After the election, I surveyed my friends with children for their thoughts on Donald Trump’s win. Sounds nosy, I know, but that’s my job: I’m an environmental journalist, and I was curious to know if climate change was on their minds since the national media failed to make it a campaign issue.
To my surprise, climate change is the first, and sometimes only, issue my friends bring up. And when they talk about it they end up in a near panic with hands flailing as they recount their visions of the world imploding under the thumb of the country’s new climate skeptic-in-chief.
Sometimes, their kids listen to our conversation, eyes wide, their little bodies frozen with fear. Sometimes, the little ones run off to do what kids do: have fun despite everything. During one conversation, however, a little girl crawled into her mother’s lap and cried.
Only one of those reactions made me feel better.
Yes, when your president-elect’s virtual “now hiring” sign includes “science-deniers welcome,” it’s time to worry — especially when the adorable puffins are dying and the ice sheets are melting faster than predicted and the new president might throw out NASA’s climate science.
I get it. But I want you to remember that if you get lost in worry and climate change PTSD — a real thing, apparently — that you’re not doing yourself or your kids any favors. The truth is that no one is certain that all is lost, and plenty of other countries and people stand ready to fight back. That means there is hope, so please don’t wallow in a pit of despair.
Instead, I urge you to create hope for yourself and your children. In the process, you can teach them a thing or two about energy, nature and about how much better it feels to be proactive than panicked.
No time? Yeah, I hear that a lot. So does Kumi Naidoo, the former international executive director of Greenpeace, who once told me that when people complain to him that they don’t have time to be proactive about climate change, he says, “I tell them to make time; if they care about their children’s futures, make time.”
Here are a few simple and inexpensive ideas to get you started.
Energy production and the environment are forever linked. Teach your kids how energy is created and what effect it has on our world. PBS’ Nova program has a documentary on the topic as part of its “Treasures of Earth” series that you can watch for free. Nova also offers free online labs with more educational opportunities, like their energy lab that includes games, videos and resources for educators.
Now is the time to ask educators what they’re teaching about climate change and to point them to free resources. If you encounter resistance, remind the school’s leadership that there are many jobs to be found in the energy and environmental sectors, including multiple sciences, engineering, advocacy and politics. Your children should be prepared to tackle the big topics their generation faces with the help of lessons learned today.
Lacking a green thumb? Do not despair; the internet can help. Sweet potatoes are one of the easiest plants to grow, and you can get started now — and do it inside! Bonus: If you end up planting your sweet potato vine in a (big) pot or in the ground, you can eat the results and teach your kids how to grow their own food in the process. Here’s a YouTube series offering step-by-step instructions.
Feeling a bit more ambitious? Plant a tree. As the Chinese proverb says, “One generation plants the trees and another gets the shade.” But they’ll get so much more than that. Trees help pull carbon from the atmosphere and offer fresh air in return. Their root systems also help absorb pollution, slow stormwater runoff and stabilize soil. And your children will be able to share the shade of the tree they grew with their children, shade that can lower your energy bill since your air conditioner will run less often.
Kids FACE has a how-to guide on tree planting. (Kids FACE = Kids For a Clean Environment.)
Raise your voice
As President Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Take his sage advice and attend city or county council meetings with your kids for a real-life civics lesson. Many environmental issues are dealt with at the local level, and in my experience, when a child speaks during the public comment periods the entire room is moved and the politicians seem to truly listen.
Climate change is potentially the major issue your children will face for the remainder of their lives. Set a good example by tuning into what’s happening in your local government and help them craft a message for policy makers that can also help them practice their writing and public-speaking skills.
Besides, who knows? Perhaps a future Teddy Roosevelt — aka “the conservation president” who created our first national parks — is in your care.
There are dozens of environmental advocacy groups that you can donate to or, even better, get involved with in your community. For example, cleanup days along the edges of your nearest river or lake serve as a good excuse for your family to get outside and mingle with the people working to protect what is arguably the most valuable resource of them all: your drinking water.
There are plenty of other groups that encourage family participation too, like Mom’s Clean Air Force. Not only will that organization help galvanize your family, they also offer inspirational stories on their blog The Hope Sheet for those days when wallowing in doom and gloom seems like an option.
Make time to make a difference. You’ll feel better, and so will your children, when you know that you’re doing something to make the world a better place. Besides, being proactive really does keep worry and anxiety at bay.