“Relax,” writes Mary DeMocker in her new book, The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution: 100 Ways to Build a Fossil-Free Future, Raise Empowered Kids, and Still Get a Good Night’s Sleep. “This isn’t another light bulb list. It’s not another overwhelming pile of parental ‘to-dos’ designed to shrink your family’s carbon footprint through eco-superheroism.” Instead, DeMocker, the cofounder and creative director of 350 Eugene, lays out a lively, empowering, and doable blueprint for engaging families in the urgent, all-important endeavor of “climate revolution.” In one hundred brief, action-packed chapters, parents learn dozens of wide-ranging ideas and activities that can be part of this revolution — from embracing simplicity parenting, to freeing themselves from dead-end science debates, to teaching kids about the political power of creative protest, to changing their lifestyle in ways that will bring their family together, improve moods, and also reduce their impact on the earth. Engaging and creative, this is for every parent who wants to act effectively and empower their children to feel they can do the same.
We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book, in which DeMocker shares how to start a climate revolution.
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Get Clear on Why There’s Hope
A lot of my colleagues have now said it’s too late. We’ve passed too many tipping points to go back. My answer is thank you for the message of urgency.
— David Suzuki
I’ll never forget the moment my optimism returned. It was 2013, yet another year of record-crushing heat waves, droughts, and forest infernos. The concentration of atmospheric carbon had sailed past the safe limit — 350 parts per million (ppm) — to an unprecedented 400 ppm. Alarmed scientists begged leaders to cut carbon pollution. In response, most leaders chanted, “Drill, baby, drill!”
We citizens kept losing campaigns to protect ecosystems. How could we possibly slow, much less stop, the death march for polar bears, honeybees, apple trees, kittens, and even our own children? I lived with a near-constant lump in my throat.
Then my daughter invited me to a film about her friend, Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana, who was suing the government for violating her right to a livable planet. The short documentary, produced by Our Children’s Trust, ended with a “prescription” for balancing the climate by 2100:
- Cut global emissions by 6 percent yearly, starting in 2013 (the target is now 9.9 percent; it rises until we start making those cuts).
- Begin massive reforestation.
- Improve farming practices to sequester carbon.
Lights came up. People clapped. I scribbled the prescription, wondering, Is this really a fix-it plan to avoid wholesale catastrophe? At home, I researched and found that, indeed, an international team of eighteen climate scientists, led by Dr. James Hansen, then director of NASA’s Goddard Space Institute, had determined that if we accomplish those three things, climate stability is achievable. Not cheap or easy — but possible. We can get the nasty gases down again to the safe level of 350 ppm.
I hadn’t understood that. I thought that when scientists raised their usually calm voices and said, “Holy crap! We’re at 400 ppm!” they meant we’d always be there or higher. That we couldn’t subtract carbon.
It turns out we can. We can draw carbon down from Earth’s atmosphere and lock it into soil and trees — by planting new trees, by refraining from cutting more down, and by using many other methods you’ll read about in this book. If we do that while also drastically cutting emissions, we can restore climate stability by the end of this century. The climate will keep heating up — due to humanity’s inaction over the last thirty years — but how much and for how long depends on what we do next.
Whether the climate heats by 1.5 degree Celsius — or by three or four times that — depends on the decisions that governments, corporations, societies, and individuals make right now. Do those three things, and every year we can make things a little better. Don’t do them or wait too long, and those same scientists say humanity will lose its opportunity for climate stability.
The good news is that the prescription — with its clear targets and the reassurance that we can still turn things around — has fired people up worldwide to demand science-based climate action. Even countless religious leaders now say we must keep most fossil fuels in the ground.
That gives me tremendous optimism — and compels me to help. I invite you to jump in with your family — in ways that work for you — and have a blast.
That’s what this book is about.
If you have...
- Five minutes: Tuck this book next to your bed, in your car, or in the bathroom. Read one chapter at a time.
