It feels like there's an endless list of things that parents need to do... all the daily stuff like meals and getting ready for school, and then there's the bigger stuff like making sure that your kids are nice to others and can cope with negative feelings. Have you ever wondered if talking to your kids about climate change is another thing we need to add to the list? As a parent, only you can make the decision about when you think it's appropriate to introduce the topic to your kids, but once you've made that decision, how do you talk about it? Where do you even begin, and what's age appropriate? Stick with us for a guide on how to talk to your kids about climate change and a list of the best resources for each age group.

Why Talk about Climate Change

According to the latest IPCC climate change report (1), the effects of climate change are already here. Even if we make drastic changes to our carbon emissions now, climate change will have negative impacts over the next several decades. Many families might already be feeling the impacts of climate change (fire season, hurricane season, and all the rest), and talking about climate change will help kids process what they are already experiencing. And for many other parents, they might want to introduce the topic before their kids hear about it from friends, at school, or in the media or news. Whenever you decide that you want to bring up the topic of climate change, it's important to try to explain the facts and remember that this is probably going to be an ongoing discussion and not just one conversation.

Age Appropriate Answers to the Question: "What is Climate Change?"

Our kids absorb much more than we often are aware of. They're basically little sponges! Even thought it may seem like kids wouldn't understand the nuanced details about something as complex as climate change, kids generally get a lot out of these conversations.

Our first tip is to stick to age appropriate facts with as little jargon as possible. If you don't know where to start, we drafted these sample scripts for different age groups that you can use below. You can alter the sample scripts below to your child's interest, level of understanding and curiosity, and add or subtract other concepts you'd like to introduce.

Ages 2-4: Just like we depend on the Earth for food and water, the way that we treat the Earth also matters. We are all connected. Some things that humans do can even cause the Earth to heat up. We call that climate change. Scientists are learning so much about it and what we can do to be nice to the Earth.

Ages 5-7: People's activities, like driving cars that use gasoline, or burning coal for energy to heat buildings, increase something called greenhouse gases in the sky. These act like a warm blanket between our planet and space. Over time scientists have shown that it is leading to the Earth's temperature getting warmer. This matters because the temperature affects our oceans, land, air, plants, animals, and humans. We all have an effect on one another. We can all make better choices to help take care of our earth by using less fossil fuels and by using only what we need.

Ages 8-12: The Earth's climate is warming up and scientists know that human activities that use fossil fuels like gasoline for cars or burning coal to heat our homes is contributing to climate change. When these fossil fuels are burned they create greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane that trap in heat from the sun and create a sort of blanket around our earth, making it warmer. Scientists believe that these warmer temperatures are contributing to more bad weather, which can affect our crops, businesses, health, water resources, and wildlife. People can make better choices to help take care of our Earth by using less fossil fuels and by conserving or using only what we need.

Ages 13+: The Earth's climate changes over time. Sometimes it's hotter to times and it's colder. But changes from natural causes are usually gradual. Some human activities, like burning fossil fuels like gasoline and coal, are speeding things up. Burning fossil fuels increases greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which trap more heat. As a result, the global climate is becoming warmer. Scientists believe that with global warming, we can expect more bad weather, like hurricanes, wildfires, drought, and floods. These bad weather patterns can affect our crops, economy, health, water resources, and wildlife. We can all work together, as a family and as a community to make better choices and decisions to fight climate change.

How To Continue the Conversation

After the initial explanation of what climate change is, there are several ways to continue the conversation. One of the first follow up conversations should focus on local impacts to make it relevant to your lives. Try something like, "Do you remember how there were some days where it was really really hot this summer that it was almost too hot to go outside?" or "Can you remember the last time it rained?"

The second way to continue the conversation is by spending time as a family outside. You don't have to go far! Even on a walk around the block, you can spend time noticing insects, plants, and the weather. Spending time outside with your kids and engaging their natural curiosity is a great way to learn about your local ecosystem. It is also a great way to learn about how people are dependent on nature and in turn, how people impact the environment. By cultivating a love of being outdoors in nature, it gives your kids a greater reason to want to take care of their environment.

Another important way to continue the conversation on climate change is to put the focus on people. It's very easy to talk about polar bears and other far off places, but it's just as important to start exploring concepts of equity and justice. The impacts of climate change exacerbate existing health and social inequities, so low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected (2). Putting the focus on people, friends, communities, and our interconnectedness is a great lens for inspiring much needed action.

