of you and raise the alarm.

  20. JMH says:

    Joe, that’s difficult. I’ve been telling my kids only when they were a bit older, around 14-16. It’s hard to stand.

    I think what Richard is writing is too hard, too much to tell to kids. It’s well within the range of the possible, but not a given. Extinction of half of all life forms – possible, yes, but not a given. Not a certainty.

    What makes it so hard is the fact that these “inconvenient truths” undermine our basic psychological need to see the world as essentially a good place for us and our kids to live in. I know all the facts but I can only live my life if I push these facts aside – otherwise it just drives me mad.

  21. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    My 32 year old daughter has a degree in environmental science and won’t talk global warming with me, and yet she belongs to a million environmental and conservation groups. She knows what’s going on, but I think it leaves her with a feeling of hopelessness and angst, so she avoids it.

  22. Mossy says:

    It’s perhaps even more difficult to have this conversation with adult children. Our children are not only educated on the issue, but they forced us to see “An Inconvenient Truth” and become involved. They act as environmentally conscious as reasonably possible, and have found their own niches with organic food, CSA’s, vegetarianism, bicycling when possible, recycling, minimizing consumerism, etc.

    However, they now view us as needlessly pessimistic, and real talks about the future are curtailed. At times, they’re even critical of our climate activities, feeling that we should be spending more time with them or just relaxing. Our Vermont daughter jokes that this involvement has cured our “Empty Nest” syndrome, providing us something with which to fill the time.

    To a certain extent, I recognize that there is denial on their part. As a mother, part of me is OK with this, as I don’t want them to be feeling the weight of this burden during the prime of their lives. But another part of me feels that, if they truly understood, they’d spend every waking free moment clamoring for change, and enlisting the help of all their contemporaries. So should I force the issue upon them?

    It’s a fine balancing act for all of us.

  23. Bob Lang says:

    How do you tell your kids that it’s already too late. That we are already doomed.

    [JR: I don’t think we’re already doomed, nor do I think that the science supports that view. Certainly, on a purely scientific basis we’re not doomed because we could if we really wanted to stabilize at 350 or lower this century. Politically, you can certainly argue that humanity isn’t up to the task, but that is a very different statement than saying that it’s already too late.]

    At least that’s how I read the results of Jim Hansen’s latest research:

    Paleoclimate Implications for Human-Made Climate Change
    James E. Hansen and Makiko Sato
    NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University Earth Institute, New York

    Milankovic climate oscillations help define climate sensitivity and assess potential human-made climate effects. We conclude that Earth in the warmest interglacial periods was less than 1°C warmer than in the Holocene and that goals of limiting human-made warming to 2°C and CO2 to 450 ppm are prescriptions for disaster. Polar warmth in prior interglacials and the Pliocene does not imply that a significant cushion remains between today’s climate and dangerous warming, rather that Earth today is poised to experience strong amplifying polar feedbacks in response to moderate additional warming. Deglaciation, disintegration of ice sheets, is nonlinear, spurred by amplifying feedbacks. If warming reaches a level that forces deglaciation, the rate of sea level rise will depend on the doubling time for ice sheet mass loss. Gravity satellite data, although too brief to be conclusive, are consistent with a doubling time of 10 years or less, implying the possibility of multi-meter sea level rise this century. The emerging shift to accelerating ice sheet mass loss supports our conclusion that Earth’s temperature has returned to at least the Holocene maximum. Rapid reduction of fossil fuel emissions is required for humanity to succeed in preserving a planet resembling the one on which civilization developed.

  24. Prokaryotes says:

    It depends on how you explain the topic. For example during a heatwave you could make hints about air pollution. Earlier while in the woods and find evidence of environment pollution you could explain the connection of pollution etc,

    It depends where your kids grow up and how your local situation is. On the bottom line it will become every more complicated to brief new earthlings, while they know not the balanced climate change. So future humans will grow up and will become constantly aware of the destruction in many ways.

    The broad appeal of solastalgia pleases Albrecht; it has helped earn him hundreds of thousands of dollars in research grants as well as his position at Murdoch. But he is not particularly surprised that it has caught on. “Take a look out there,” he said, gesturing to the line of coal ships. “What you’re looking at is climate change queued up. You can’t get away from it. Not in the Upper Hunter, not in Newcastle, not anywhere. And that’s exactly the point of solastalgia.” Just as the loss of “heart’s ease” is not limited to displaced native populations, solastalgia is not limited to those living beside quarries — or oil spills or power plants or Superfund sites. Solastalgia, in Albrecht’s estimation, is a global condition, felt to a greater or lesser degree by different people in different locations but felt increasingly, given the ongoing degradation of the environment. As our environment continues to change around us, the question Albrecht would like answered is, how deeply are our minds suffering in return?

  25. Jan Paul van Soest says:

    @Rebecca, may be Vaclav Havel’s words can be helpful:

    Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

    Or in another version:

    Hope is a quality of the soul, and is not depending on what is happening in the world.

  26. dp says:

    what about a ‘this too shall test’? i mean after reading the relevant child psychology & development stuff, and molding a joyful resilient kid, maybe wait to tell said kid the upheaval story until they’re old enough to grab strong hold of the old story.

    A powerful king, ruler of many domains, was in a position of such magnificence that wise men were his mere employees. And yet one day he felt himself confused and called the sages to him.

    He said:

    “I do not know the cause, but something impels me to seek a certain ring, one that will enable me to stabilize my state.

    “I must have such a ring. And this ring must be one which, when I am unhappy, will make me joyful. At the same time, if I am happy and look upon it, I must be made sad.”

