I have a dream of children who think all electricity comes from the sun, of children who are just used to composting toilets. I see hordes of children who know exactly where their food comes from, I imagine children who don’t know what a plastic grocery bag was.
I saw how this vision could be possible when this summer I witnessed my 2-year-old son enthralled with the solar panels being installed on our roof and especially with the “solar electricians” who were installing them. He didn’t know what electricity was, or what an electrician was, but now if we talk about electricity he reminds us that it comes from the sun. If we mention an electrician he corrects us that it is a solar electrician. In his 2-year-old mind that is how we get electricity; that is his default.
Why not choose this vision for the future? The alternative is grim — what better choice do we have than to hope for this? Unfortunately, we cannot protect our children from the problems that are here and coming with climate change. As Oberlin College Professor David Orr recently put it in a speech to the New England Environmental Education Alliance , “We have to equip [children] with the stamina to witness ecological losses and collateral societal damages without being immobilized by despair. They will need our help to form a stronger and deeper attachment to life and a more authentic hope that lies on the farther horizon. The rising generation must have the capacity to think in systems and patterns …. We must enable them, in other words, to think clearly and deeply about the proper role of humankind on Earth over the long haul. We have every reason to re-examine our beliefs, worldviews, institutions, cultural foundations, and manner of living—and get down to work.”
At the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst, we are thinking and talking about how to help children navigate climate change. How do we make sure they are informed at developmentally appropriate stages and empowered to make sound decisions? How do we do that without terrifying them or making them feel helpless even if that may be how we feel? We have begun holding discussion groups about parenting and climate change to address these questions.
We’ve started these conversations with a few tips and pointers for parents:
Our children are the next generation of problem solvers. We need to empower them to believe these problems are solvable. Let’s help them have hope and bolster them with deep connections to nature, each other and our communities, so they become adults whose default is to think big-picture and long-term, who automatically think about the interdependence of their choices and actions. They will have a new paradigm, one that respects limits and all life on earth.
Casey Beebe is an environmental educator and community programs coordinator at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment.
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