- Thirty minutes: Visit the Our Children’s Trust website (http://ourchildrenstrust.org). For a good overview of how scientists’ “prescription” is being used by children to fight for a livable climate, watch, with older kids, the short film A Climate of TRUST. Look for it under “Short films.”
- Six hours: Binge-read this book. Think about your skills and passions — and where you might want to plug in to the grand adventure.
Herd Your Family Together
You could argue that central heating played a part in the start of the disintegration of the family. — Eleanor John, Head of Collections at London’s Geffrye Museum of the Home
One way we deepen family connection is by keeping bedrooms unheated, gently forcing a cozy nightly living room scene. Aside from saving money, shrinking our carbon footprint, and sleeping better in cool rooms, the heat-only-the-living-room trick also allows for easy monitoring of screen use and homework progress.
Mostly, though, it’s congenial. When both our children lived at home, we happily stepped over our daughter, Zannie, parked with art supplies or Spanish homework in front of our fireplace, since it was nice to interact with her instead of her closed door. She’d randomly ask, “Does mariposa have one r or two?” and chat frequently with her younger brother, Forrest, as he built four-story card houses.
The key to this idyllic incubator for young scholars, we’ve found, is for one parent to be interruptible. If the other needs focus, that parent can retreat to a bedroom or my studio. Usually, though, everyone prefers to stay with the herd.
We regularly hear parents helplessly bemoan the kid they don’t know anymore, who’s cloistered upstairs doing god-knows-what on-screen. This lost-kid scenario has three main culprits, the first being central heating. When that pours into the second culprit — private bedrooms for every family member — children can do what few could before the 1980s supersized our homes: detach from family life.
Completing the trifecta is the electronic device taken into the cozy kid cave. At best, unmonitored screens in bedrooms stoke consumerism and encourage kids to inhabit separate worlds. At worst, they leave children vulnerable to disturbing websites and online pedophiles, con artists, cyber-bullying, pornographers, and relentless and predatory marketing, as well as all the ills associated with excess screen time.
If you want to...
- Save a little money (and the climate): Turn off the heat and/or air-conditioning in bedrooms.
- Not buy desks for the kids’ rooms: Use the kitchen table or couch, or create a living room study-hall atmosphere that prioritizes scholarship — not TV. Let kids store a reasonable stash of books and study supplies in a designated spot in the living room (or wherever you have space near the study area).
- Save a lot of money (and avoid screen strife): Have only one computer available in the evening, if possible, for the whole family, at a work station. When a child reaches high school, give them first dibs on it for nightly homework. In our house, this pecking order helped make it clear that our high schooler’s work trumped any other use of the computer, including my email and anyone’s recreational time. When Art and I could afford separate laptops, the family laptop was suddenly freed up more often, creating new battles over its use on school nights. If I had a do-over — and knew then that easy-access YouTube was headed to our living room couch — I’d save my money and go back to sharing one or two computers for a family of four at night at a work station. The inconvenience of sometimes having to wait in line for a computer would have been preferable to the much harder parental job of limiting screen time for its own sake.
- Save family harmony: Together, analyze how you use your space and what connects or separates your family. Kids are usually delighted to be consulted on decisions traditionally left to grown-ups, and they often hatch very doable plans for smarter use of space. Now that my kids are young adults, we negotiate everyone’s use of phones so that people can get their work done and plans made without being immersed in phones, especially when others want or need to connect.
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Mary DeMocker is the author of The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution. She is also cofounder and creative director of the Eugene, Oregon, chapter of 350.org. Her writing on conscious parenting and climate activism has appeared in The Sun, EcoWatch, Mothering.com, Spirituality & Health, Oregon Quarterly, The Oregonian, and ISLE (Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment), a quarterly journal published by Oxford University Press. She lives in Eugene, Oregon. Find out more about her and her work at www.MaryDeMocker.com.
Excerpted from the book The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution. Copyright © 2018 by Mary DeMocker.