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How I Plan To Talk To My Daughter About The Climate Crisis

Written by Gia Schneider

Photography by Photo courtesy of Gia Schneider

There’s a lot to worry about as a person and parent today—a global pandemic, rising inequity, increased screen-time and the erosion of mental health, not to mention the multitude of personal issues many families are dealing with. One of the biggest concerns for Gia Schneider, a new mother and co-founder and CEO of Natel Energy (a supplier of distributed, fish-safe hydropower) is one that hangs above all of our heads: the undeniable climate crisis. Below, she shares her tips for talking to kids about climate change, which she plans to apply to her own life as her daughter grows up.

As a new mother, I’ve received a lot of advice in the past few months from family and friends about all that I can expect on the parenting journey, from what foods to introduce first, to how to maximize sleep for the whole family. But, these days, both veteran and rookie parents are facing a new challenge together: raising children amid the climate crisis.

Adults across generations have long talked about the perennially awkward necessity that is having the “birds and bees” conversation with our kids. Now, however, we have to talk to them about the literal birds and bees and their endangered existence. The twin and interlinked crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss are the defining crises of our generation and will become even more so for our children. This reality weighs heavily on me as I work in the climate tech industry to advance clean energy and protect our watersheds.

I have a little more time than others to prepare for this inevitable conversation with my daughter, but there are a few key points that I already have in mind:

Climate change impacts are many, far-reaching, and interconnected.

Extreme weather plays an understandably large role in the climate change discussion because its impact is immediate and visible, such as wildfires, hurricanes, and snowstorms. But I want my daughter to know that climate change is more than just crazy weather and that it impacts all living things in so many interconnected ways.

Groundwater—water held underground in soil or between rocks—is the world’s largest source of freshwater. Unsustainable development, for irrigation in particular, has led to declining groundwater levels and water flow—our groundwater reserves are drying up. Declining groundwater and more variability in water availability due to extreme weather in turn stresses our world’s biodiversity. All the earth’s life forms, from the tiniest bacteria to the largest animals (including humans) are at stake. We rely on healthy, functioning, and diverse ecosystems to provide clean air, clean water, and food. However, between one third and one half of all species are projected to face extinction by the end of this century. What’s more, these lush and vibrant ecosystems enrich our physical and mental health in ways we are just now learning to appreciate as a society. I want my daughter to develop a bond with the natural world so she can see why it is so important we collectively commit our energies to protect what is still pristine and work to restore what is not.

We caused the problem and we can develop the solutions.

I want to impress upon my daughter that we have agency in determining what the world will look like for her and future generations. Human choices have fueled climate change and making different choices moving forward can support a positive outcome. Burning coal, oil, and natural gas have created a cycle that’s hard to break because fossil fuels are an incredibly convenient energy source and we depend so much on them for electricity, goods, and more. Fossil fuels also enabled the rapid advances in technology and innovation over the past 100 years during which we went from horses as a primary mode of transport to being able to travel to outer space.

Now we can build upon prior innovation to focus on sustainability. My company, for example, builds upon the invention of the water turbine in 1849, and now, over 150 years later, my brother and I have improved the design to protect our rivers and watersheds. If we, and future generations, incorporate sustainability as a core goal driving technological innovation, we can and will develop technology that is kind to the earth and all that lives within it. Green technology isn’t really green if it comes at the expense of wildlife and biodiversity.

Combating climate change can start at home.

The biggest wisdom I hope to pass on to my daughter is that she needs to act as if every day is Earth Day—because it is.

That starts with her seeing my partner and me living the behaviors we want her to adopt. I want her to see from a young age that we consciously consume less, and take the time to reuse and recycle. I want her to know that water doesn’t just magically appear from the tap, but is a resource that we need to respect and conserve. I want her to understand that walking, cycling, and public transport provides a fun and sustainable way of getting around that reduces our environmental footprint. I want her to know the local flora and fauna of our neighborhood and see us volunteering with local non-profits so she sees value in staying connected to our physical space, not just our phones. I know there will be times when modeling sustainable choices might seem daunting or exhausting. But I am energized by the idea that we can give my daughter the tools she needs to navigate a changing world.

Thankfully, as parents, we’re not alone in this major effort. In addition to the communities, non-profit organizations, native tribes, and elected officials who are fighting for a more liveable future, many companies are already picking up on the fact that being sustainable is the right thing to do—for the planet and their businesses. The world around us is changing to complement what we’re teaching our kids at home. And when my daughter feels discouraged, I will remind her that people’s minds and actions are changing faster in a few years than they have in decades. Her grandmother could have never imagined plant-based meat at fast food restaurants and sneakers made of recycled water bottles!

Activities to spark the conversation.

A heavy topic like climate change is not the easiest to bring up at the dinner table or on the car ride to soccer practice. And like the other “birds and the bees” talk, the first conversation might only scratch the surface and should be considered the first of many conversations on this emotionally involved topic.

That said, you can always start by helping your child get acquainted with their environment so they can develop a personal relationship with the natural world and begin to see that climate change affects where they live and not just remote lands.

Growing up on a Texas farm, I personally witnessed how my surrounding environment changed. We had snowy winters and a frozen pond each year when I was little, but that was a rare occurrence by the time I was in middle school. I keenly remember my dad explaining to me the complex geophysics of how heat trapped in our atmosphere was resulting in more extremes—hotter, wetter, colder, drier. He would use every opportunity whether on a hike to the creek near my childhood home, or getting ready to plant our garden each spring as an opportunity to share his thoughts on how we could change our ways to be more sustainable.

Now that I have a child, I want to play that legacy forward. Here are a few ideas:

*At home, show your child which foods and products are compostable and take them to a compost collection site to see how it transforms from waste to rich soil.
*If you have a backyard, you can create your own compost bin so you can eventually use it to fertilize your garden. They’ll love getting their hands dirty with their parents’ approval!
*Take your child to a nearby nature preserve, wetland, or conservation-oriented park or zoo so they begin to see how others are working to preserve ecosystem and biological diversity.
*Volunteer with a local environmental non-profit to participate in projects like a river or beach cleanup, tree planting, growing a community garden, or wildlife conservation research.
*If you live near a lake, river, or beach, walk along the banks and spot signs of wildlife or living creatures that call these habitats home.
*If you live near a park or a hiking trail, try to revisit the same trail when the season changes so you and your family can see how the surroundings change with the weather. A flower blooming during unseasonably warm December weather can be a clear sign to show how things are changing.
*Be thoughtful about the things you purchase and share with your child how you approach finding ways to reduce packaging waste, to reuse/repurpose instead of throwing things away, etc.

Additional resources to consult include the New York Times Illustrated Guide to Climate Change, YouTube videos How does climate change affect biodiversity? and The future of freshwater biodiversity, and the resource-packed website A Guide to Climate Change for Kids.

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