    The wise men consulted one another, and threw themselves into deep contemplation, and finally they came to a decision as to the character of this ring which would suit their king.

    The ring which they devised was one upon which was inscribed the legend:


  27. paulm says:

    And our kids will be shouting back….a saviour in the making….

    We need a Revolution!
    Alex Loorz, high school sophomore, Global Warming action super advocate

    Friends, Citizens and Country persons, It was said that Obama was ambitious: If it were so, he is not ambitious enough. It looks like we will have to see a new young leader rise up to (try) to save humanity and the biosphere.
    (yes, we must not forget the biosphere, for we are a noble species).

  28. Tom Bennion says:

    I am with @7 Heraclitus. Kids need to be proud about being sustainable and making a difference.

    As a father of 3 small kids (6, 4, 1), I dont labour the negative (Hansen’s latest paper is a real downer), but engage them fully over conservation issues (we need to drive/fly less etc to reduce our emissions), lead by example (bike with them to school), and also let them know how the world works. My kids know how electricity gets to our house, and food, and what systems take care of stuff after the toilet is flushed. We talk about the fact that people are inventing less energy intensive ways to do these things. I am hoping to make them resilient by giving them a good understanding that all the things around them come from somewhere and are not a given, and they can be changed.

    On animal conservation generally, there is a huge amount of material out there for all ages. I love the Bindi doll that yells “Crikey, lets go save wildlife!”

  29. Prokaryotes says:

    Concern Troll “How do you tell your kids that it’s already too late. That we are already doomed.”

    Bob Lang, then explain why Hansen would demonstrate in the street and bother explaining? Paul Ehrlich stats we have a 15% chance, if you ask me, there is a lot of chance in there. Judging from current state of (in)action i say we have maybe a 20% chance. But this can be improved.

    The problem comes when we pass tipping points, and the sea ice tipping point, the main indicator, is surely pretty loaded in regards for triggering the Clathrate Gun.

    It can happen in years (a climate state shift), but with world wide large scale affords to offset the carbon time bomb, we might be able to defuse. To bring back the Co2 ppm and lower the heat trapping gas potential. We are nevertheless committed to keep sucking the carbon for the next several thousand years, because most of it ended up in the oceans.

    If we do not start with helping Gaia to balance the carbon pump, we will end up with collapse of the civilization, possible within the next 30 years.

  30. Heraclitus says:

    Some time ago I read a short opinion piece by Richard Ingrams in the Independent “All this talk of global warming is frightening the children”
    (Third item down).

    It includes the line “The intention may be good but the only effect is to cause children to worry over something about which they can do nothing at all.”

    This made me very cross for two reasons, firstly what right have we to withold information from our children only to hit them with it later in life? Secondly, and more importantly, why on earth does he think children can’t do anything about it? As slp points out above even something as simple as shutting the fridge door can have a meaningful impact and as they grow up our children are going to become the next generation of consumers. Their habits and attitudes will be learnt at an early age.

    I’ve used this quote a couple of times with groups of young teenagers and made these two points about it. The responses I’ve received have been positive, I’ve never detected any undue panic or fear. And in reality, if they worry then rightly so. Just so long as when we talk about the problems we also talk about the sollutions.

  31. Heraclitus says:

    Tom Bennion, you’ll be leased to know that one truth I definitely haven’t kept from my children is that they won’t be flying off on holiday any time soon.

  32. Edith Wiethorn says:

    Like slp I have had many deep conversations with very young children. Maybe specific real life examples for the present need should become a book, a diverse anthology. The deepest conversations develop from children’s input or questions rather than laying the topic of the day on them. In summer graduate school my science professor opened every class with Socratic questions – I would sprint across the parking lot so as not to miss them. He also considered questions relayed from my three-year-older son, such as, “How can anything stand up and have a shape? How can anything move anything else?” Parents can always be doing the right thing by connecting their children with life in all its forms & with the urge to take life in their hands with earliest skills. That will be their baseline. Hard subjects will come up. Be ready when they are. My younger son was such a born diplomatic debater that I had to script responses for public places, such as “Please try to be as observant as you can while we are here, and we will discuss it all later,” and we did. Even so, there came a day when he was about twelve and I came home from work planning a quick turn-around to the theatre. He said, “We need to talk.” “What do you want to talk about?” I asked, prepping a quick dinner. He said, “Nuclear energy … ” I did not go to the theatre that evening, out of respect for his in-depth, structural-interest approach …

  33. Scrooge says:

    I am lucky in the fact that my children and grandchildren think science is cool. Most denier arguments can be shown to be wrong using simple science with children keep it simple stupid. Your children will believe you whatever you say so don’t lie.
    It can be difficult explaining someone who was respected that had to jump the shark for ideological reasons. How do you explain why someone would quit working science start a blog to equal time to every crank and loon just so they could dumb themselves down enough to work for the GOP.

  34. TomG says:

    I suspect that in most cases it will be the other way around and the kids telling the parents and then asking some rather pointed questions.
    I wonder what the paid climate deniers will say to their kids when confronted?
    Plead insanity?

  35. Zetetic says:

    @ Heraclitus:

    Interesting article with it’s primary message being that of “do-nothing-ism”. It makes one wonder why the author even bothered to type it.

    Such a pity that the author didn’t make the rational conclusion that if people were doing more about AGW then it wouldn’t be causing children concern.

  36. rob says:


    you are exactly right to tell your kids the truth as delicately as you can. The job of the mass media is to reinforce this feeling of helplessness while misinforming you. Joining groups won’t help, but helping your kids to adapt will. Teach them to grow their own food or to be independent. We cannot ‘do’ anything about ‘it’ or, what is to come, because the whole world wants the good life. Teach them to look out for themselves because their world will be much uglier than yours. My grandfather taught me these things as survivalists in the 70s. I’m 53 now and regret not teaching my son(20 yrs)these things.

