“How to Talk to Your Kids About Climate Change” is for anyone, with or without children in their lives. It is for parents, anyone involved in raising a child and anyone “seeking out answers”. It aims to make the facts clear and understandable. The book can either act as a resource to educate children in your life, or educate you on what young people themselves are demanding. The book recognises the youthfulness in the climate movement, from the School Strike 4 Climate to the growth of young activists. The author notes that if young people are shaping this international uprising, older generations must acknowledge, engage and connect with the demands of their children.
Harriet Shugarman…envisions a world where future generations will thrive, not just survive. She doesn’t just hope for this, she believes it to be possible.
One thing that must be said about Harriet Shugarman, she is a fantastic writer. From the very first sentence she created a feeling of welcome. Climate books can be intimidating. You might not feel the enthusiasm to pick them up from the shelf. You probably wouldn’t want to read a chapter before bed, because it’s not relaxing to learn about the many ways that our planet is on fire. “How to Talk to Your Kids About Climate Change” begins by extending a hand, saying come, walk with me and I will guide you through this. It’s okay to feel however you are feeling. This is not a book about doom, it’s a book about hope.
“As protectors of our children, we are called to act now”
Whether you have children or not, the book argues that we must speak with and listen to the hopes and concerns of the younger generation about the climate crisis. Harriet doesn’t think we are too small to make a difference, neither does she think it’s too late. Throughout the book she validates our concerns while providing productivity and action. In the chapter “Leading by Example”, she explains how each person can feel like they have many personas. Sometimes she might feel her persona as ‘Harriet the activist’ is muted in a family context. She uses an anecdote about a climate change denying family member, whom she is encouraged not to ruffle the feathers of at Thanksgiving dinner. However, just like race or sexuality, discussing issues we may find uncomfortable with those who may disagree, is absolutely essential.
Harriet says this is a way to engage children with education and healthy debate; “our children are always watching what you do and what you say”. Listen to those with a different perspective, start that conversation and find your common ground and shared values. “Show your children you are trying. Show them you do not just dismiss or ignore people who disagree with your views or beliefs”. The climate crisis is urgent and transcends politics. It requires engagement and exposure and discussion and it cannot be put off for fear of disagreement. This is the message of the whole book. Our children and ourselves must engage with the occurrences in our planet. “How to Talk to Your Kids About Climate Change” is really saying “I’m going to help you do this, because you need to”.
“To be successful in slowing down our climate crisis, we need people with a multitude of ideas, views and political persuasions. Finding common ground on climate solutions is critical for our present and our future.”
The book was born from Harriet’s long term project, ClimateMama, an organisation which aims to help parents learn about the climate crisis. ClimateMama is a community of parents across the US and beyond who have their own unique perspectives and relationships with the climate issues we face, so it is natural to represent and include their voices in the book. One mother, Anna, is quoted explaining her thoughts on talking to her children about the climate.
“What’s tough for me… is that I hate to pierce the bubble of childhood innocence. We want our kids to feel safe and secure and comfortable”. She makes the point that regardless of our inherent unwillingness to upset our children, it’s a responsibility to discuss the negatives of the world in the same way we must discuss other societal and historical difficulties. Sheltering your children is not perfect parenting. They must be exposed and educated in order to learn to be resilient and tolerant towards others.
“Opening their eyes to all that’s ugly and dangerous makes them better people—hopefully equipped to be resilient, to be emotionally awake, to be connected to people and their world, and to make a difference for good” – Anna Fahey
Another section I particularly loved was from the chapter “Thanks for the ride, Dinosaurs”. It discussed hypocrisies and the pressure to reduce your personal footprint, when action more importantly must occur on a global scale. Harriet explains that we must change the attitude of attacking and turning on each other, the attitude that puts the guilt and burden of climate crisis onto us.
It reminds me of something people who advocate a zero waste lifestyle often remind themselves and others: The term ‘zero waste’ was never intended for individuals. It was invented as a goal for large industries to aim for. It is not easy for a person to live without creating plastic waste. In fact, people who try often have to jump through hoops and find it exhausting. This example illustrates again that the sustainability movement doesn’t need a few people doing something perfectly, it needs everyone to be doing something.
‘Everyone’ does encompass every individual, but achieving perfection is too much for an individual to bear. Harriet writes that “we need system change at a grand scale”, not an individual basis. It is absolutely okay to wish to dismantle the fossil fuel economy while still driving a car. We are not hypocrites, we are fighting a system within which we are deeply embedded.
Harriet Shugarman is a passionate writer who herself has witnessed the acceleration of the climate crisis since she began ClimateMama in 2009. The first person nature of “How to Talk to Your Kids About Climate Change” feels like you’re discovering and collecting this information together with Harriet, navigating the challenges of addressing climate issues alongside her.
The book is for us to realise our role within our changing climate. It discusses science, but also the sensitivity we all need to approach this process. In this respect, the book is a perfect cushion of support for those people feeling out of their depth or experiencing shock and grief over our current global situation.
At the very core of this book there is a message that the author mentions more than once. She envisions a world where future generations will thrive, not just survive. She doesn’t just hope for this, she believes it to be possible.
Harriet Shugarman is Executive Director of ClimateMama, professor of Climate Change and Society and World Sustainability, and Chair of the Climate Reality Project, NYC Metro Chapter. She is a nationally recognized influencer, connector, and trusted messenger for parents on solutions to our climate crisis. A recipient of the prestigious Climate Reality Green Ring Award and praised by Al Gore as “an outstanding Climate Reality Leader who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to her role as a climate communicator and activist.” Harriet works with an exciting team of talented individuals, who regularly contribute to ClimateMama through advice, comments, guest blog posts and best practices.
Rose Mason is a writer on a whole host of topics, from sustainability, to politics, to chatting about her daydreams. She studied BA Culture and Media Studies in Leeds and now lives in London and is committed to spreading a positive message though her work: “At its core, sustainability is the ethos of maintaining and sharing what we currently enjoy.“