Advice For The Woman Who Wrote Salon Worried She Can’t Protect Her Children From Global Warming

Advice columnists are like financial analysts. The overwhelming majority can’t beat the market — which, for the analyst, is an S&P index fund and, for the columnist, is your typical friend or relative.

And like your friend or relative, sometimes the advice is very good, and sometimes … not so much. As an instance of the latter, we have the ‘advice’ of Salon’s Cary Tennis in a column titled “How to protect my children?

The letter writer, “Mom of Three,” is “a happily married woman in my mid-40s, with three children ranging in age from 8 to 15.” She has a good job and her life is great. She says, “I’m not sure what advice you can offer me, but I feel compelled to write”:

I love my family dearly, and my children bring me great joy.  So what’s the problem then? I worry that I’ve brought them into a world whose future holds overpopulation (for which I myself feel a bit responsible) and global warming. My children have such bright futures ahead, which may be completely devastated by these global crises.

I feel guilt at having brought them into the world, and yet I can’t imagine not having them in my world. I feel so hopeless that I am unable to make the world a better place for them. My happiness in the present is marred by my heartache thinking of their future.

How do I cope with these feelings?

Fair enough question. And similar to questions I’ve thought a lot about both as a father and as someone who spends a lot of time speaking with college students.

The full response by Mr. Tennis is too long to repost, but you’ll get the painful gist of it here:

Dear Mom of Three,

Your heartache is the heartache of all parents. Let this heartache be with you and do not be unkind to yourself because of it. It is not only the heartache of all parents. It is the heartache of all humans.

All humans feel this same heartache as we see that those we love we cannot protect and that everything we know and love will one day be gone. We are all filled with occasional sorrow when we stop to glimpse the fact that all that is familiar and safe, all that is beautiful, all will be gone as we also will be gone and those we love will be gone, and all the torments also, all the things we are catching up on and taking care of, all the things we are dreading and disapproving of and wishing we didn’t have to deal with, all those things, too, will be gone, and all the evils we despair of and all the tragedies whose lessons we use as guideposts, all that will be gone, the lessons of politics and philosophy, the works of art, the music, the novels, everything will be gone. Everything. Nothing can outlast the ceaseless churning of idea and matter and time. And because everything will be gone none of this will matter, either, none of what I say or you say or what we feel, and that is the farther assumption, the one we often do not get to, that since we will die and everyone we know will die, none of this worrying will matter in the least, and so, if we accept that all this will be gone, we can accept that all our worrying is just the fretting away of precious moments, a vain and fruitless mental activity over which, indeed — and this is the important part — we have some measurable, demonstrable control!

… You will be forgotten. I will be forgotten. This whole thing will be gone. Yet I think that our consciousness will remain. This I have experienced firsthand. So I am not worried. Nor am I as crazy as I used to be. I am merely more certain that I can do nothing about anything….

… Meditate on these things. Just meditate. Just sit and let these things enter your consciousness, and if there is strife and conflict in your relationships with your husband and your kids, see what you can do to lower the conflict. Let them be. They are going to go. They are beyond your control already. You are just a passenger now.

I know what you’re thinking, “Dude, chill out!” Or, maybe, “Dude, you’ve chilled out so damn much you’re frozen.” Either way, you’re probably thinking he may not be cut out to be an advice columnist and indeed that he needs an advice columnist more than she does. But I digress.

For me, what’s of interest is that he completely missed the point of the question, treated her specific concern as if it were existential angst, and gave a not terribly germane reply.

But what if we actually tried to answer her question? What is a mother to do who feels certain responsibility, guilt, and heartache for bringing her children into a world that may be devastated by overpopulation and global warming, who feels hopeless about her ability to make the world a better place?

The first point is, I think, to acknowledge that these feelings are entirely reasonable in a world that is literally engineering its own self-destruction. I don’t, however, think the answer to a feeling of hopelessness is Tennis’s brand of disempowering fatalism.

Personally, I don’t share the feelings of this woman, but then I spend all my time trying to do something about this problem. I am quite certain that if I didn’t spend all my time trying to do something about it, I would want help coping with similar feelings. But everyone is different.

The question really has two parts, I think:

  1. What should the woman do to cope with her feelings?
  2. How can the woman help her children (and her entire family) best prepare for what is to come?

Not being a psychologist or psychiatrist, I can’t offer much help beyond the advice of “get involved” (in the climate action movement or something similar). Fortunately, however, I do know Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist and co-convenor of the 2009 NWF conference on the Psychological Aspects of Climate Change. I published some advice she gave 4 years ago in a post, “Dealing with climate trauma and global warming burnout.” I’ll repost that at the end.

I’d like to comment on the second part, however. As I say, I have spent a lot of time on colleges talking to students about this issue. My goal is not to alarm them or even to motivate them to become climate activists. No, I just try to describe as best I can —  based on a review of hundreds of studies and interviews with dozens of the top climate experts in the country — the world as it is likely to be in the coming decades.

Knowledge is power. And while there can be little doubt that future generations will be cursing our names if we keep on the do-little path and destroy a livable climate, there is equally little doubt that within about two decades the humanity will become desperate to slash emissions and adapt to what we can’t stop. Then, say, over the course of 2025 to 2050 — the period I called “Planetary Purgatory” in my book Hell and High Water — the nation and the world will be increasingly focus its talent and resources (trillions and trillions of dollars) on mitigation and adaptation.

