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Parenting the Climate-Change Generation
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Kids are taking over the streets in other countries, rallying and chanting and refusing to go to school one day a week.

Young people across the world are striking to draw attention to the ravages of climate change. They are demanding — with their bodies and their voices — that the catastrophe each of them will inherit be a priority for the grown-ups around them. They are insisting that we adults make some sacrifices to keep their planet from becoming uninhabitable.

“We are the voiceless future of humanity… We will not accept a life in fear and devastation. We have the right to live our dreams and hopes.” You know who said that? A teenager. Actually, lots of them, since it’s part of a letter, a call to action, from the organizers of Fridays for a Future. I’m hearing them loud and clear and it’s driving me crazy!

The map of activities that those teenagers planned for their March 15th global day of action represented a mind-popping collection of locations, including Tromso, Norway; Port Louis, Mauritius; Diliman, the Philippines; Osorno, Chile; Whitehorse, Canada; Bamako, Mali; and Tehran, Iran. You don’t have to be a cartographer to notice that there are way more actions planned around the world than in Donald Trump’s United States.

This clarion call comes from teenagers, the crew we characterize here in America as eye-rolling creatures suspended in a helpless state of consumerism, hyper-sexualization, and crushing academic pressure. Of course, there are kids in the streets (and sitting in at congressional offices) for climate change (and for a host of other issues) here, too, but, there are far more doing nothing but playing Fortnite on their phones or tablets and uploading DIY lip-balm videos on YouTube.

Seventy-three percent of Americans now acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change — by far the biggest number since the question was first asked in 2008 — but too few want to pay to make it go away. Asked if they’d spend even \$10 a month to address the crisis, 72% of Americans took a hard pass, 57% of them opting for \$1 a month instead. Set that against the cost of your favorite large iced latte with a shot of caramel, a Netflix subscription, or the Uber ride you summoned when you could have walked.

If global warming continues at current rates, however, Solomon Hsiang, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues found that it would impact our economy in a huge way. It would shave “3 to 6 percentage points off of the country’s gross domestic product by century’s end — the warmer it gets, the bigger the hit to the economy.” The Trump administration’s own report assessing the risks of climate change found that global warming “is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century… With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century — more than the current gross domestic product of many U.S. states.”

Time for another latte, folks, because this is our problem, whether we’re facing it or not.

How Do We Parent Generation Hot?

I’m almost 45. My kids, Seamus and Madeline, are five and six; my stepdaughter Rosena is 12. They are part of what journalist Mark Hertsgaard calls Generation Hot, “some two billion young people, all of whom have grown up under global warming and are fated to spend the rest of their lives confronting its mounting impacts.”

On a good day, I quip that “I’m halfway to 90.” On a bad day, I can’t imagine what the world will look like in 2064, for me or them.

I was named for my paternal grandmother, Frida. Born in 1886 in the Black Forest of Germany, she emigrated here with her family when she was very young, grew up in Minnesota, and married my grandfather in June 1911. I was married exactly a century later. I wear her wedding ring, a battered little gold band that connects me to a woman who died before I turned two. The world she bore six sons into wasn’t an easy one. She spent a lot of her time washing laundry, mending clothes, tending crops, caring for animals, preparing food, and raising children, a life I can romanticize the heck out of in the right mood.

Had she been able to leave her small world and travel into my future, so much of my daily life would undoubtedly be a marvel, a mystery, or a concern to her. I suspect, for example, that the hours I sit in front of this computer wouldn’t even look like work to Grandma Frida.

And if I could fast-forward 45 years into the future, what would I see? On the marvels and mysteries, I haven’t a clue, but I do know one thing: I would certainly see an extreme version of today when it comes to climate change. In other words, the indiscriminate damage from extreme weather, hitting vulnerable populations particularly hard, will only have intensified dramatically. After all, 2018, the wettest year in America in 35 years, saw 14 weather catastrophes, each of which cost a billion or more dollars. It was also the fourth-hottest year on record for the planet as a whole (the other three being the previous three years), according to data tracked by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report only predicts more and far worse of what we have already been seeing: droughts, floods, rising sea levels and heat indices, increasingly fierce wildfires, more food shortages and famines to come, and ever larger populations on the move as people flee the weather and the destruction, look for food and shelter, and try to escape the manmade conflicts fueled by such events.