  37. K. Nockels says:

    My two kids are now over 21, but they are what started me on the path to the truth about CC I needed to know if it was true and if it was how bad, that was 14 yrs ago. once I had learned how and where to find that truth, I told the kids, books, articles, science mags, we would read them together, they told their freinds. I got more than a few calls from parents but luckly most were willing to listen, those that did’nt at least let the kids work it out. no friendship’s were lost over it but some did fade away. All part of standing up for what you believe I told them. My granddaughter is 5 and she will tell you we need to save the planet and have clean air right grandma? She loves the farm and works hard in veg patch (organic of course). The word is spread by all our family.

  38. johnatcheson says:

    I have a daughter, 29, and a son, 23. My job involved clean energy and climate, and I wanted them to be literate about the issue of out times, but not completely freaked out. I chose to use the language of science to talk to them about it, beginning at a fairly early age.

    My daughter is a Marine Biologist with a Masters in Fisheries Science and what I’d call a rational environmentalist — she recognizes the right of people to use nature, but only in ways that are sustainable. My son is finishing up his undergraduate with a dual major — energy engineering (essentially a ChemE) and Energy finance, and will start a Masters in the same area this Fall.

    My point is not to toot my horn or theirs (well, maybe theirs a little bit); rather it is to show that if we give our children the facts, straight up, they can handle it and they will respond better than we might imagine.

    Science can be the language of hope, as well as despair, knowledge can be used to save us as well as doom us. Kids figure that out. All they need is the unvarnished truth to see both sides.

  39. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    I’m house sharing right now with a 29 year old woman who never turns off the lights (leaves everything on whether here or not), has no idea that global warming exists (totally clueless), spends all her time when not working partying and drinking, and refuses to curtail any activity she enjoys, no matter how energy consumptive (the hot tub is always on, she drives when she could walk, has so many clothes that she can leave things in the dryer for a week and doesn’t even notice, has food rotting in the frige, leaves the heat set to 80 even when not here, etc.).

    When I mention global anything to her, she acts offended. She doesn’t want to know, doesn’t want to change. I’m leaving in two weeks (it was just a short-term rental deal for a local project) and I’m hoping my pessimism about the future of the human race then wanes a bit. Unfortunately, I think she may be more representative than not. She doesn’t have kids, but if she did, they would never hear about anything from her except eat, drink, and be merry. If she’s an average American, we’re doomed.

  40. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I think that we must talk openly of what is coming for a number of reasons. First the truth is an absolute value in itself. We live in a society where liars have dominated the discourse, to an increasing degree, for decades. The concentration of the Western MSM into fewer and fewer hands, and the hands of the like of Rupert Murdoch has been an intellectual, moral and spiritual debacle. As a direct result of years of crude brainwashing and the brutal suppression of opposing opinions, generally those that promote human solidarity, co-operation and empathy, and that downplay greed and rampant egomania, we live in brutal societies with ever-worsening Victorian social dispensations, where the poor are constantly berated and abused and elite greed has grown to levels never seen before in history.
    We must speak out loudly against this system. We absolutely must tell the children, because fighting this disaster will be their lives’ work, and that of their children etc, for decades, if not centuries.We must follow the Egyptians, although their travail has hardly begun, as the military regime postpones elections into the far future. Their’s was a revolt not just for affordable food, and against a vicious kleptocrat, a favoured stooge of the West, but for self-respect. If you live forever like a serf, cowed and fearful of the torturer and his dark arts, your human soul begins to atrophy. That’s what the evil ones want. A society of little, frightened, people, scared to stand up. The chances of us saving our children (and the children of the Dunning Krugerite rabble as well) are vanishingly small, but they will be zero unless we confront the hideous and evil apparatus of the Right, not just their denialist industries, but their view of humanity as a mass of serfs ruled over by a tiny elite of hyper-avaricious sharks. Hideous and devastating as the coming ecological apocalypse will be (and we can now only hope to survive in the long-term after dreadful suffering)it is but a symptom of a deeper malaise, a sickness unto death of humanity’s soul, and that is the dominance of humanity by its very worst specimens. A global kakistocracy based on greed, hatred of others, the worship of violence and sheer contempt for those who will exist in the future. They are the enemy, not the ‘opposition’ or those with ‘other opinions’, but the enemies of life.

  41. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a book dedicated to a child:

    Hot by Mark Hertsgaard

  42. Utah climate watcher says:

    When I was much younger I used to sit on the Hudson River palisades watching the traffic across the river in Manhattan; particularly the rush hour traffic. My thought was – “We really can’t go on like this!” That was way back in the early 1960s.

    As a Sociology and History student at the Newark Campus of Rutgers University I came to realise that overpopulation was a major component of our “dying Earth” problem. We, humans were the problem with our hubris and our technology.

    My wife and I took several years to decide not to have children – as a child born in North America adds so much to the environmental damage we have been causing.

    So, now, while I feel seriously melancholic about the state of our world, at least I don’t have to explain to my children and grandchildren why we so completely failed to protect their future.


  43. Joan Savage says:

    It has been said about the Great Crash of 1929 that those who already knew how to eat beans, just went on eating beans, while those who were used to eating steak jumped out of windows.

    This anxiety about what to tell the children could get justifiable criticism from those who are already living with rising oceans, dropping water tables, wilted crops, starving children and animals, and extreme flooding.

    If you have to pack up your child and whatever else you can carry on your back, what’s left to tell?

