Parents Versus Climate Change

As someone who remains ambivalent about having children (and as someone with young nieces and nephews and friends with kids), this is a topic of deep personal concern to me, as I’m sure it is to many readers. The diagnosis of widespread ignorance and ‘soft denial’ seems pretty plausible, although chastising people for being bad parents seems to me fundamentally unhelpful. Plus, isn’t the sense of deep political powerlessness pretty well justified? It certainly seems that way in the current political and economic climate. For my part I find it very difficult to imagine a day when any government would place long-term interests like saving the planet ahead of short-term economic concerns, particularly when most governments are only in office for 5-10 years (though maybe this is just a tempting false dilemma…)

Your thoughts welcome, especially if you can think of a reason not to despair.

9 thoughts on “Parents Versus Climate Change

  1. When my daughter was contemplating having children a couple years ago, she asked me what I thought, given the climate crisis and all the other crises. I told her I couldn’t give her a reason not to despair. But. I told her she’d lived through some pretty bad times, personal (serious life-threatening longterm illness) and societal (wars, economic collapse), etc. And then I asked her: In spite of all that are you glad you were born? She decided to go ahead and have children.

  2. I think it will almost always be the case that day-to-day practical concerns affecting their children will swamp climate change issues. A new natural gas powerplant that reduces bills will win out over the higher cost wind farm electricity. And so on with gasoline prices The cost savings means much more to a family than negative climate consequences.

    Frankly, choosing climate change over meeting monthly household expenses approaches the irresponsible. Especially since it’s unclear how bad things will get, at this stage.

  3. no I cannot think of a reason not to despair, for the first time in 64 years I’m very sad about the future of the USA, the entire planet , all of us. I do not see any flicker of hope.

  4. @grannyliizzy:

    I understand your despair. Yet, I think that despairing also helps the … people … who refuse to even TRY to do anything. I admit to being less than hopeful about the future of humanity and/or our planet, but I cannot give up.

  5. Grannylizzy, may I recommend an article (but it’s behind a pay firewall, you’ll need a good library or a friend with one to access it)? The author, when I asked him why he wrote such an optimistic piece, specifically mentioned that his son was his reason for writing it. I despair less when I read it, although I’m in the same issue sounding misanthropic:
    Radical Hope for Living Well in a Warmer World, by Allen Thompson, Special Issue: Environmental Virtue Ethics. Guest Editors: Philip Cafaro and Ron Sandler.Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Volume 23, Numbers 1-2 (2010), 43-59

  6. i think ajkreider’s comment is a bit worrisome. it’s really not that unclear how bad things are going to get. this is the kind of thinking that prevents people from acting. best case scenario predictions from the most recent IPCC report (and it’s now almost impossible that things might turn out so well) put the earth’s temperature in 2050 at a level that has never been experienced by Homo sapiens. more likely predictions put that temperature at a level that the earth hasn’t seen in 14M year. sure there’s uncertainty in precisely how bad for humans the effects of these changes will be, but we’re talking about uncertainty in a range from terrible to tragic. of course, things will be markedly worse for those living in other parts of the world than they will be for those in the US or Northern Europe, for instance. but surely that doesn’t alter the need for action, especially given the responsibility of industrial nations for what’s to come.

  7. erich,

    To be clearer, while I would say that there is significant uncertainty about how bad things will get generally (“tragic” and “terrible” lacking specificity, and the one author’s attributing the Colorado wildfires to warming trends being just silly), my main point was parents have even greater uncertainty as the effects on THEIR children. So supporting climate change legislation isn’t a matter of good parenting. If one lives in Alberta, warming may benefit one’s children.

    The other reasons you give sound like good reasons – that we ought to be concerned about the welfare of others (and their children), and perhaps that issues of justice require that rich nations have greater responsibility.

    It strikes me that there is a worrying trend among Democrats in the US such that they attempt to motivate support for good causes by emphazing the personal benefits of doing so. The patronizing “They vote against their self-interest” criticism is seemingly ubiquitous, and misses the point rather badly. If warming will cause several nations to be consumed by the sea, I ought to consider supporting the requisite changes, whether I or my children benefit or not.

  8. Thinking that warming trends play a role (though obviously not the only role) in wildfires is not silly. Because of warming trends, a far greater number of mountain pine beetles survive the winter and kill many pine trees. Dead trees burn far more easily than live ones (google mountain pine beetle: all the redish trees in the imaged are dead). This is one (again, of many) factors that fuel the fires. The larger point, though, is this: the effects of climate change are, and will continue to be, wide-reaching and complex. Given how drastic mean global temperature increase is bound to be, there is good reason to believe that everyone will be affected. Whether this creates a special obligation for parents specifically to support climate-sensitive legislation, I won’t try to say. But the likelyhood that tomorrow’s children will see diverse negative effects from climate change is really not in question.

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