“Oh, you’re a big believer in that?” Inevitably, I elicit this response at any mention of the growing threat of climate change in a number of conversations from weather patterns to politics to travel. If I’m being perfectly honest, my blood boils every time I’m asked this question.
In the past, I’ve erupted in incredulity: How can someone doubt the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that strengthens with every new study? How could someone be so flippant about a threat to the existence of future generations? How could a parent NOT want to protect the health and happiness of their children and grandchildren? How could anyone ignore the warnings of scientists, medical professionals, military experts, and scholars?
I’ve learned that my visceral reaction is not productive, nor is it good for my stress levels. So, I’ve learned to take a deep breath and answer, “No, I’ve read and understand the science.”
My approach to parenting has always been research and fact-based. My decisions on diet, exercise, nurturing, disciplining, educating, and protecting my children are dependent upon evidence and expert advice. Sometimes this advice conflicts or the science and recommendations change; that is completely normal. Any good researcher knows that our understanding of “the truth” is flexible and should be adjusted as new information becomes available.
All “good” parents want to protect their children. This is an instinctual, emotional, and universal desire that makes us human. Civilized societies have implemented a variety of child protection acts that range from local to global laws. It is our sacred, moral duty to protect children. I’m not sure any decent person could deny this very basic Truth.
Both research and instinct to protect not just MY children, but ALL children, combine to fuel my passion for confronting climate change and all of the tangential environmental, economic, and security issues connected to the climate crisis we are experiencing. It’s also why I’m incredulous when I learn that so many parents view believing in this scientific Truth to be a choice.
As someone with my feet planted fairly firmly in reality, I struggled with whether or not to introduce fantasies like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny to my children. Other parents, including my husband, were aghast at my doubt. “How could you deny the magic of childhood to your kids?”
I worried that weaving these fantastical and often illogical tales (A large creepy bunny delivers eggs and candy… why? Someone who collects teeth for a living sounds more like a serial killer than a welcome visitor to my children’s rooms) would sew seeds of distrust in our relationship after my children inevitably found out the truth. Honesty and trust are core values that I want to instill in my children. I also want them to learn to make fact-based, knowledgeable decisions. Would this complicate and derail these goals? Was I making too much of harmless and fun traditions?
Ironically, it was research that informed my decision to introduce Santa, and yes even the creepy Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. I’ve always left the believing part up to my children and each of them has their own level of engagement.
Mateo, my realist, cautiously “believes” because the traditions are fun. He puts aside his logic and knowledge to indulge in fantasy and it’s good for him. Lucia, my creative dreamer, revels in the magic and excitement. She bounces and glows at the mention of Santa. This kind of dreaming is healthy and fun; an activity that ignites childhood joy, curiosity, creativity and other loveliness that we lose in adulthood.
It’s fun for adults to indulge these fantasies and participate in the magical illusions and wonder. However, when it comes to dangers facing our children, we do not have a choice to ignore reality. Unfortunately, that is what so many of us have done for decades.
How can we ignore scientific facts and why have we chosen to turn our backs on the uncomfortable truths facing us? Climate Change and science was not always this controversial. It wasn’t until the fossil fuel industry realized they were in danger that the political and public sentiment tides began to turn.
Mirroring the strategy used by the tobacco industry, fossil fuel giants pressured and bribed lawmakers. They engaged in a disinformation campaign and sought to sew doubt in the science. Scientists, lacking public relations professionals and resources, were effectively silenced and sidelined by these corrupt actions.
What resulted was political polarization surrounding climate change. We aligned our belief in climate science with our political affiliation and were presented with a false dichotomy of either caring about the economy OR protecting the environment. You can see these priorities reflected clearly on the websites and communications of our elected officials.
All of a sudden teaching the noncontroversial science of climate change was seen as a political act. Protecting the environment was a concern for tree-hugging hippie liberals and conservatives began mocking and rejecting science, even going as far as to present scientists as partisan actors instead of valued experts whose work can be used to make solid public policy.
We elected a president who has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement and every day is compounding environmental issues with policies that deregulate pollution and encourage carbon emissions. Our “representatives” ignore scientific evidence that can be useful in making policies for the public good and instead bow to the whims of polluters and carbon emitters. Their narrow and short-sighted worldviews damage the future economy and limit the opportunities for generations. Yet, we blindly vote them into office because we align with a letter next to their name.
Instead of being a polarizing topic, climate change can unite us. Pro life? You can’t be any more pro life than caring about the environment. Care about racial or economic inequality? The marginalized are most affected by the impacts of climate change. Religious? What’s more devout than being a good steward of God’s creations? Pro military? National security experts have listed climate change as a threat to our security. Care about immigration? Climate change has already begun to trigger waves of migrants fleeing uninhabitable spaces.
Instead, our public policy has suffered due to this fabricated partisan divide and our planet has been put into even greater jeopardy. We are now a world in crisis. The evidence is overwhelming and the reality of a planet racing toward irreversible damage is clear. We cannot choose whether or not to believe concrete, irrefutable facts. It is not logical. It is not intelligent. It is not ethical. Ignoring climate change is child endangerment.
In fact, it has taken children to shame adults into taking action. Children are suing the United States government. Children are striking. Children are begging the adults in their lives to take meaningful action. How can we possibly ignore their requests?
Greta Thunberg has been leading a movement of children around the world. In her address to Congress this week, she urged lawmakers to stop indulging in fantasy and to face the ugly, terrifying reality. She calmly detailed the facts, no spin and no politics: Just. The. Facts. She doesn’t want adults to listen to her; she wants them to listen to the science.
Greta is not the only child concerned about the future of our environment, but she is the perfect messenger for adults who have chosen to ignore or obfuscate the truth. Our children deserve to be children. They deserve to be creative and indulge in fantasy. Their future should be hopeful, not fearful. The world they inherit from us should be thriving, not dying.
Climate change is not the Tooth Fairy; we don’t get to choose whether or not to believe in this reality we have created for our kids. This is Science, not Science Fiction. The melting glaciers and rising seas of evidence are right in front of our faces. We must choose to face the facts and then act to protect them with everything that we have. As parents, this is our most sacred duty. Reality is harsh, but denying it puts our children and their futures in peril. That is a Truth we can not choose to ignore.