    The geographically broad forecasts don’t reveal what is more likely to be a mosaic of conditions. No, not everything will be ok, but neither will everything be drought, or everything be flood, either.

    To keep on telling children the truth means to keep on admitting we don’t know everything.

  44. susan says:

    I’ve written here about similar concerns that I have about my children – who are now 15. Nearly young women. In the face of all this adversity, we have to offer them hope. Hope that their actions, all of our actions, will have a positive impact. That we can mitigate and adapt.
    I have to believe that for my children. For all of our children.
    The saddest thing for me is when we discuss the future and what the projections are – the despair in their faces. It just about breaks my heart. But I know we have to have these conversations.
    One of my daughters took an industrial tech class this semester. She was the only girl out of 17 kids. I’m so proud of her. We need to teach our kids to be resilient, industrious, and thoughtful. To learn how to use tools, plant seeds, and build community.

  45. John McCormick says:

    I have known Richard Wiles’ work for the near 35 years he has devoted to protecting and improving the environment. He is a great resource we have working on communications strategies to combat climate disruption. And, he has put in words what all we AGW believers feel and are tormented by whether we are parents or not. We all have family members.

    When to start the conversation about the hard reality of a global warming world is probably best left to answering our childrens’ questions as openly, and with as much empathy, as we know how. And, we have to know when to stop and let them take a breathe or change the subject. I have learned to do that even with my wife and friends. The Hansen version is too much for children and casual listeners to process.

    We can prompt (or ease into being) those questions by offering articles and documentaries that can be shared and discussed along the way or at the conclusion.

    The really tough conversations will arrive when our children come to us with the worst case scenario that their friends have shared with them. That calls for a deeper level of honesty that may confirm what their friends have said or temper that opinion with some common sense regarding timing, chaos and suffering for our children and the world’s children. It really is all about their lives being impacted. Anyone reading this thread is likely old enough to escape the worst.

    But, what if our older children also ask, “So, that’s my future with climate change. How about the end of oil in my lifetime, huh? How about the trillions of dollars of debt I will be left with, huh?

    We are shaping those three outcomes for our children because we tolerate mealy-mouthed, palliative narratives from our leaders in government and institutions. Even environmental leaders cannot voice the truth for fear of offending members and funders.

    When our older children ask us questions about which they have already formed an answer, that will be the real test of how we have robbed them of a chance to survive the chaos we describe on this blog repeatedly.

    Richard speaks for all of us.

    John McCormick

  46. Tim says:

    I think Mickey’s comments (#9) are pretty close to dead on, but the last three categories might be condensed into just one, because all three are a variant of ‘Many people believe what they want to believe and do not base their beliefs on evidence.‘ Among developed nations, it is more socially acceptable in the U.S. to openly state that you don’t care what the evidence is, such-and-such is what you believe. While it may not seem that people in Mickey’s category 3 (“They genuinely believe that AGW is not happening …”) belong in this category, I think that climate change debates have raged long enough that they have purposely avoided finding out the facts or examining the evidence. As time goes on and scientists continually discuss the consequences of climate change, people still in Mickey’s category 4 will also be there only because believe what they want to believe.

    So, what do you tell your children? You tell them that the beliefs based upon evidence trump those that are not; that superstition and wishful thinking should give way to facts. Then, as they get older, you tell ’em the facts.

  47. Anne says:

    I agree with you about adult children. Mine, 22 and 24, raised by a lifelong environmentalist, just don’t want to hear it. They’re smart, educated, charming, and I love them – but they just want to live their lives. And why not? But I think their generation is our only hope. When will they become active – ever? I sent the blog post to them. Maybe they’ll read it…

  48. Leland Palmer says:

    I don’t have kids, so I’m spared having that particular conversation, thankfully.

    I’ve had the climate change conversation with my wife and other close friends, and have converted those I’ve talked to into believers. Some didn’t require much converting.

    My older brother, though, is very religious. He accepts that I’m concerned about it, but does not believe in it. His attitude is that “God wouldn’t do that”.

    He is much more receptive to the idea of clean energy, though, for example solar and wind.

    So, perhaps Obama knew what he was doing when he spoke of clean energy in the state of the union address, instead of climate change.

    Also, I’m not sure it’s too late.

    Suppose we were to seize all of the coal fired power plants of the world tomorrow, and convert them into BECCS (BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage) power plants, and deep inject the resulting CO2 into deep saline aquifers. This would reverse the traditional sources and sinks associated with fossil fuel energy, and actually transfer carbon from the biosphere back under ground.

    Wikipedia- BECCS

    At the same time, suppose we were to initiate a massive alternative energy construction program, here and around the world.

    Seizing and converting the coal plants to BECCS would take about three years, maybe, operating under emergency wartime priorities.

    A tougher problem would be to supply the BECCS power plants with charcoal or biomass, but this could certainly be managed, especially with imported charcoal. Most coal fired power plants are on lakes and rivers, and all of the area upstream of the power plants on the same watershed then becomes potential biomass harvesting area, for gravity assisted river transport. The biomass could come from beetle killed trees, thinning forests and cutting firebreaks through them to drought protect them, and dedicated biomass plantations planted upstream from the converted BECCS power plants.

    Within about five years, at a guess, we could be putting 5 billion tons of carbon (about 18 billion tons of CO2) back underground per year, and be carbon neutral, worldwide.

    Within perhaps ten years, we could be at perhaps 10 billion tons of carbon net going back underground.

    Climate change would slow, and slow…and stop, and reverse.

    Slowly, over the course of the next century, we could deal with the continuing effects of our carbon binge, including the pulse of heat propagating down through the oceans and threatening to dissociate the shallow methane hydrates.