Lastly, it's important to find a support network to help continue the conversation. This can be friends and other family members, neighbors, a community group, or your schools. Whether it's a nature walk with friends or learning how to compost with your neighbors, getting your kids involved is a great way to increase their understanding about climate change. You can also look up local and state environmental groups and get involved locally. This is a great way to find other families with similar interests. And lastly, ask your schools about how they integrate climate change into their curriculum. There are a lot of resources listed below that you can forward to your kids' educators.

Resources for How to Talk to Your Kids about Climate Change


References

  1. https://www.ipcc.ch/assessment-report/ar6/
  2. https://www.apha.org/-/media/files/pdf/topics/clim...
Life

How to Talk to Friends and Family About Climate Change

One of the best things you can do to make a real impact

Even though we're all hyper-aware climate change is happening and of the dangers it poses, it's usually the last thing we want to talk about. Some of the time, a conversation about climate change can feel like an uphill battle about a polarizing topic. But most of the time, it just isn't a fun conversation to have. We'd much rather discuss fun birthday parties, travel plans, or the latest show we binge watched!

But according to scientists, one of the best things you can do to combat climate change is to talk about it (1), which is why we put together a guide of helpful resources on how to talk to friends and family (and even a separate guide for kids!) about climate change. These tips and tricks will help make talking about climate change so much easier.

Why we need to talk about it

Even though climate change is a serious international problem, there seems to be a disconnect between knowing about climate change and talking about it. In fact, even though about 71% of adults in America believe global warming is happening and that it will harm future generations, 64% of the same adults rarely discuss it (1). What's worse, only 25% hear about global warming from a media outlet at least once a week. If we're basically all worried about it, why aren't we talking about it more?! Staying silent about a major issue like climate change, makes it easier to pretend the problem won't impact us as individuals. But if everyone is suddenly talking about climate change, it makes it impossible to ignore. Just take a look at Greta Thunberg- what started as her own school strike turned into a global movement with a huge impact. Just by talking about climate change, Greta made the issue impossible to ignore and inspired countless others to advocate and help put pressure on politicians to create real climate change mitigation policies. That's why we think it's so important to continue to discuss climate change; one small conversation can help create meaningful change.

Tips and Tricks

We know that climate change isn't always the easier subject to talk about, which is how our tips and resources come in. And don't forget- practice makes perfect!

1. Lead with personal impacts

When someone is a climate change skeptic or just not interested in the topic, it's often better to have a conversation about the personal impacts of climate change rather than scientific facts or abstract concepts. Personal examples of how climate change is impacting someone's life like "we've been seeing more ticks this summer, which means more bites and more potential for vector-borne illnesses" or ""wildfires went from once in a while to a constant threat every year. We might move. What about you?" can be much more persuasive than melting icebergs thousands of miles away. Personal anecdotes show that issues caused by climate change are real, local, and are already impacting their lives.

2. It's a conversation, not a lecture

When having a conversation about climate change, it's just as important to listen to the other person's thoughts and opinions as it is to discuss your own. A big part of climate change education is understanding where someone is coming from so you can educate without offending core values of beliefs. And even if someone has dramatically different views than your own, you can always try to connect over shared values. Things like nature, outdoor recreation, and wanting a good world for your children are appreciated and wanted by almost everyone. Connecting with shared values like these can drive home the personal impact climate change can have on our daily lives.

3. Keep Trying

Let's be real, you probably won't change someone's mind on climate change after just one conversation. That's why it's so important to continue the conversation about climate change whenever you can. Every conversation can help move the needle forward and change someone's mind about climate change. Persistence is key!

Climate Change Communications Resources

Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2020

"These maps show how Americans' climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy support vary at the state, congressional district, metro area, and county levels."

What is Climate Change Communication?

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication is an excellent resource for recent studies and news articles about climate change.

The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it

This TED Talk by Katharine Hayhoe gives a great overview of why climate change can be a polarizing topic, and how to lead a successful conversation with someone whose views differ from yours.

How Do We Talk About Climate Change? – Speaking of STEM

Rutgers University gives a brief overview of climate change communications and how to go beyond politics while discussing the topic

Speaking of Climate Change | Harvard Public Health Magazine | Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

C-Change Conversations, whose mission is to discuss climate change with moderate and conservative audiences by meeting them where they are, gives expert advice on how to talk about climate change with someone who has opposing viewpoints.

Persuading Conservatives — Climate Chat

Even though it feels like it shouldn't be a polarizing issue (it's just science, after all), your views towards climate change often align with your politics. Check out this helpful resource for tips on discussing climate change with conservatives.


References

  1. https://www.pnas.org/content/116/30/14804
  2. https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/
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