And this is all to say that someone who is in school today could benefit greatly from knowing how the future is likely to play out, much as it would have been useful for a teenager to know, say, in the 1970s that the future was going to be computers and the like (which, of course, some did).

If you want career security in the coming decades — and don’t want to become a gerontologist or diabetes specialist or podiatrist or the like — then you couldn’t do much better than becoming an expert on, say, water efficiency/resources or low-carbon technology or sustainable low-resource-use agriculture or building levees, to name a few.

Also, while Cary Tennis may think there is nothing anybody can do about anything, the fact is, this woman could benefit from strategic planning for her family. Maybe she doesn’t buy that beachfront property her husband has been eying or maybe she sells off the one she already has before the market crashes (see “Ponzi 2: What year will coastal property values crash?“). Maybe in 10 years, when planning her retirement, she doesn’t pick south Florida or the desert Dust Bowl Southwest.

Her letter really isn’t specific enough to give a detailed response, but needless to say I take the very opposite view of Tennis. As long as the woman already knows enough to have these legitimate concerns, I think she ought to get involved and learn enough to really help her children and her family plan for what is to come.

I’ll end with an edited version of “Climate Trauma Survival Tips From Dr. Lise Van Susteren,” which, it must be said was aimed at climate hawks, but most of the advice is good for anyone.

  • Take care of yourself physically and spiritually, through healthy living and maintaining a balance in your professional and personal life.
  • Physical exercise is essential — endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, are secreted in response to exercise. Endorphins help fight psychic pain, too. Exercise also boots your immune system. If you are stressed out and getting sick a lot — you need regular exercise. Swimming can be very soothing.
  • Get out of doors as much as possible — connect with the forces that drive you and give yourself up to the beauty of nature in the present….
  • Remember that you are not alone. There are lots of other people who may be just as traumatized as you are — they just aren’t talking about it….
  • Your fears are realistic. But what you can do, or what you expect you can do, may not be.
  • Personal therapy can help. You wouldn’t be the first person to conflate some personal problems with what is happening to the planet. Although “we” are working on it, many professionals may not yet “get” the problem with climate.

The Don’ts

  • Overwork
  • Having trouble sleeping? … Make sure to cut off the computer at least 2 hours before bedtime. The blue light emitted by computers suppresses a hormone that triggers sleep more than light from other parts of the spectrum. Additionally, turning out lights is not only good for the planet — the resulting incremental darkness sets the body up to sleep. Also, did you know that it can take as many as 9 hours for your body to completely break down caffeine?
  • Believe that you are invulnerable. In fact, admitting what you are going through makes you more resilient.
  • Lose focus on the essential tasks.
  • Don’t give up! Despite the forecast — we are working together like never before.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice.

68 Responses to Advice For The Woman Who Wrote Salon Worried She Can’t Protect Her Children From Global Warming

  1. kermit says:

    Learn skills that might be useful in the changing world. Yes, high tech skills in the areas mentioned above might be good for society as a whole and provide a living. But simpler old fashioned skills might be useful for circumstances involving serious impoverishment, refugee status, isolation from help during weather emergencies, etc. Those might include first aid, swimming, temporary shelter and other backpacking / camping knowledge. Martial arts, hunting, gardening, sewing, woodworking might come in handy depending on how things play out.

    These future adults cannot know all things which might be useful, but they can learn:
    1. That skills can be learned by ordinary people. (And they learn this by becoming competent in several.)
    2. That they can do without their communication devices and networks for hours, days, or months if need be.

  2. Mark E says:


    (1) we intentionally had just one child;

    (2) I’m starting a 2nd career – something mobile that will still be needed no matter how well we change or ways (or not)


    (A) Start listening to whatever activist music floats your boat. Sweet Honey in Rock, Holly Near, etc

    (B) Do something simple (like write a congressional rep). When you act, no matter what it is, your view of your place in the world changes from powerless to self-empowered

    (C) Trouble sleeping?

    Enroll in an introductory cardio health fitness class. Add stretching/strengthening later in a few months.

    No Trouble sleeping?

    Enroll anyway. Brain’s own internal anti-depressants cost nothing but some sweat.

    (D) Before next fall, learn about S.A.D. and start working with a registered nutritionist

  3. Bel Campbell says:

    Knowledge is indeed power. It is fruitless to fear what one doesn’t understand, so I’d advise them even at their advanced ages to become as informed and scientifically literate as they can possibly be. At least they’d then be equipped to adapt to whatever faces them — and better able to discern what’s within their power to change, and how. In the best case, they’ll lead positive changes in and for others; in the least, they’ll not make it worse for themselves or others.
    I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer the mother, except to accept that more knowledge is better than less.
    But then, I’m a scientist, so I’m biased in favor of increased understanding. Call it a weakness.

  4. I often think about the looming devastating realities of global warming coming in our near future, and how they’ll impact people. I’m concerned, especially since we’ve passed the 400ppm mark for the first time in human history. We’re already living in an atmostpheric environment that no human has ever lived in. Not good.

    It gets even scarier when we pause to consider what we’re supposed to treat as good news: “A trio of respected biologists and zoologists concludes that Earth’s sixth mass extinction may be unfolding slower than feared, giving time for the valuable work of cataloging the planet’s species.”