    Methane from methane plumes could be captured, burned using oxyfuel combustion to generate electricity, and the resulting CO2 deep injected under the ocean floor. The resulting electricity could help pay for this.

    It’s all technologically possible, and if a topping cycle, for example a gasified biomass, charcoal, or natural gas topping cycle were added to the BECCS power plants, the resulting higher efficiency could pay for the conversion, at least partially.

    We can turn the corner on this problem, if we communicate, cooperate, and are flexible and adaptable. If capitalism is the problem, perhaps we’ll have to severely regulate or even eliminate the largest capitalist enterprises.

    So, perhaps people should tell their children that we don’t have to die, but are being led in that direction by a disconnected, selfish, and perhaps malignant financial elite which refuses to change.

    By the way, Chu is aware of BECCS. He dismisses it as economically impractical, but admits that it would likely be effective, if it could be made to work. There is a Berkeley lecture of Chu’s where he admits this during a question and answer session.

    We don’t have to allow the climate to die.

    The children should be told about this aspect of the situation, as well, I think.

  49. tst says:

    As the father of a 5 year old boy, I can tell you that we’ve already started talking about the natural world, and about how our actions are impacting the planet. And yes, climate change has come up, both directly and in the adult conversations he overhears at home.

    I’m going to mention something that seems important, without knowing if it’s been addressed in the comment thread before this. The moral/ spiritual tradition that I embrace describes four things worth working toward in this life. Peace, joy, love & purpose. Too often, people in our culture seem adrift, with no purpose greater than themselves. One unintended consequence – a silver lining, if you will – of climate change is that all of us, including our children, now have a purpose greater than self. We have to turn the tide of industrial civilization and transition to a more sustainable way of life. My son will grow up learning about our collective mistakes, and understanding his role in moving our civilization toward sanity. If we’re going to leave my boy a world teetering on the edge of the precipice, the least I can do is give him a sense of purpose.

  50. CW says:

    Kids learn so much more from what you do than what you say.

    Focus/fret more on the doing bit.

  51. William P says:

    Fossil fuel may exist, along with “intelligent” beings, on many earth like planets out in the universe. But this intelligent life discovers the work fossil fuel can do to ease life, and the genie is out of the bottle.

    Global warming and eventual extinction may be a locked in part of evolution.

    Should we give up? No, we should prepare for possible survival in polar regions. James Lovelock perhaps the most advanced earth and climate scientist thinks is may be possible. Lovelock has a habit of turning out to be right on many subjects – like his Gaia theory and the ozone hole for example.

    But serious preparation is needed if survival of some is to happen. Will we be blindsided again when faced with the final challenge of survival as we have been with the whole global warming scenario?

  52. A Siegel says:

    As a climate project presenter, the majority of my presentations have been to elementary school children — starting with 3rd graders.

    While I seek to communicate to my — and others’ — children, can I say that I am fully honest in what is unrolling with ever hastening speed?

    On the other hand, I do seek to educate about solutions — at multiple levels.

  53. A Siegel says:

    PS: This relates closely to “Calling Out the Climate Cranks”, which will be showing its face in DC on Tuesday. See:

  54. John B. Hodges says:

    I’ve been reading a lot of books recently about this topic; just finished Tim Flannery’s NOW OR NEVER and James Hansen’s STORMS OF MY GRANDCHILDREN. I’ve read EAARTH and UNDER A GREEN SKY and more. I’ve been thinking of writing a summary with references, for ABC education of doubters; at the moment I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.

    In 1984 when the American people re-elected Reagan by a landslide I lost heart for politics; I continue to vote, write letters to the editor, donate money to causes and even to the Democrats, but I don’t put my heart into it any more. I will write the essay, not because I think it will have much effect, but just because it is what I can do.

  55. Mark says:

    My kids know about it and certainly the older one accepts the science now he is at University reading Geography. But the reality doesn’t influence the way they live their lives -they show signs of being seduced by the consumerist culture which is so damn pervasive. My younger child I think feels I’m eccentric, saying things like “so we’re all gonna die huh?”. But I think that is youthful denial in the best sense of that awful word.

  56. John Mason says:

    Being a geologist and living in a small (pop. ~2500) community where everyone knows everyone else’s business soon shows how interested the kids are in earth science – and many adults too! You realise this when people start bringing you rocks to identify in the pub!!

    One useful way of demonstrating what rapid climate/environmental change can bring about is to look at the geological past. OK, so there are obviously no direct analogies to the currently-unfolding events, but there are plenty of potent examples from a whole range of causes marked by catastrophic extinctions in the fossil record. I’ve been messing about with this theme a little of late, and have picked one of the trickier ones to start with, simply because it’s on my “patch” and I know the rocks well:

    It is tricky because unravelling it in detail requires some fairly in-depth science, but I’m sure with more work I could morph it (or a generic account of Lower Palaeozoic geology in the UK) into a form that is understandable to many 12-year-olds. The core point is that people are really interested in this theme – what the rocks can tell us about the past.

    But as to advice: never, ever lie to your kids. They’ll grow up, learn the truth and not forget it! The demographics are glaring: most climate change deniers I have come across are older, rightwing men. The vast majority of kids are aware that something very wrong is going on.

    Cheers – John

  57. Buzz Belleville says:

    Like many posters, I too have thought about this topic much.

    My girls are 7 and 9, and they have been told all they can handle about climate change. My 9-year-old can explain the basics of the GHG effect better than 90% of grown-ups. Kind of like having the talk about sex at these younger ages, we mostly stick to the present physical and chemical facts. We do not dwell on the most dire of future predictions.

