Climate-Defensive Parenting: Because Babies are Lousy Activists

Of the many things I love about parents, I love this above all: there’s no fucking around. Parents have a galloping urge to protect and nurture at all costs. Children unlock something superhuman in us. Hence we have mothers dead lifting Chevys and wrestling polar bears. If Lucifer himself approached your mom and said, “Either your kid dies right now or you go to hell and endure infinite suffering for a thousand eternities,” into the inferno she’d leap.

I’m watching a couple raise their toddler in my house, and I see that thing in them and it’s stunning. This morning I found them together in the living room, in a sort of long group hug, three foreheads touching. Mom and Dad’s eyes were closed, and it was like they were wrapped inside a kind of cocoon made of…uh…love. You could practically see it.

If only strangers were able to look after one another with the same holy ferocity. It would be a different world. A world where football players don’t tackle so much as hug and utility bills come with gumdrops to soften the blow.

But parents: your job is changing. Our kids will likely spend their lives on a harsh planet dominated by corrosive and intractable climate problems. They’re sitting ducks. No one can help them but us.

Even for many of us who stay abreast of climate change, its progression remains unreal. It’s hard to believe, even with evidence aplenty, that the Earth could go bonkers. Neither our experiences nor our stories help us see how it could be. I study climate change every day and it’s unreal for me – I can only imagine how unreal it must be to the average person whose exposure is limited to the occasional news article. But if you study it long enough and know some thermodynamics, there it is, staring you in the face. It doesn’t help that the effects lag far behind the causes – the thermal inertia of the oceans makes it easy pretend for now that we’re getting away with our little Faustian bargain.

This is real, it’s happening and our children will probably suffer.

Which is why your job as a parent is changing. When your kid’s sick, you act. Climate change is a serious kind of sickness, and likewise we must act. We can’t hang our kids out to dry. I stare at that toddler and I’m overcome by our carelessness, of the future we’re leaving for her. She can’t yet even understand what’s coming. Is this who we are? Are we really okay blindsiding our children? No. We’re better than that. I have to believe that. We must act like it.

If you’re a parent, be a climate activist. If you’ve got a kid, you’re all-in whether you want to be or not. It’s one more thing to worry about in an already-full life but who cares – kids come first.

So here’s a simple two-part plan:

  1. First, set aside 15-30 minutes each day to learn about Climate Change. The goal is to replace your vague foreboding with a clear picture of the problem. I recommend this book, by an investigative journalist who covers the issue out of concern for his own child. He speaks in a parent’s voice. To familiarize yourself with the underlying science, I recommend this.
  2. Once you grok enough detail to overcome the sense of unreality, take the same 15-30 minutes every day to act. Lobby your representatives, write to your local paper, cut your carbon footprint, and talk to family, friends, and neighbors about the problem. Find local climate activists and follow their lead. Join this organization. Acting in tandem with others strengthens the will, fosters hope, and prevents decision paralysis (key for parents, who soldier through decision fatigue even when not contemplating climate change)

I emphasize the importance of making a small, consistent commitment, which is the best way to approach any long-term project. You’ll start painlessly and progress from there. It’ll be easier than it sounds, certainly easier than watching the Teletubbies. Once you find a little groove, your involvement will grow naturally.

Good luck. May your kids remain ever adorable and never reach puberty.

From the Sea


Posted September 28, 2011 in Random Thoughts | 2 Comments on Climate-Defensive Parenting: Because Babies are Lousy Activists


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  1. Nate Bentley says:

    Very good post. I really hope parents recognize the vulnerable position they are placing their children in simply by having them right now.

    On a separate note, I think the environmental movement needs a parent, a mama bear, who can be a figurehead for the movement. It seems like there are a few scattered about like Bill McKibben and maybe the popular Al Gore but no MLK’s seem to have arisen. Any idea why that is? Am I off base there?

  2. Nick Bentley says:


    I think mainly it’s that MLK-level leaders are rare no matter what the issue. In the last century, there was Gandhi, MLK, and… no one else (well, maybe Churchill, though to my mind he did wasn’t as hard as what the other two did, since he was the sanctioned leader of a country. The other two guys were outsiders who were trying to buck the status quo against the interests of those in power).

    It’d be a great help if a climate leader like that emerged though. I don’t think it’s something you can do a talent search for though (is it?)

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