Worries for the World

That’s Rosena’s future I’m writing about, and Seamus’s and Madeline’s, too. I’ve been making a concerted effort as a parent of small children and an almost-teenager, as a citizen of the United States, and as an environmentalist (or at least someone who would like to wear that mantle) to face my own denial reflex on climate change. Until now, thanks in part to my own parents, I’ve spent most of my life worrying about nuclear weapons destroying the planet. So maybe it’s just a matter of layering one world-destroying phenomenon on another.

The strange thing is that I find it easier to think about nuclear war than climate change. After all, when it comes to those nukes, either the button gets pushed or it doesn’t. A finite number of nuclear warheads exist on this planet and they could be dismantled one by one in a relatively short period of time if policymakers chose to do so. The genie could potentially be put back in the bottle. Climate change is another matter.

Oh, and talking to my kids about it? That’s a terrifying thought. They’re already deeply afraid of volcanoes for no reason whatsoever. Going to Chicago for a wedding? First question: “Are there volcanoes there?” A weekend trip to New York: “Wait, mom, volcanoes in New York? No, right?” Now, imagine introducing them to the human-made, carbonized version of volcanoes that will actually impact their future.

I’d rather not, but I’m thinking I must. That, I suppose, is the work of parenting in 2019.

Rosena has a few months more before she becomes a teenager and there is not (yet) a lot of eye-rolling in our household. Thankfully, she remains more kid than adult wannabe on the cusp of womanhood. But the climate-change kids have me thinking harder about her and the fate of her earth. I’m thinking she should know more than she does about the mess the baby boomers got her into.

But who or what is really to blame for all of this, anyway? The Industrial Revolution? The war machine? Big Oil? When you’re talking about a staggering 1.5 to 2 (or even 4) degree Celsius increase in global temperatures, I suppose there’s bound to be plenty of blame to spread around.

My husband and I bug Rosena for taking long showers and for her urge to turn on every light in the house. We make her walk to and from school and try to walk as a family as much as possible. We point out how much of what she loves to buy is packaged in non-recyclable, landfill-clogging insta-garbage. We joke that slime is the cause of icebergs melting, bee colony collapse, and every other ill in the world, but we haven’t yet started harping on global warming, greenhouse gases, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events.

For a while, I hesitated, not wanting to worry her pointlessly. But there is a point to worrying! As I’ve watched the next generation pour into the streets, I’ve been rethinking things. I’ve started to feel that our family needs to be learning all of this together. It needs to be united in the fight against climate change and in the preparations for a very different future, for Rosena’s future.

Is It Time to Panic Yet?

After my own version of a survey of the recent literature, here’s what I know: we’re screwed.

David Wallace-Wells, a legit climate cassandra, is tired of public intellectuals and scientists candy-coating the bleakness of the future that awaits us unless everything changes fast. So, in a new book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, he looks at the worst case scenarios and says it’s time to PANIC! A fellow at the New America Foundation, he recently told Rachel Martin of NPR’s Morning Edition:

“When I talk about being optimistic, I’m talking about a range that starts at a death toll of 150 million people and extends to a world 4 degrees warmer where we would have, eventually, hundreds of feet of sea level rise, horrible impacts on agriculture and public health beyond our comprehension. Now, a lot of people would want to just sort of recoil from even that best-case scenario.”

Where do you go from that version of “best case”? Is there such a thing as productive panic? David Wallace-Wells still thinks so.

Climate change certainly makes me consider my occasional hamburger, or retail therapy at T.J. Maxx, or my low-key Amazon Smile addiction — it can’t be bad if it’s for a good cause, right? — where things I “needish” are wrapped in countless layers of the paper and plastics that contribute to those dead seas of plastic junk that now clog our oceans. At this point, human activity reportedly consumes 1.7 Earths’ worth of materials annually. As the Global Footprint Network points out:

“This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. We use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester.”

But the personal stuff — not driving, eating meat, or buying plastic crap — won’t, of course, do the trick. Collective action is needed. Frida Berrigan becoming a vegan won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45%. To get there, we need a whole new set of relationships, as well as rules and regulations. We need to live collectively, not just individually, as if the planet matters. We need, as Guardian columnist George Monbiot has put it, “a complete revision of our relationship with the living planet.”

Look for Action

Turning towards this catastrophe is hard work. Here’s just a sampling of the titles of recent books about climate change: The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption; Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change; Storms of My Grandchildren:The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity; The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable; and This Is the Way the World Ends: How Droughts and Die-offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes Are Converging on America.