    My girls immediately think of climate change when they see the boxcars of coal roll by. They think of climate change when it’s pointed out that they’ve left their bedroom light on. They think of fighting climate change when we give them each $50 at the end of the year to donate to a charity of their choice. And like many others on this board, we instill a love of nature mostly just by exposing the girls to it and showing our respect for it.

    The girls process the information differently and at their own rate, and ask whatever questions they have as they develop. My 9-year-old told me about a boy at school who doesn’t believe it’s real. That inspired me to tell all climate realists I know to PLEASE talk to their kids about it, knowing that there are a whole bunch of deniers out there misinforming the leaders of tomorrow.

    Kids are resilient. I’m not yet going to disabuse them of their belief that I can always protect them. My 9-year-old became a student council VP by running on a ‘green’ platform, and has already organized a day where the various grades competed to see who could produce the least amount of waste during lunch period. Her goal next year is to start a school vegetable garden.

    I urge everyone to talk with their kids about climate change. Not to scare them, but to give them the tools they need to be part of the solution.

  58. Christopher Yaun says:

    Let us coin a new term that describes a years worth of CO2 emissions generated by human burning of fossil fuels. Any suggestions?

    However the crisis unfolds we will stop burning fossil fuels, climate forcing of orbital dynamics will dominate and the ice caps will return. Even the actions of the gods have consequences in the natural world and we humans are
    not gods.

    As science approaches the answer to the question, “What is the temperature forcing of a years worth of human CO2 emissions?” the question evolves into, “How long before the collapse of the environment overwhelms us?”

    The awkward conversation about the climate that we are not having is itself a deception, a lie that we tell ourselves that we can change the outcome.

    To talk about global warming would be a lie. If all nations agreed to take maximum action tomorrow the worst of the climate change is already set in motion, the climate forcing is know, the melt rate of Antartica is knowable.

    Like banking deregulation that lead to derivatives and subprime mortgages the trigger of collapse of the fossil fuel economy will not be known until events have already raced ahead of human ability to respond in a meaningful way. MY children and their children will live in a world without polar bears and whales and elephants if they can survive.

    I had dinner with my grown children yesterday. They are successful, liberal and well educated. Among the usual family chatter a conversation about a ruined couch and another about the last time my younger daughter got
    drunk summarized the (lack of) consciousness or simple avoidance of the topic. I want a relationship with my children and conversation about the
    latest news on AGW is not welcome. These young adults know and ignore.

    The truth requires that we ask ourselves how the collapse will develop. Will the change in weather overwhelm us; will decades of extreme droughts and catastrophic rains reduce the harvest below that required to feed 7 billion?
    Will it peak oil or the scarcity of some other commodity drive the collapse of mechanized farming? Maybe a key technology will fail, perhaps the skill to make the steel needed for drill pipe? Or simple human conflict….another
    world war would probably end with the collapse of many of the super sophisticated technologies that we depend upon. Maybe trade agreements will collapse? Sea-level rise? Perhaps an epidemic will overwhelm our climate

  59. However if we say about the awkward conversation for climate, but its truth. Awareness of climate and transmit knowledge & view are share with our kid, society, etc it’s great things we do for human-being.

  60. DrJeannette says:

    I think I talk about it too much for my 12 year old, but my 15 year old is able to stay involved with me. He asks me what the daily catastrophe is, knows I am constantly reading your blog. I tell my husband the truth but I think even so it is hard for him to believe me, thinking I am a bit hysterical. With my 15 year old we talk about training for the future. He is going to take a series of classes in energy and sustainability (our public high school is amazing) and is interested (somewhat) in visiting the eco village in Ithaca. We looked at the site and unfortunately we both felt that there we a lot of “hippies” — (! I was one once) and the tension we felt is what is making me crazy — why would we move to live with people we don’t know and start all over, assuming we could even find work — when we want to stay here and find our own way of building a sustainable community. The problem is that none of my friends understand the dire situation we are in. They humor me in my “passion” as though it is a charitable cause….

  61. Raul M. says:

    Being an “apologist” takes many turns,
    and at some point there should a subject
    matter that addresses the issues. Good
    Luck. Biochar as a gas burning stove
    May be an active way to apologize to
    Nature for having released to much co2
    into the air and is just cool anyway.

  62. DrJeannette says:

    “Laugh about it, shout about it, when you’ve got to choose. Anyway you look at it you lose.” That song is stuck in my head this morning…

  63. Icarus says:

    Yesterday I watched ‘What a Way To Go: Life at the end of Empire’ –

    This film lays out exactly what the problem is – billions more people than the planet can support, with most of us living to varying degrees an unsustainable lifestyle.

    The biggest problem I have with it is the film’s insistence that everyone is really, deep-down, desperately unhappy and unfulfilled, and would really just like to transition to a simple and sustainable life in harmony with nature… but it’s just not true. On the contrary, people *love* the comforts and conveniences and luxuries of modern life. They love heating and air-conditioning and cars and well-stocked supermarkets, gadgets and big-screen TVs, clean water that comes out of a tap, flushing toilets and electricity and gas… everything that makes life easy and pleasant and fun.

    Very few people want to voluntarily give all that up, even if they understand what the consequences are of continuing with that kind of society. It’s the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’; *Collectively* it would be better for all of us to live less destructive lifestyles but *individually* it will never make sense to voluntarily impoverish yourself while others still enjoy all the benefits that you used to enjoy. And if William Catton’s view as expressed in that film is correct, then the Earth can only sustainably support about 1 billion people in any case. If getting on for 90% of us are going to die an unpleasant and premature death anyway, regardless of what we do, then we might as well just enjoy this life for as long as possible, right? (that’s the Devil’s Advocate way of looking at it).