    Gets even more scary when literally nobody I know is willing to discuss how to react to looming devastating effects of global warming, or the ongoing mass extinction we’re a part of. Unbelievably, many still disagree with the known facts that we’re experiencing a global warming, or mass extinction. But then, it’s human nature to ignore facts that contradict or disprove a previously held belief — especially a belief that’s so reinforced through commercial programming.

    Definitely a lot to be concerned about — but these burdons are BIG burdons… cumulative from all human history. Should we all carry them as we approach the possible end of our civilization? I dunno. Perhaps so.

  5. durbrow says:

    Consider volunteering and learning skills at the American Red Cross or, possibly, at your local Community Emergency Response Team. The skills you will learn will be helpful to cope with climate-related emergencies although you may be surrounded by climate-change doubters and anti-government paranoids.

  6. D. R. Tucker says:

    There is renewed focus on the possibility of a carbon tax from both sides of the issue.
    Climate Crock’s Peter Sinclair joins us to share his expert opinion on the chances this win-win-win proposal will actually happen, and what it means that opponents are ramping up their rhetoric. Next Ben Wessel, of 350 Action, explains why the climate group has– for
    the first time– endorsed a candidate for office, Rep. Ed Markey. And speaking of firsts…
    Whole Foods has announced it will be labeling its GMO products as it tries to procure fewer of them over the next five years. We’ll hear from spokeswoman, Libba Letton about that ground-breaking decision.

    Read more:
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

  7. dave says:

    I’m 77 yr.old I can relate to this women s Quandary. I stay involved as I consider able to be at this time.I try not to discount myself for not doing more.I send e mails post on face book participate in some demonstrations,make political calls ,post petitions and stay informed,and pray hoping enough people head the calls for reform.Dicounting myself serves no purpose

  8. Kota says:

    This might be silly but it helps me short term for a quick fix. If I’ve read too much climate denial insanity, the up ticking of the carbon numbers, etc. I put “Plants vs Zombies” on the screen and pellet those zombies. Mostly I win. There’s just something about using solar powered creatures to fight the death dealing zombies and winning that lowers my anxiety and puts me back in the real game to try again in real life.

    As for being a Mom. Even if she did something small like wear a necklace with a rhinestone skull. People would ask. She could say it keeps me focused on my kids futures. If something like this would catch on, if highschool graduations showed seas of kids dressed in black with skull necklaces on it would be very hard not to confront what they expect from adults of their future. The ‘goths’ back when didn’t have it far wrong. But instead of doing it for ‘shock’ value, do it to just bring reality up front. The adults need to stop playing games with the small stuff and bring this largest of problems ever front and center and in constant focus. Nothing we do if we don’t handle this will matter. Nothing.

    Everyone can do something. It may not be a great invention that makes a great difference, but even a great invention isn’t great if the people are not focused on accepting it and getting it into action. We make choices every day. It’s the focus that steers us toward the accomplishment.

    Back in the day a farmer might want a barn but couldn’t build it himself. He got a lot of other guys to help and had a barn raising. Enough people focus and what was once an empty patch of ground is now a barn. It doesn’t matter if all you did was hold the nails, you helped change one thing over to another. All of you kept the focus to make it happen.

  9. BlackDragon says:

    The same attitudes and approaches that got us into this mess are not going to get us out of this mess. Mobilizing and taking massive action are relatively easy for us – just look at how fast things changed in the USA after Pearl Harbor.

    We got here because we have a whole bunch of particular habits as a species, a certain kind of theme we are used to playing, and everything in your approach is just variations on the same theme.

    That theme, and how it unfolded for us, is basically this: We are afraid of the unknown, and our own impermanence, but for a time at least we know that we are truly part of something infinite and ageless. It can be scary and painful as hell, but not ultimately terrifying.

    Over time, we lose touch with our own innate connection to this immortal knowing, and finally surrender to external powers in the form of priests, kings, and now – “the system.”

    Our egos are now utterly isolated and so afraid of loss that we desperately turn to the material world, as commanded to by the system itself – in order to keep the system running, and perhaps finding some kind of safety from our absolute terror of the unknown.

    If we take any actions, as above, they are well within the accepted norms of what is defined as rational, meaningful, and effective, within that system.

    Now we have woken up to realize that the system itself is truly built on death, and is utterly unsustainable. This is the only possible final outcome for any creation of ego without connection to Being.

    What Cary Tennis is talking about is changing the theme. The woman, as she shared from her own experience with losing her young child, was alluding to the fact that she had experienced part of this other theme herself, and was looking for some way it could be even more powerful.

    Far from being painful, Cary’s advice was an almost unbelievably rare breath of fresh air in a climate where themes like this, anywhere in the MSM, are almost totally absent. This is just another glimpse that maybe, just maybe, something new really is possible.

    All kinds of incredible and truly powerful action can flow from such a place – things that could get us through the almost impossibly thin eye of the needle. And yes, meditation, such an utterly useless thing in the view of what the system values, is probably the only truly essential tool that can thread that needle.

  10. Paul Klinkman says:

    I should know better than to write when I’m tired, but I’m tired.

    Cary Tennis came close to the scene in Star Trek Deep Space Nine where a Dominion person pretty much tells another race’s ambassador “We’re going to make your race extinct so why am I bothering to talk to you? Bug off.”

    First, climate change isn’t a doom thing for homo sapiens. We’re much too cockroach-like, and smart too, if not that wise.

    Second, you would live to regret all talk and no action, so start thinking of skills to learn, and of groups and communities to support. Run your life as if you’re a highly specialized member of some future large community that uses time travel to set up your life in advance.