You get the idea. No wonder I struggle with what to do with all this information, this mixture of artful alarmism and sober grappling with the facts on the ground. I’m sure Greta Thunberg would be impatient with my waffling and indecision, my fervent wish that this would all just go away. She was 15 years old when she sat down outside the Swedish parliament and “school striked for the climate.” She was inspired by the young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who began organizing a true gun control movement after 17 of their schoolmates and staff were killed by a mass shooter. She was motivated by her understanding of the existential threat posed by a warming world, driven to action by her observation that none of the adults with the power to change the rules were doing anything. That includes me, doesn’t it?

They — we — were failing, she concluded. Why, she wondered, wasn’t it illegal to burn carbons? Why wasn’t it forbidden to trash the planet? Greta, who has a young person’s passion and absolutism, is also diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which, as she told a crowd at a TED Talk, makes her see the world in black and white. “There are no grey areas when it comes to survival,” she noted, her voice dry and lightly accented. She ended that TED Talk by saying, “We do need hope. Of course we do. But one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So, instead of looking for hope, look for action.”

So she acted and the school strikes for climate change she launched soon spread across the world. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal could be considered one answer to Greta’s call for action. Along with the venerable Senator Ed Markey, Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman representative and youngest woman ever elected to Congress, is proposing that Green New Deal “to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers; to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States; [and] to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

And I’m all for it. Every single word, even the ones that are being denounced as too expensive, unrealistic, challenging, and anti-corporate. And I’m even more for the new conversation this wave of climate concern is catalyzing. One of these days, we might even have an actual national debate about what it will take to arrest the increases in global temperature that could lead to the demise not of the planet itself, but possibly of human civilization.

Everything Is… (Not) Fine

The fact that many of us still look at the possible cataclysm to come through a distracting everything-is-fine vision of America makes that conversation all the harder. Here in Connecticut, for instance, gas is still only \$2.39 a gallon, the local Stop and Shop has three-for-one pints of blueberries from Peru or Chile on offer, and on a recent wintry Friday it was almost 50 degrees.

It can be hard to tap into one’s sense of urgency living here in the northeast. And yet we are not immune. Our library hosted an event on city trees at the end of January and I learned that New London’s six square urban miles had lost more than 1,000 trees in the last 10 years. They’ve been cut down after storm damage, removed for new sidewalks, died of old age and of the hard life of a tree living at the street’s edge. A college senior who had counted all the city’s trees and assessed their health told us about how they filter pollutants while offering shade. My community is organizing to get those trees back (and plant even more of them), but we’ll probably fall a few short of the 1.2 trillion new trees that one recent study suggests would be needed to cancel a decade of carbon dioxide emissions.

Like all the other homeowners in New London, I now find a \$15 stormwater surcharge on the water bill that arrives every quarter. It’s not quite the \$10 a month climate change tax Americans were polled on, but it is related to a warming world and it’s hitting some of my neighbors pretty hard. Our community, after all, is bordered on three sides by water and (like increasing numbers of American communities) our water infrastructure is antiquated. It gets overwhelmed by even a modest downpour. We’re not talking about Miami-level sunny-day flooding, but we could get there and, if so, it will probably take a lot more than \$60 a year to keep us reasonably safe.

Southeastern Connecticut isn’t on the front lines of climate change. Ours are still third- or fourth-level problems related to a warming, more resource-pinched world. Our community probably won’t be uninhabitable in the next generation. Our home is likely to withstand the next round of mega-storms. Still, we are all beginning to pay for climate change, even if the costs and consequences have yet to fully register. Taken individually in New London (if not Puerto Rico or Houston), it’s been a matter of minor inconveniences and background noise, little more than so many phantom twinges.

Still, I have no doubt that we’re in trouble. Trouble deep. And I’m not going to lie to my kids. I’m not going to deny that I’m terrified about their future. I’m not going to fail as an adult. I still have work to do. I can still do my small part to help the school strikers and the members of Generation Hot who have identified the “right to live our dreams and hopes” as a right worth defending. I’m not going to fail as a parent. I’m already listening to the school strikers, many just a few years older than Rosena. I’m going to heed their leadership. I plan to join them, to learn and listen, to do my best to share my still unarticulatable fears and, with my children, to face this future together.