    I do talk to my kids about the problems, about how our way of life is patently unsustainable, but I haven’t really told them ‘the answer’ because it’s not at all clear to me that there is one. I encourage them to recycle, to not be wasteful, we use low-energy lightbulbs etc., but how can I tell my daughter that I won’t drive her to the cinema or collect her from her friend’s house miles away on a dark rainy night? Whatever fossil fuel emissions I saved would be utterly insignificant and I would just be depriving her of the life that every one else enjoys without a thought.

    I will move to a house with a bigger garden and start growing food, because I think it will become more and more necessary in the coming years, and there is no downside to it. Other than that, I’m at a bit of a loss to know what to do. For most causes I would say that campaigning for political action is the most likely way we can be effective, but I’m not sure what I’d campaign for. I know we need to get rid of fossil fuel electricity generation but I’m not convinced that it’s either ‘sustainable’ or effective to build enormous and highly complex wind turbines to replace it, or expensive solar panels with a very limited life-span. If we do that aren’t we just perpetuating a myth that there’s a technological ‘fix’ and everything will be OK and carry on as normal?

  64. Ben Lieberman says:

    I do talk about it with my 10 and 12 year-olds and have done so for several years. I think we can ‘sugar coat’ things far too much for kids.

    Going back to my initial question: when is it time to stop giving anyone a free pass on this issue?

  65. Robert says:

    Away fom CP we all do the same thing for our kids (even Joe I suspect). Tell them to go and work hard at school and college so they can earn a pile of money and be as well insulated as possible when TSHTF. Let’s face it, when there is only enough food to feed half a billion it won’t be the rich that starve.

    Alternatively you could show them how to grow vegetables and chop logs, but I don’t see so many doing that.

  66. BBHY says:

    The kids will learn all about it as the see the accurate reports in the media about climate change. Oh, wait, nevermind.

    Clearly, when we have our massive demonstration in DC, and surround the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the K Street Lobbyists (all 4 branches of the US Government), and force them to accept the science and change course, we will have to bring children, lots and lots of them. Ultimately they are what this is all about about; the world we giving to our children, grandchildren and on and on for all future generations.

    Yes, when we do that. That’s when we will finally get the action that is needed. Someday, someday.

  67. Prokaryotes says:

    Re John Mason “It is tricky because unravelling it in detail requires some fairly in-depth science”

    I like how Dr Hansen explains the carbon weathering process. His words and flow are a little bit clumsy, but you get the idea, which i think is one of the most important wisdoms about how our planet works.–0A

  68. Prokaryotes says:

    Must Watch
    Dr James Hansen speaks at the the UO Law School about Moral, Political and Legal issues of Climate Change.–0A

  69. ToddInNorway says:

    Teach your kids how to eat a near meat-free diet that is nonetheless nutritious and tasty (spice it right). Meat products will be one of the first items we sacrifice as food and energy security both crash more or less about the same time. My best guess that this is in the next 1-2 years. Global wheat crisis is basically confirmed today as this season’s Chinese winter wheat crop is a total loss.

  70. Bob Doublin says:

    Even if we don’t specifically say the words,what makes you think they haven’t already picked up on it from you AND from everything around them.Children might not have the words to write an essay about it but that doesn’t mean they’re lacking in understanhding. I HATED it when my parents hid stuff from me because they thought I was too young for it. It was the not talking about it that scared me a LOT more than the actual words.

  71. John Mason says:


    Yes that’s quite a good one.

    Here’s a version of my Late Ordovician piece for non-geologists aged 12 and over – I have appointed some young peer-reviewers!

    Cheers – John

  72. David Fox says:

    I realize weather is weather, and the Weather Channel just reports weather. But they should be in people’s faces with the obvious story being told in their ‘weather’ 24 hours a day.

    Instead, this morning they were reporting the weather in Kansas/OK (don’t remember the town where this happened) where a record was set last week of -28 degrees below zero. This week that same place could hit 70.

    The significance of this fact? Get out your bathing suits! Woo Hoo!

  73. K. Nockels says:

    David #74 I saw that to. They were going on about how happy everyone should be that we have gone in one week from freezing and sled weather to no coats, get out and enjoy this fine weather temps. Without a clue as to how it will affect flowering and fruiting of agri. Or the flood threat of all that frozen water melting, look to your big infastucture pipes as the thaw races up the mid-west all the way to Chicago, potholes are in your future and no money left to fix them, it all went for snow removal.Wasn’t there a blizzard there two weeks ago? (a jest), be happy and positive as directed by the company that owns you.

  74. Chris Winter says:

    From the “mighty” pen of Richard Ingrams: “The intention may be good but the only effect is to cause children to worry over something about which they can do nothing at all. For that matter there’s not much that adults can do, though they might perhaps think of lobbying the Government to stop panicking their children quite unnecessarily.”

    This could be the true identity of Mememine69, who seems to appear (usually first) in the comments section of every news story about global warming to cry, “Stop scaring my kids!”

    That’s not a serious speculation. But Richard Ingrams clearly doesn’t get it. He shares a blind spot that afflicts so many: the belief that climate change is just nature, and nature is always mightier than humanity.

    So he concludes that we can do nothing about climate change — just as we can do nothing about hurricanes, or about disease epidemics. Oh, wait…

  75. Chris Winter says:

    Yes, the best fiction has a remarkable ability to impart lessons. The works of Douglas Adams (done too soon) are figuratively “A spoonful of sugar,” while Excalibur is more like a dose of salts. But all communicate effectively.