  11. Niall says:

    I’m already ignoring good advice. I’m having trouble sleeping, it’s just gone 1am local, and I’m tapping away.

    Do: ACT. I’m sorry, I see few if any reasons for optimism, but the more of us raise awareness and engage in direct action, the less the scale of the catastrophe. A lot of us are going to go down. Many species, including possibly our own, are going to go down, but I’m d**n well going down fighting.

    Don’t: have kids. Sorry, Joe and others, but I think having children is criminally irresponsible. We need to bring human impacts right down, and a good way to do that is to simply stop adding to the problem. There is a paper by P.A. Murtaugh and M.G. Schlax on Reproduction and the Carbon Legacies of Individuals on this subject (Global Environmental Change 19 (2009) 14–20 (available online, not paywalled)). D0 adopt, foster, baby sit, teach.

    Do: Start work on the sustainable communities that may turn into our last best hope.

  12. Lore says:

    What we’re dealing with is a variation of the bystander effect or Genovese syndrome. Most people are bystanders within a crowd of bystanders and are less likely to notice how serious the problem is and therefore less likely to assume responsibility for taking any action.

    Once the catastrophic seriousness of climate change is fully realized by the individual, the immensity of the problem is often given over to a mental state of high arousal caused by anxiety, fear, panic and confusion. Or, “deer caught in the headlights”.

    There are many people who will simply give up rather then commit to action that sacrifices the outcome of everything they comfortably believe in. So it’s really up to the brave few to change the world. The question is, will that have to end up being some type of draconian enforcement?

  13. Joe Romm says:

    I don’t think fatalism is the answer.

  14. Sasparilla says:

    Glenn, did Mauna Loa pass 400ppm on a daily reading already? Any links to this?

    The high won’t be till May, we don’t need to be passing 400ppm already…

  15. Sasparilla says:

    Great article Joe and thanks for posting those suggestions from Dr. Lise Van Susteren – great advice for that poor woman and good for the rest of us to see again.

  16. This woman’s question goes to the heart of why I wrote my novel, why I blog, why I work with my local sustainability group, and why I spend so much time on this site. When I’m not doing these things, the dark truth of what is happening seeps up. I have children. I despair for them sometimes.

    I think her experience and her question deserve profound respect. I find the advisor’s answer a bit patronizing (as I suppose all advice is), thought I’m sure it’s sincere and not intended to be.

    The depth and enormity of this situation remains. It is a singular, human-caused crisis that we are all complicit in. It is entirely likely that, despite our best efforts and barring some mystical planetary renunciation of our present way of life or some magic technology, this planet will become all but uninhabitable not within my children’s lifetime but within mine, and the pathway to that end state will make the 1930s look like halcyon days. There is simply no way to reconcile oneself to this. Despair is completely legitimate.

    But despair is not a monodimension. It doesn’t displace all other emotion all the time. I can simultaneously hope and work for something better. I can laugh, I can be determined, I and can be anxious, all at once.

    But the one thing I can’t do is unthink what I know.

    The hardest part is not being able to really talk to others about this. No one wants to hear it. Bearing this knowledge is extremely isolating, and that’s why I’m very grateful for this site. Even I don’t want to dwell on it, really. I need relief, too.

    But relief isn’t there, except fleetingly and through suppression. That’s not fatalism; that’s the truth.

    Advice? Get involved. Do something that feels like a contribution. Cherish the truth you know. Each of us makes his or her own bargain with conscience. If we all make that bargain, then maybe that planetary realization occurs, the way it occurred about slavery, and women’s rights, and segregation. These sea changes in social attitudes are incomplete and imperfect, but they are real nonetheless.

    You may not be the change you would see in the world. Almost none of us can be a Gandhi. That takes a martyr’s disposition. But you can be ready for and integral to the change if and when that martyr tips the world to its new state.

  17. I think he means CO2e.

  18. Theodore says:

    Authority and responsibility are like two sides of the same coin. They always go together. Those of us who have little authority have little responsibility in the matter of climate change. It is a collective problem and it requires a collective solution. Don’t worry, be happy, and leave climate change in the hands of the almighty singularity.

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The best thing one can do for our children, in my opinion, is to break out of the brainwashed state into which we have been forced by the Rightwing MSM and the advertising Moloch. Break out yourself, reject the Right’s ethos of endless greed, insatiable materialistic excess, the status battle and the need to be diverted from the real existential crisis by the ‘Daily Hate’ against the latest ‘threat’- now Islam, soon to be China, then environmentalists. Withdraw as much as possible from the suicidal economic system, teach your children to value material possessions as dust, and spiritual, social, familial and human relations as the real riches of life. If enough people do it, the system will starve, throttled of its death essence of greed and envy. Then, if we make it, we’ll have the foundations of a really persistent, global, humane civilization, and the possibilities then, when we allow our better natures to guide us, are stupendous. If we crash out, at least we will have given it a good go, which will be some recompense. We can’t be too frightened, however. They feed on our fear and suffering.

  20. fj says:

    Breathe in the magic of children as they flow through you.

    There are no better pleasures.

  21. Mark E says:

    As for Tennis’ psychedelic universal consciousness he claims to have witnessed first hand…….

    “The Lord will save me! cried the lady to the cop who was evacuating her neighborhood before the flood. “Go away!”

    When the water was up to her living room window, the fire department came by in a boat. “No!” she yelled, “The Lord will save me!”