Frida Berrigan, a TomDispatch regular, writes the Little Insurrections blog for, is the author of It Runs In The Family: On Being Raised By Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood, and lives in New London, Connecticut.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Global Warming 
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  1. Issac says:

    If you aren’t talking about immigration, population control, and resource scarcity: you don’t care about the environment and simply want to signal membership in the neoliberal bougousie.

    Speaking of which, the original New Deal infrastructure is failing and won’t be repaired. Mommy should think of all those potential flood zones instead of how many inches the ocean might rise by next century.

  2. “Climate Change” The emotional propagandizing of generations of school children, devoid of any critical thinking instruction, minus an inkling of what the scientific method is about or how it is verified, has delivered a mindless collectivist coalition ready to Pounce . China’s Red Guards come to mind .

    • Replies: @james charles
  3. @silversmith

    “For climate change, there are many scientific organizations that study the climate. These alphabet soup of organizations include NASA, NOAA, JMA, WMO, NSIDC, IPCC, UK Met Office, and others. Click on the names for links to their climate-related sites. There are also climate research organizations associated with universities. These are all legitimate scientific sources.

    If you have to dismiss all of these scientific organizations to reach your opinion, then you are by definition denying the science. If you have to believe that all of these organizations, and all of the climate scientists around the world, and all of the hundred thousand published research papers, and physics, are all somehow part of a global, multigenerational conspiracy to defraud the people, then you are, again, a denier by definition. 

    So if you deny all the above scientific organizations there are a lot of un-scientific web sites out there that pretend to be science. Many of these are run by lobbyists (e.g.., Climate Depot, run by a libertarian political lobbyist, CFACT), or supported by lobbyists (e.g., JoannaNova, WUWT, both of whom have received funding and otherwise substantial support by lobbying organizations like the Heartland Institute), or are actually paid by lobbyists to write Op-Eds and other blog posts that intentionally misrepresent the science.”

    • Replies: @feral_nerd
  4. @james charles

    Your concern is noted, but the nub of the matter is this: Nobody knows what the future will bring. Yet climate alarmists insist, in a very sincere tone of voice, that they know EXACTLY what is going to happen. There is NO ROOM for DOUBT. We MUST do SOMETHING right NOW or we are DOOMED!

    This is unscientific, emotionally manipulative bullshit. When someone tells you you need to do something RIGHT NOW or ELSE, you are right to ask hard questions. But if you accept, without critical evaluation, such breathless exhortations, then I have some real estate you might be interested in. It has–how shall I put this?– a bit of a drainage problem, but I am willing to throw in a really nice bridge to even it out.

    The ridiculous, overweening, scientifically insupportable certainty that characterizes climate alarmism also pervades your comment. Let me set you straight on something. You have no special insight. Neither can you or anyone else predict the future, which has a funny habit of turning out quite differently than anyone thinks. So far, three decades of increasingly dire warnings have produced zero results. How many times can you cry wolf and still be believed?

    One of the more charming habits of climate alarmists is their fondness for smears. Your assertion that Climate Depot, WUWT and JoannaNova [sic] are fronts for lobbyists is such a lie, and I challenge you to cite credible sources. I’ll wait. The Guardian doesn’t count. Countering these volunteer-run, expert-moderated sites, consistently scientific sites are such gems as Skeptical Science, run by an unemployed cartoonist with a Nazi fetish assisted by a cadre of insult-spewing, censorious ideologues, and deSmogBlog, a hit site run by green-affiliated public-relations firm. These sites are to science as propaganda is to language. There are many just like them.

    The world has been warming since the Little Ice Age bottomed out and began to abate around 1680. Since 1850 there has been about a 1.4 degree F increase globally. This is a crisis? Furthermore, there have been a total of ten warming periods since the Holocene interglacial began 12,000 years ago, almost all of them of greater magnitude and duration than current warming event.

    Forget thermal Armageddon. Far more likely is that the Holocene interglacial will soon begin to wind down, with a period of unsettled climate trending colder followed some centuries hence by the inevitable return of the ice. Meaning: Goodbye civilization.

    Carbon dioxide is a minor greenhouse gas and a nearly negligible component of the overall climate, which is the product of literally thousands of variables dynamically interacting through enormous volumes of ocean and atmosphere, across many millions of square miles of highly variable surface, on time scales from minutes to millenia. Despite decades of close study, we understand this stupendously complex system in only the most general sense. Your side ignores this complexity, preferring to make it bumper-sticker simple. Carbon bad!