    I really think that carefully selected works of fiction, especially science fiction, can help with this dilemma. Of course, not everyone’s children read for pleasure. But for those that do, I think fiction can be a part of the answer.

    This is not to say that factual works should be neglected. There are many good titles; a few for teenagers and up are Early Spring, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Climate Crash,Eaarth, and Forecast. (Early Spring is probably OK for younger children.)

    Fiction for the “What” and “Why” of behavior change; factuals for the “How.”

  76. Climateprogress readers should read Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road, about a postapocalyptic journey of an unnamed father and son. It’s a stark, beautiful book, and it’s fundamentally about the greatest human fear of all (no, it’s not about being tortured with an electric drill in Iraq, though that is fairly high up on my list) but the fear of being unable to care for your children. That fear–an inability to perform the fundamental role of parenting–is coming true. The good news is that we therefore have a lot of constituents who should want to solve climate change: our ONLY job as parents, you could argue, is to solve climate.

  77. Tom Bennion says:

    Heraclitus @ 32:

    Noted. Let me say, after about 2 years of not flying and having to explain to clients, friends, family why I am doing it, and having to work at alternatives (overnight buses for work, trains, teleconferences, alternative family holidays) its a pretty good way of getting the message out there. I am surprised who has heard in our small country (4 million people) of the guy who doesnt fly. It turns out that getting places at 600 mph is not essential for a happy and fulfilled life.

    Could we have a celebrity step up please? Now that would be a great message for the kids.

  78. Mond from Oz says:

    Joe, this is about the most valuable thread I’ve seen. Edited, it would (will?) make a great book. Can it be preserved somewhere?

    Here’s a way to tell the kids. Do clmate-themed camps and on-going groups, stressing peer support, and telling them that, yes, the game is over. But which game? It’s the game of our present lifestyle, that’s for sure. I’d begin with the 13 YOs, and stress what they can do. Investigate car sharing and tell Mum and Dad. Don’t eat non-local produce. Grow your own. Walk, or bike. Get lean and get tough. Confront your teachers, confront the politicians (write to your local Member, and don’t be put off by a mass-produced bullshit reply.

    Tell them about the urgency: that at present rates the doubling time for CO2 is about 50 years, and that feedback probably means that the rate of increase is itself increasing. Offer your support to group members: be there for them, on the net. Investigate where and how the chance of survival might be optimised.

    Above all, remember that a feeling of helplessness leads to depression and is a cause of avoidance and denial. So look for things that can be done, not to preserve the present game, but to discover the game we (they) can still play.

    (PS. Onya, Mulga)

    [JR: Feel free to repost it.]

  79. espiritwater says:

    Leland, #49, Please tell your brother that… “true, God wouldn’t do that. However, humans (to whom he gave free will) obviously would (and ARE!) doing that!”

  80. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I think that the Richard Ingrams ‘don’t scare the children’ denialist tactic is one of their vilest. It’s an upfront demand, couched in hypocritical pretense of concern for children, to do nothing, certainly not tell children the truth. It’s on a par for sheer, vicious, hypocrisy with Lomborg’s entirely fake concern for the global poor, which he never manifested until it became useful in propaganda terms. The denialists fear the coming generation because they will be awake to the undeniable horrors unfolding around them, and they will, justifiably, revile the denialists. What’s more I hope and believe that they will reject the entire worldview of the omnicidal Right and sentence the likes of the Kochtopus and the rest of the Big Business kleptocracy to the dust-bin of history, along with their crude and hypocritical propagandists. They will then have to set to to the task of working for generations to save what they and their descendants can of human civilization. And I can tell you, there’ll be no hiding the truth from their children, because that ghastly reality will be their lived experience every day of their lives.

  81. Mond from Oz says:

    Please see my #81 on this thread. It is not possible to shield children from the truth, especially from late childhood onwards. They read, they watch, they hear, and they experience. Answer their questions truthfully, and where you dont know the answer, find out with them. Make finding out into a peergroup project. Then, as suggested above, discover things to DO. Avoid helplessness. Kids can write to the Prez, to their Congressman. Kids can put stickers on walls, knock on doors. Encourage peergroup activity and peergroup support. Perhaps I’m being glib here, I realise that talking to kids about the possibility of imminent disaster is very far from simple. But they won’t thank us for pretending.

  82. Heraclitus says:

    Having brought him in to this converstaion I think it only fair that I stand up a little for Richard Ingrams – he did also write this piece asking Why are so many deniers of climate change on the right?

    (Although it rather highlights his confusion in that, although written only two weeks after the prvious piece, it includes the line “And it is one reason why I have, so far as I can remember, never written anything about global warming.” I think it may be that he was referring to the reaction to his own piece and possibly trying to make ammends.)

  83. susan says:

    DrJeanette @ 62

    Have you heard of this movement?

    A small group of people in my community are working towards this – we are at the very inception – just trying to figure out what we can do and to identify individuals in our community who have the talent and are willing to make it happen, but it’s possible. You don’t have to move from your community – you can make it happen where you are. Don’t despair. Encourage your son to organize an imatter march on Mother’s Day (May 8).

    and to paulm @ 28

    Thank you for introducing me to Alex Loorz! I’m going to try to sow the seed for a march on our island!

  84. Robyn Waite says:

    My 5 year old has been coming with me on climate marches and protests since he was 2 years old. He doesn’t understand the nuances, but he certainly knows coal is bad and that climate change is bad and that its good and normal to protest to try to change these bad things. Yes, teaching our kids about sustainability and nature is valuable, but teaching them about people power and political struggle is essential for the fight they will be forced to continue…..