    Finally the water washed over her roof and as she clung the to her chimney, a coast guard chopper came by and lowered a rescuer on a big winch. “I stay here!” she waved them off “The Lord will Save me!”

    She drowned, of course.

    Finding herself before the Lord at the Pearly Gates, the bewildered womans asked, “Lord, why didn’t you save me?”

    “Lady,” replied God, “I sent you the police, the fire department, and the coast guard! What more do you WANT?”


    When Tennis arrives there, I expect God will change it up a bit, ending with “I sent you Hansen, McKibben, and Romm! What more do you want?”

  22. Mark E says:

    What would Rosa Parks do?

  23. Raul M. says:

    The author of a movie called What a way to go. Life at the end of Empire said something like I decided to step into my life and speak the truth. I heard that somewhere in the last 30 mimutes of the 2 hour + utube movie.

  24. Niall says:

    Last month’s mean was a couple of ppm shy of 400. A few monitoring stations have peaked at highs of over 400ppm.

  25. Niall says:

    Catch a bus?

    More seriously, your point is well made. When you face a crisis like this, civil – even uncivil – action is the responsibility of everyone. I disagree with Theodore. We all have to take responsibility, and leaving it in the hands of others is a habit we need to be getting out of, very fast.

  26. Nan says:

    Joe, I think you should ask Dr. Van Susteren to write regularly on CP. I know there are others, like me, who cannot get climate change out of our minds. Luckily, I am a positive person and put my energies into talking about it. But there are days that it’s overwhelming. A little online therapy could help.

    My advice to the mother who is having angst. Listen to music. Loud music. And sing at the top of your lungs! And then go to your computer and send emails to every politician in your state, and remember to send one to President Obama and tell him to think of his daughters and enact a carbon tax.

  27. Joan Savage says:

    I scrolled down through the comments.

    What I feel moved to add is what my two adult children and their spouses are doing, even though they all know the ‘gloom-and-doom’ aspects to the point of making it a family joke!

    They garden their small urban lots for both the food and the joy of beautiful plants. They use bikes and public transport and stay fit. They reduce-reuse-recycle. They keep up with the bad news as well as the good. One of them circulates and signs petitions, and invites Mom to join her at demonstrations ;-).
    They love their families including pets, and they love jokes!

    I urge both of them to keep thinking flexibly as the mass migration aspect of climate change might either arrive on their doorsteps or prompt them to move.
    They both engage in social networks with good friends who can also mobilize quickly.

    Those preparations seem general enough to share widely.

    Best wishes to all moms and dads.

  28. Chris says:

    We’ll probably hit 398 or 399 this year and definitely 400 next year, if the current trends continue.

  29. rollin says:

    The best way to deal with the mental trauma of climate change possibilities is to learn to live in and enjoy the present. Healthy outdoor activities, gardening, hiking, etc. can help focus on the present. Play board games with children and friends.
    Have outdoor picnics and barbeque parties. Turn off the cell phones and i-whatevers when interacting with family and friends. Just sit for an hour or so and look at the world around you without worrying about the future, enjoy what is. The past is gone, turned to heat, and the future does not exist (and will not turn out the way we think anyway). Only the present exists, learning how to actually be there in your head is critical to a healthy life.

  30. Thomas Rodd says:

    Agreed. Important subject, helpful comments. Have another ounce of strength; there is always something practical you can do, however small.

  31. Mike S. says:

    Good comments here, although I think a lot of the “advice” sounds better in your head, and once written down it sounds trite. Exercise and eat healthy? Blech. How about get political and join an advocacy group promoting a carbon price? I recommend Citizen’s Climate Lobby, but there are many others, even the Sierra Club now that they have Mike Brune in charge. And a good starting point is to begin attending your city’s city council meetings and speak up during public comment and ask them what they can do.

  32. Mark E says:

    Activists who fail to manage their own molecular biochemistry inevitably burn out.

    I was in DC at a fancy hotel for the “Snowquester” blizzard that fizzled in the DC area, but not before everything closed. And guess what? All these high powered VIPS literally *packed* the hotel’s fitness center, all day long. Why do you think both GW and Obama are fitness freaks?

  33. Chris Winter says:

    Everyone here should remember General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. By that, I mean look him up and remember the essential facts about him — which are that he was the first African-American general in the U.S. Air Force, commanded the Tuskegee Airmen, and in World War II flew sixty combat missions in the European theater.

    One more thing about General Davis: He said, “In World War II I learned that people transcend events.” I think that’s a good thing to remember.

    I haven’t read all the excellent responses in this thread yet. But I wanted to get this in. We (that is, humanity) will transcend the climate crisis. The only question is how much will be lost in the process.

    That is where we (present generations) can make a difference. Learn about the reasons for hope: things that will help reduce the impacts of the change. Then act in support of those hopeful possibilities.

  34. Chris Winter says:

    Now, as to the subject of the post: Cary Tennis’s advice to “Mother of three.” It does indeed come across as a message that can be summarized as “Don’ worry, be happy.” (Elsewhere I’ve written that I don’t sing that tune.)

    I think that’s unfortunate, because buried in his over-long column lie tidbits that indicate he does favor some positive action. Unfortunately, he manages to mangle that part of the message. If this column is a fair sample, he’s just not a very good writer.

    Many of the comments take him to task for his essentially hopeless advice, pointing out that there are things to be done that will help.

