Teach Climate

July 22, 2010
By: Kristen Poppleton, Senior Director of Programs

When the Kids Call for Better Behavior

This opinion piece was posted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today and we thought it was worth sharing.  It raises another important reason that we as educators should be teaching kids about climate change in the classroom; Parent Education and Awareness.  It often takes the concerns of ones own child to bring the importance of an issue to the surface.  Mr. Commers provides us with the perspective of a parent, educated by his children, willing to take some part of the blame, but also willing to be part of the solution.


When Kids Call for Better Behavior

What makes the parent of young children more anxious – the responsibility of teaching the important lessons, or the knowledge that we’re still learning those lessons ourselves?

Recently, as my elementary-age children have drawn an interest in news, we have had more conversation about climate change. This winter’s dumping of thirty-two inches of snow on Washington, D.C. caught their attention due to jealousy, but also concern. Recent reporting that Lake Superior’s temperature is substantially warmer this year than normal also prompted talk.

Based on my sample size of two, kids aren’t just aware of climate change and some of its potential impact. And they aren’t afraid of it, so to speak. But they are absolutely serious about responding to global trends with immediate, concrete behavior change. They gave me multiple suggestions for how. Here are a few:

* Compete against your own driving. Set a limit for how many miles you will drive this week. Reduce the limit regularly. Call it car limbo.

* Grow food in the backyard if you have one, and create greenhouses together for winter growing. Why eat food from far away?

* Use a compost. You can put all of your corn husks and apple cores in it, and then it turns into dirt without having to drive it anywhere.

* If you sell things in plastic containers, you should take them back to recycle them (hear that, grocery stores?)

These are mostly relatively simple measures to implement for many of us, and they’re increments toward a solution. But the kids don’t stop here. The immediacy and concreteness of their recommendations become more clear with ideas like:

* Add trees all over. Replace some of the streets with trees. Shrink the city.

* Change the city so that people don’t need to drive across town to go from their home to their work.

At times, these conversations have shifted into early forms of generational charges: Dad, your generation and all the others have blown it big time. We’re not going to face the music with baby steps, so get moving. And they’re right. Attempting to explain why some of these recommendations aren’t a matter of course is dicey territory. Don’t even try suggesting to them that politics present a legitimate reason for inaction. There are plenty of ways I continue to develop and guide my children’s behavior, and in doing so hopefully convey larger lessons about life. At the same time, in cases like these exchanges about “going green,” they serve to develop and guide my behavior, too. We’re all better for it.

By Jon Commers, founder and principal of Donjek, Incorporated. His projects focus on navigating placemakers – planners, developers, engineers – through financial feasibility and analysis, with an emphasis on facilitating public-private sector negotiations.