Kids, it’s time to sit your parents down and have THAT chat. Yes, that one. That life-changing one. Make sure your parents are comfortable, ply them with plenty of tea, coffee, or a beverage of their choice. Ask them to turn their mobile phones off, or at least keep them on silent. After all, talking about climate change isn’t going to be easy.
First, start with the basics. The climate is changing – it’s real. No matter what the politicians say. Or the news does not say.
Take them through the science – the greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide – that are being pumped into the air, how they are warming the atmosphere, trapping heat, melting ice caps, causing sea levels to rise, and so on and so forth. Now just because there’s an average rise in temperature doesn’t mean that the entire planet will warm equitably (Yes, see anticipating questions from the grown-ups already). It means that some places may get cooler and have longer winters, while others may see devastating monsoons. We are already seeing all of that happen.
Next, explain to them that we are living in the age of Anthropocene. Say it slowly – anth-ro-po-ceee-neeee. Elaborate that this means that human activity is accelerating climate change. Burning fossil fuels, pollution, deforestation all of that keeps pushing the temperature up.
Second, it’s exacerbating extreme weather conditions. Third, our cities are not resilient or adapting fast enough to these extreme weather conditions. We don’t have the infrastructures or the plans in place. We just do not.
If there’s some vociferous talk about “development” versus “environment – one of the most inane debates ever – remind them that extreme weather events leads to loss of human life and infrastructure. Which all racks up a bill that is heavy on our GDPs. We need clean air, drinking water and soil to survive, and that is just a basic truth. And also, vital to development.
And lastly, spell this out, repeat if necessary – we are children and we are not going to “save” the planet. Because the Earth does not need saving, she’s going to be fine. Plus, there’s homework to do and unit tests to mug up for. So, it comes back to the grown-ups who have the power to get their voices heard and at least show their dissent about what’s happening. After all, no child wants to inherit a planet stuffed with greenhouse gases and problems of this gargantuan proportions.
Here’s the thing – grown-ups are not talking about this. At least not enough. A friend said right on the heels of Mumbai’s floods, the teachers in her niece’s school did not think it was important to chat about what had happened and why. I am sure that many children must have exulted at the thought of no school the next day, but they must wonder, why is this happening time and again, and why are we not prepared for this. Let’s face it, if children don’t get answers to their questions, then they will find out for themselves. And perhaps they will be better equipped to help grown-ups understand what is happening.
I go to classrooms often to talk to children about my book So You Want to Know About the Environment. Increasingly I feel this constant worm of worry when I realise how little tweenagers and teachers understand climate change. One student told me that it’s when you go up a mountain and the air becomes thinner, that’s climate change. Another smart aleck told me it means the climate is changing. Well, yes. But it’s only when we begin talking about how relentless the last summer was or a particular flood, that they start nodding and realising that climate change is not something that’s happening in the Arctic regions or other far flung places, it’s occurring everywhere and impacting everyone. And all of us.
So, kids, have that chat. It’s time.