    Which begs the question of what advice I would give to “Mother of three.” I think I’d better go get some breakfast before tackling that one.

  35. M Tucker says:

    Mom of Three worried that her children’s futures “may be completely devastated by these [overpopulation and global warming] global crises.” She says that she feels “a bit responsible” for overpopulation but apparently global warming is a disaster created by someone else and she feels no responsibility what-so-ever. I think you have that backwards. So you are saying you had too many kids? Which ones would you forgo? No, you can’t stop humans from having children but you can participate in changing how we manufacture energy.

    Step one: You must come to terms with accepting responsibility for climate disruption. We all participate in this modern civilization and we must recognize that we did this to ourselves. We are all, at some level, partly responsible.

    Step two: Cowboy up! Ours in not the first generation that has had to face a difficult future and it will not be the last. Educate yourself on the issues and educate your children. Give them the best preparation possible and feel good that they will still be able to enjoy some of the pleasures that you have also enjoyed. Climate disruption is a slow creeping disaster on human time scales and it will not strike with the suddenness of a pandemic (which we will certainly experience as history and science has shown) or a global economic depression (which is also a man made and preventable disaster) or a nuclear war (which we have not avoided completely just avoided so far).

    I too get very depressed when I think of how climate disruption is completely preventable and how nearly half of the voting public in the US refuse to take it seriously. But then I remind myself that history also shows that we humans are very poor at preventing disaster but we are reasonably good at recovering from it. The recovery can be a long slow and painful process but we have managed to get through some very devastating events.

    Don’t count us out just because you cannot see any light ahead. Enjoy your children and encourage them to excel. Get a pie and celebrate Pie Day (3/14) with your kids today. Remind them that the power of the human mind to innovate, overcome and excel is what makes us so remarkable as a species. Remind them of Einstein (3/14 is his birthday); a young man that showed very little promise. He was considered a poor student and some have said he might have been dyslexic (I don’t personally think there is much credible evidence of this). But he was fascinated by the natural world, he did enjoy mathematics even though he did not show extraordinary aptitude for it, and he did not feel that day dreaming was a waste of time. Remind your children of others who overcame adversity and changed the world. Can’t think of any? Study history. It will give you a lot of encouragement, enjoyment, and much to talk about with your kids.

  36. pinroot says:

    I’d be more concerned with the possibility of an ice age rather than the possibility of a warmer climate. History shows that the human race does well in warmer climates, and much less well during cold. Just ask the nearly 1 million British who have died due to cold since the 1980’s.

  37. Robert in New Orleans says:

    1. Move to a safer (away from the coast or flood or fire prone location) area if your not living there already.

    2. Make sure you have good insurance.

    3. Plant a garden.

    4. Minimise and/or get off the power grid by using solar or wind if possible.

    5. Be honest with yourself and your children.

    6. Buy yourself a 90’s Geo Metro (3 cylinder 1000cc engine 40+ mpg)for when gas gets super expensive and/or scarce.

    7. Get to know your neighbors and build real social networks.

    8. Consider buying a firearm and practice with it like your life depended on it.

    9. Buy some how to books for if the internet goes down.

    10. Be flexible in your outlook.

  38. Theodore says:

    I’m not suggesting that we do nothing. I’m suggesting that individual effort to correct the problem on a direct physical basis is almost completely futile. The collective solution does not happen by itself. It happens by the efforts of many individuals providing support and influence on public policy. It is only that collective action that can contain a real solution. Altering your personal carbon footprint is a fool’s errand. We need to work through collective action, not individual effort. Influence collective opinion. That’s what Rosa Parks did, not by herself, but with the help of the whole civil rights movement. Had she acted alone it would have been futile. It was only because of the support of others that her action had any effect on public policy.

    Those who worry about what they can do individually should realize that they most likely don’t have the authority or responsibility to do anything. If they cannot influence public policy (having little authority) then they most likely cannot do anything of value and should accept the fact that it is not their personal responsibility to take personal direct action.

    This is why I still drive a car that burns gasoline while at the same time favoring public policies that would replace the fossil fuel industry. It’s not hypocrisy, it’s a rational acknowledgement of my limited authority to change the world. Riding a bicycle everywhere isn’t going to change public policy. It’s just going to make me late, tired, and most likely injured in a traffic accident.

  39. Lore says:

    You’ve ignored the history which shows an order of magnitude more people have perished due to drought, famine, pestilence and disease because of a warming climate.

  40. fj says:

    Re # 8.

    If you are ready to number 8, might better to move to another more stable country because this means that the rule of law here is toast and may even be on the way to a failef state; not good at all and a worst case scenario.

  41. FWhite says:

    I didn’t see a location for this woman (but then I skimmed the article and didn’t read the other comments).

    Anyway, here are three suggestions —

    1/ For starters check with Transition US ( ) to see if there is a Transition Initiative in her area. Being a member of a positive, organized group who share similar concerns and are taking remedial action can lift one’s spirits.

    2/ If there’s no Transition group nearby, she might want to check with her local library to see if they have any listings for other local sustainability groups. If no listings they should be able to do an online search to find local groups.

    3/ Finally, if both the above don’t turn up anything, distributing flyers in her neighborhood or posting them in libraries, community centers, or food stores should held to find others who are similarly concerned about climate change.

    Good luck.

  42. Claudia Friedetzky says:

    In 2003, the year my older son was born, I started to have a hard time sleeping at night as well thinking about climate change and the future my kids would encounter. In 2007, I co-founded a neighborhood climate action group called Parents for Climate Protection in Brooklyn, NY.

