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How to Teach Your Children About Climate Change -- Without Scaring Them

childrensackraceAre your children asking you about global climate change and wondering what they can do to help the polar bears?  Are they feeling sad and scared?  How can you comfort them, answer their questions and assure them that their world is not spinning out of control?

The key is empowerment and teaching kids how to be engaged citizens. Parents can explain global warming, encourage schools to teach the basics of science and help children participate in nature study.  For example, scientists have correlated changes in when plants bloom, where plants and animals are found, and the timing of migrations with warming temperatures.  Kids taking part in outdoor activities like Project Budburst and Audubon bird counts can take temperature readings and see these changes for themselves --and they can provide data for scientists to document the effects of global warming.

Once kids understand how scientists have discovered—and are continuing to discover-- the relationship between CO2 and climate, they will understand how reducing their own CO2 emissions can help.  This knowledge is empowering. It shows kids that there is still time for them to do something about really bad climate change if we all act now.

What might seem like small personal actions to produce less CO2 can actually make a big difference when done by thousands or millions of people.  The most dramatic emission reductions–- through reducing use of vehicles, appliances and heating, and increasing vehicle efficiency, cutting down on major appliance use and heating -- are mostly determined under the control of adults.  You should know that burning a gallon of gas creates 20 pounds of carbon dioxide and that most electricity is made by burning coal and other carbon-rich fossil fuels rich in carbon.  Making electricity from coal is responsible forthe cause of 37 percent of U.S. CO2.

But kids, if they are not already badgering you about this, can play take a big role in reducing the family footprint.  They can coordinate with other kids and families to start car pools or organized walking and biking routes to school.  They can remind get you and other drivers to turn off engines instead of idling at the curb.  One group of middle school kids in Vermont worked with adults and politicians to propose a state law to stop school buses and trucks from idling.

Using less home heating, air conditioning and electrical use should be a family project, which will also save lots of money.  Many kids are reminding their parents, when an appliance stops working, to replace it with an Energy Star appliance, which uses much less energy than older ones.  If most families in the US switched to lower-energy appliances, it would be like shutting down an entire coal-burning power plant.

The everyday way we use electricity is another place to make our footprints smaller.  Turning off room lights, computers, TVs and unplugging chargers should be second nature.  Start a contest at home.  Reward family members who make the “switch” to less electric use.  Involve neighbors, places of worship and schools.   Girl scouts in San Francisco, California, for example, went door to door distributing a million compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs.  When we all change all the bulbs in our homes–-the average American home or large apartment has 30-40 bulbs--the savings in CO2 will be like shutting down the output of the 12 largest coal power plants.

Sharing these stories (and others in our book) with your children will allow them to realize that kids can really make a difference.  A 13-year old girl in the film Young Voices on Climate Change (see below) said, “If you adults won’t do something about global climate change, then we kids are going to take the reins.”  But the best way to tackle climate change deal with it is as families, neighborhoods and school groups where mutual information, support and encouragement can help everyone be pro-active rather than just worried stiff.

So, what can YOUR kids do?  Below is a pie that shows how much carbon you and your family, along with a million others, can prevent from going into the atmosphere through some relatively simple If your kids are feeling sad, or angry, or paralyzed with fear—remember that action is the antidote to all those feelings of powerlessness.  Kids have power. As a parent, you can help them develop the skills they will need and help give them a voice now. And when parents, teachers, and neighborhood mentors also speak out about global warming and how healthy and money-saving it is to reduce energy use – when they support leaders who will change our laws to make cleaner power available – they make a difference that affects thousands of people in the community and beyond.

More info:
Learning about Rapid Climate Change

The basics of climate change and what can be done to control its rapid increase are clearly explained at middle-school reading level in the book by Lynne Cherry and Gary Braasch, How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming (Dawn Publications) and its website  We also recommend Gary Braasch's educational website, and, for high school and up, his newly updated illustrated book, Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World (University of California Press).

Young Voices on Climate Change, a series of short inspiring movies showing about middle school kids tackling climate change, are now showing (through August 16, 2009) at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Young Voices on Climate Change is a film project Pproduced by children's book author/illustrator Lynne Cherry, inspired by based on her book with Gary Braasch.  The shorts can also be seen other museums and on LINK TV will be distributed to other museums soon, in advance of a major-length film in production.

What One Kid Can Do (A story from Young Voices on Climate Change)
Alec Loorz is concerned about the melting of the arctic and Antarcticpolar ice leading to sea level rise.  He started project SLAP-Sea Level Awareness Project-to raise public awareness about what sea level rise would mean for his coastal town of Ventura, California.

He and a group of kids convinced local government officials to help them erect SLAP posts around Ventura showing how high the water could rise with different degrees of global warming. The posts remind citizens to reduce their carbon emissions. In December 2008, Alec addressed 5000 youth at an environmental conference, and in 2009 he talked at the United Nations and the Natural History Museum in NYC.  Through his talks and his website, Alec is inspiring coastal kids everywhere to replicate SLAP project, raising awareness and encouraging everyone to reduce their carbon footprints.and also is asking for signatures on his "Declaration of Independence from Fossil Fuels." Visit Alec's website at

Lynne Cherry and Gary Braasch’s new book How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming is the winner of Best Middle School Science Book 2009 by the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science and the 2009 John Burroughs Nature Books for Young Readers Award.  It is recommended by the National Science Teachers Assn.  Information on this and other global warming educational projects is at,, and





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