    Seventy years ago the Soviet science establishment was infiltrated and nearly ruined by Lysenokoism, a hot mess of politically convenient scientific gibberish. The parallels with Climate Change hysteria are staggering.

    • Replies: @james charles
  5. @james charles

    That’s it? That’s all you got? You might as well have called me a “heretic.”

    Come to think of it, that’s exactly what you did.

    Still waiting for those sources . . .


    • Replies: @james charles
  6. @feral_nerd

    Heretic – No.

    Science denier – Yes.

    • Replies: @feral_nerd
  7. @james charles

    I just gave you a bunch of science and you ignored it. The REAL science deniers are those who pretend that CO2 has thermodynamic properties that it in fact does not, who ignore millions of years of geologic history, who pick and choose data, who pretend that the outcome of modeling runs are “evidence,” who use dodgy methods to reach a predetermined outcome and then double down when caught. And who label, with that ugly and insulting term “denier”–as in holocaust denier–those who commit the thoughtcrime of daring to disagree.

    Rebranding the Cause from Global Warming to Climate Change was sheer genius, I have to admit. You can blame every anomalous event in the world on Climate Change, as though droughts and floods and record cold and heat, never, ever happened in the past.

    Climate Change is mass hysteria amplified by mega-marketing opportunities. It is a multi-hundred billion dollar transnational business with seriously entrenched interests.

    I have summarized the science nicely in the following essay. I invite you to give it a read and and a critique. Any valid points you make I promise to incorporate in a revised edition.

    • Replies: @james charles
  8. @feral_nerd

    “If you have to dismiss all of these scientific organizations to reach your opinion, then you are by definition denying the science. If you have to believe that all of these organizations, and all of the climate scientists around the world, and all of the hundred thousand published research papers, and physics, are all somehow part of a global, multigenerational conspiracy to defraud the people, then you are, again, a denier by definition. ”

  9. njguy73 says:

    The only people who can claim any moral high ground here are the ones who wouldn’t post here.

    Because it’s against their religion to use the Internet.

  10. How clever, quoting yourself.

    All you are doing is regurgitating talking points that you have not taken the time or trouble to critically assess. I’m pretty sure you have not read these “hundreds of thousands” of papers you refer to. Further, it’s obvious that you have no more than a very basic, grade school understanding of this issue. Otherwise you would have formulated some kind of counter-argument.You’re a very good cheerleader, though.

    You pretend that there is a fierce unanimity in the science community about climate change. This is horseshit. And even if there were it would not matter. Consensus is literally irrelevant. This is Science 101. Were you absent that day?

    In reality, if you asked a hundred scientists about climate change and its causes, you would get a hundred different answers. Because real scientists think. They don’t parrot talking points. Best to ask them off the record, though. Because of the dangerous political climate (no pun intended,) most have learned to consider very, very carefully what they say in public.

    You’re right, though, in that there is something of a consensus, pretty close to that mythical 97 percent figure. It is based on the answers submitted by thousands of scientists to the following questionnaire: (a) Has the planet warmed some in the last 150 years? and (b)Have humans played some measurable role in bringing this about? To which the correct answer is obviously yes on both counts. That’s it. That’s your consensus.

    You obviously do not get that there is a substantial body of dissenting scientists, credentialed, credible, not co-opted by grant money, who reject, with data and logic, the breathless, groundless projections of catastrophe. Many of these people are far brighter than you and I combined. Some of them even have Nobel Prizes in hard sciences. The prominent ones have uniformly endured serious abuse at the hands of the climate-hysteria mob, yet continue bravely onward because for them the principle supersedes all else.

    You also obviously do not get the serious damage being inflicted upon science by ideological fanatics. A once noble profession is being destroyed by the new Lysenkoism.

    Understand that dissent is a good thing. Understand further that it is actually quite widespread, not confined to the fringes. The MSM does not report this, of course, because it blows the narrative. Half of meteorologists and two-thirds of geologists and geophysicists–two freaking thirds–explicitly reject the tenets of climate alarmism.

    Open your eyes boy; you’re being played by people who don’t give a shit about you or your well-being. They have plans though. By the time they’re done, you won’t even recognize this society.

    Better yet, pry open that tightly closed mind of yours. Start by giving Joannenova a read. A smart, sensible, brave woman who has more good sense in one little finger than any dozen alarmists combined.

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