    We organized parent-centered awareness events and supported state and national climate protection campaigns. I established a website, designed a logo, recruited volunteers, organized events and informational tables, and acquired fiscal sponsorship for us.

    It was really challenging to organize parents at that time but we did a fairly decent job. However, I couldn’t progress the group further because neither I nor any of our volunteers had the connections to wealthy donors or foundations to create a solid funding base for an organization with a wider reach. And the groups whose campaigns we supported, which included 1Sky and others, didn’t offer to help either.

    After four years, I left to organize for Sierra Club on the Chapter level. I still often get e-mails from parents who are wondering what we are up to. I have also consulted other moms who wanted to undertake a similar effort.

    And I am still waiting for a donor or a foundation to approach me and ask what sort of ideas I might have about organizing parents on climate change. I am currently transitioning our website to a new platform.

  43. Chris Winter says:

    The following is what I posted on Salon:

    In thinking of what to say to a mother of three who currently is doing fine but worries about the future of her family given the dire situation humanity in general is presently creating, I’m somewhat leery of giving her advice because I don’t know her very well. But one thing is clear: She’s raising a family, and that’s a profoundly hopeful act.

    Sure, overpopulation is a valid concern. It’s a mathematical certainty that some number of humans is too big a number for this finite Earth to support. I have no idea whether seven billion is that number. In any case, that’s beside the point, for today whether to bring children into the world is and should be a personal decision. So I would tell her to lay aside her concern that having children was the wrong thing to do.

    I would say the best way for her to handle the feelings of hopelessness brought about by contemplating climate change (or any oncoming crisis) is to teach herself and her children about the options for dealing with it. In the case of climate change, some effort will be required; it’s a complex subject. But the options are not that hard to understand, once you get past the smoke screens raised by certain factions that have a vested interest in business as usual.

    If I may wax nostalgic, there’s an old SF movie called Monster from Green Hell in which the scientist character avers that knowledge drives out fear. He’s right. So my first recommendation is to turn to the Internet and look for Web sites that provide honest coverage of the science and politics of climate. These include Climate Progress, Skeptical Science, Grist, and RealClimate (although the last is somewhat technical.)

    It’s wise to be careful in choosing mainstream coverage of climate. Many of the major media outlets don’t do a professional job covering it. (They often lie.) Britain’s Guardian and Al Jazeera America currently do a good job.

    Beyond that I’d recommend some books. Start with The Climate Crisis by David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf, or The Weather of the Future by Heidi Cullen, or Eaarth by Bill McKibben, or Hell and High Water by Joseph Romm, or Earth: The Sequel by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn.

    The bottom line: If you do a little research, you’ll find that the outlook is far from hopeless.

  44. kermit says:

    Mike S, I beg to differ. Eating right and exercising can be the difference between life and death – especially important for someone on whom children depend for survival.

    I was in the 1989 San Francisco quake and the power went out on Friday afternoon in a city with three bridges to escape east and north. People who sat in their cars just ran them out of gas. Secretaries, laborers, CEOs, suddenly found no way to get home except walking, perhaps 15 or 20 km. If they were out of shape, or had shoes unfit for walking (high heels!) they were in dire straits. Simply having a pair of old comfortable shoes in the car would have made all the difference. My wife and I were prepared to walk home (30 km) while carrying the toddler in a sling/wrap. (But we were across the bridge when it hit, and simply drove home.)

    For weather and other disasters, the infrastructure may be more badly damaged, and folks may be too extended to offer a helping hand.

    I agree that simply getting fit will do nothing to fix the problem, however.

  45. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Is your nomme de folie some unsubtle play on ‘pinhead’, in other words, are you a poe, sort of subtly parodying a long discredited (is there any other kind) denialist canard?

  46. Denise says:

    What a great idea!
    Occupy the Red Cross!

  47. kermit says:

    The problem isn’t 43°C instead of 37° on a summer afternoon. It’s the collapse of the marine ecosystem, the death of forests, dwindling harvests, multiple wars and mass migrations. months of drought followed by torrential rainstorms. The spread of pests, dead zones in the oceans, mass extinctions, and more.

    No, nobody would be much worried about a few degrees difference if that’s all it were, but it’s not. Those few degrees have massive consequences in our ecosystem.

  48. kermit says:

    Mulga, a quick glance at the website his links leads to says much. “Restoring balance and trust to the climate debate.”

    Balancing compassion with sociopathy, and cooperation with unmitigated greed, and science with ignorance and lies, I suppose.

  49. Denise says:

    Good idea!
    Focus on what won’t happen!

  50. Chris Winter says:

    Pinroot’s link is to the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s Web site. We know where they stand.

  51. Artful Dodger says:

    No, not Mauna Loa (MLO), CO2 readings in Barrow, Alaska (BRW) is over 400 ppm. And note that CO2 is a more potent GHG at lower temperatures common during Arctic Winter.

  52. Artful Dodger says:

    > 400 ppm CO2 now at the NOAA station in Barrow, AK (see my comment above).

  53. Jan says:

    Unusually human-centric article for this blog, if I may say so.

    I like it. Helpful. Thanks.

  54. BlackDragon says:

    Joe, I am not talking about fatalism, in any sense. I *am* talking about taking certain kinds of actions that come from a place so far beyond volunteer work, writing congressmen and planting gardens that none of these things are even remotely on the radar. (I do all those things, actually, I just don’t happen to share in the illusion that they matter.)

    And Mark, you can’t actually drown when you already know (not believe – infinite difference! :) that you are immortal. Such a thing is useful beyond measure.

  55. BlackDragon says:

    M Tucker, I like your approach and your suggestions. All very cool.

    In defense of Einstein, on of my idols, everything you are describing there is a myth. His grades were actually excellent throughout most of his school career, and he had mastered both integral and differential calculus by the age of 15. He did greatly value daydreaming, and had enormous capabilities for performing thought experiments, which he did endlessly. He also greatly valued sleep. :)

    He was intensely passionate about math from the earliest age, and called Euclid’s elements his “holy little geometry book” when he was a boy.

  56. Paul says:

    I no longer feel so alone now that I’ve read this article and see connections to relevant information and discussion. One elephant in the room still left… 7 billion humans is too many.

  57. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    My dear green friend, pinroot’s comment was, as we say hereabouts, ‘rooted’ and rooted in a contempt for our intelligence. God only knows what strange psychic rewards this type garner from their imbecilities and distortions. With most denialists I have ever encountered it comes down to that basic hatred that the Right has for anything that can be tarred with the ‘Leftwing’ brush. That is sufficient for them to suspend whatever intellectual faculties they possess.

  58. Craig B says:

    I’ve been plagued by this question for over a decade, now. My wife and I deliberately chose not to have kids for the reason that this mom identifies. I remain amazed that so many of my friends who are parents don’t seem to suffer similar crippling angst, or at least work proactively to confront the climate crisis since they obviously adore their children.

    But not procreating hasn’t shielded me from the stress of participating in the transformation of a livable habitat. So I found several ways to cope, interestingly, many suggested above. First, I began practicing Zen Buddhism, basically daily meditation. This helps me to let go of my attachment to outcomes. Whatever arises, good or bad, I’m trying to accept it without judgment. Second, I’m building a small sustainable farm on rural land we bought to eventually retire to. Good water. Renewable energy. Maybe a future refuge for threatened plants, animals, and humans alike. If I could afford it, I’d also buy land in Canada. That’s what I tell young people, and anyone asking me about investment advice these days. Go north, young man/lady. And third, I’m recently active with a political movement going to the heart of the problem with U.S. politics: the corrupting influence of money that blocks all other good ideas, including transitioning away from fossil fuels. We’re called Wolf-PAC and we’re going to pass an amendment to the Constitution that replaces the current campaign finance system. Join us, or at least support the effort! It helps both yourself and the rest of the world become a better place. THNX

  59. Mark E says:

    Other than hunger, mass action requires inspiration, and that does not come about when individuals drive gas guzzlers to global warming rallies.

    And it doesn’t happen when you chat with your neighbor “they should pass a carbon tax” next to the fuel oil delivery truck at your uninsulated house.

    Act first,
    Talk up collective action later.

  60. Mark E says:

    It will if “getting fit” includes greatly reducing the agribusiness animal products in your diet….

    It will if “getting fit” means walking a half mile to get bread and milk….

    If will if “getting fit” means putting up the scaffolding before the deep-energy retrofit people come to your home….

    And it really will if “getting fit” means hiking in the woods instead of walking in the mall buying plastic crap from overseas that you don’t need….

  61. Mark E says:

    In terms of teaching, as a parent myself, my plan is:

    1. Instill a sense of wonder
    2. Teach Commoner’s Four Laws of Ecology
    3. Ask, “What do YOU think we should do?”

    My belief is that with those 3 mastered, my kid will figure out what #4 is without any help from me.

  62. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    And he was a socialist.

  63. BlackDragon says:

    Yes! And a pacifist. A socialist/pacifist, who was also instrumental in making sure the US got its act in gear and got the bomb before the Germans.

  64. BlackDragon says:

    Exactly. Give them the tools to open the right doors, and then let them choose the paths that are most suitable for themselves.

  65. BlackDragon says:

    I think where Cary erred in his response was not clarifying what he meant (at least what I think he meant) by saying “I am merely more certain I can do nothing about anything.”

    This way of describing things is less than half the picture – if he is talking about “doing things” from the point of view of say, a Taoist.

    The full picture is that you still do things, take actions in all kind of different ways, but you know that it is not really you who is acting. So you don’t claim credit for what is not yours.

  66. Steve Rankin says:

    I’m retired. In 2009 as a retirement hobby I purchased a small tract of vacant land (12 acres)that I have seeded in tallgrass prairie – 4 species of native grasses and 30 species of native prairie flowers. It is already attracting many grassland birds that are in severe decline across North America. The area where I live in Southwestern Ontario is intensively farmed. Local pollinators and butterflies are in severe decline. My prairie is providing a refuge for these species. Prarie plants are able to sequester enormous amounts of carbon in their root systems. My next step is to place an ecological easement on the property title which prohibits any land use changes for 1 thousand years. The final step will be to donate it to a conservation organization. I know that many people would not be able to do a project such as this because of cost. I have no children so I see this as my legacy. This property provides me endless fascination as I observe and document the response from wildlife to this new habitat. As a retirement hobby, one could not expect anything more.

  67. BlackDragon says:

    Nah, I change my mind. I don’t think Cary erred in his answer. It is all there. After reading and re-reading, though, I do think Joe’s excerpt was selectively chosen in order to score points.