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By Leigh Tayler


3 ways to empower your kids to fight climate change

Inaction is the best friend of anxiety, how do we empower our children to take action and fight against climate change so they do not feel powerless in the face of this massive issue?

In last week’s article How to talk to your child about climate change (without freaking them out), we looked at the “dos and don’ts” of explaining climate change to your little ones without giving them the mother-of-all panic attacks. Because let’s face it if climate change and the future of life on planet Earth is giving you heart palpitations, your child will not be immune. This is a big scary topic, that seems insurmountable, hopeless. And if adults feel powerless and small in the face of climate change, imagine how your smallies feel.

One of the biggest “Dos” was to “focus on the solutions, the success stories or ways to help – this will not only give your child hope, but it will also help them to see a role for themselves in changing the planet’s future”. The main reason this “do” is so important is that one of the best ways to overcome anxiety and the associated feeling of helplessness is action. Action gives you power, action counters the useless emotion of anxiety and worry. Action gives you a plan, and a plan gives you a purpose, and a purpose gives you hope.

This post will give you some ideas on how you and your child can take action. But before we get into it though, let’s recap the main causes and impacts of climate change.

  • Burning fossil fuels, biggest contributor to “greenhouse effect” are the burning of things like oil and gas
  • Farming, particularly beef and dairy farming due to all the farting and burping cows do
  •  Deforestation, forests absorb greenhouse gas and turn it into oxygen, essentially forests act as our planet’s air conditioner, so fewer forests mean more greenhouse gases, means a hotter planet – forests are being cut down for wood, palm oil and to clear the way for farmland, roads, oil mines and dams
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

With this in mind, what can be done?

1. Buy differently

Avoid palm oil – it is the biggest reasons for deforestation around the world –  and it is thousands of items from the biscuit you give your child with their tea to the soap you use to clean their bodies. Now I am not suggesting that your child never eat another biscuit or take another bath, but teach yourself and your child to look for products made with sustainable palm oil, which is grown without destroying rainforests and other vulnerable habitats.

To see which products to use, check out this article and this database.

Eat less meat – while many of us try to eat free-range or organic that will not help with climate change, the only way to help slow global warming is to eat less meat, because if there is less demand for meat, then there will be fewer cows being farmed, and less farting and burping. Afterall 1.5 billion cows release a lot of gas and eating more of a plant-based diet can fight climate change. Teach your children where their food comes from, teach them to respect the journey their food has taken and how to eat in ways that are conscious of their impact on the planet. We can no longer afford to be a race of consumers, blindly consuming without a care in the world, and the next generation is going to learn that the hard way, so start helping them adjust now.

Be mindful of what you buy and from who – many cleaning products, beauty care products, clothing items and so much more have ingredients that are not helping the fight against climate change. As an example, many facial scrubs contain microplastics and when we use these products the microplastics get washed down the drain into the water system, polluting our water.

Certain brands are not really worried about tomorrow, as much as they are just worried about the tills ringing today, so make sure when you buy you know what you are buying and who you are buying it from. Rather support brands that are as concerned about your child’s future as you are. And teach your children to know the difference too – choose brands that are endorsed by one or more (or all if you really want to be a goodie two shoes) of these global and local organisations.

Eco-labels and Green Stickers

2. Change your ways

The most obvious thing you need to teach your kids (and we all need to lead by example here folks), is STOP BEING WASTEFUL!

Stop wasting water. Some parts of the world may not have any water in the not so distant future, so switch off taps when brushing, don’t run an empty dishwasher, have shallow baths or 2min showers, keep a bucket in the shower to water flush your loo with, install greywater systems, these are just some of the ways to save water. For more tips click here, and here, and also here.

Stop wasting electricity. Apart from the fact that coal and gas is a finite resource, the impact on the planet and global warming through its mining, transportation, processing, burning, conversion, etc, is quite profound so one lamp left on unnecessarily is no small thing. So switch off lights when you leave the room, use your oven, stove, kettle sparingly, turn off phone chargers at the wall plug and don’t leave your TVs, stereos, computers on standby. This last one alone can cut your electricity use in your home by up to 10%! Take that Eishkom! For more tips click here, and here.

Stop wasting food. This seems like a no brainer in South Africa when we know there are a lot of families who do not know where their next meal will come from. But beyond the privilege of having food to waste. It has a real environmental implication as wasted food contributes to progress of climate change. Firstly, wasted food is not just a waste of one head of lettuce but a waste of all the resources used to produce and sell that head of lettuce – the water, soil, transportation, packaging, refrigeration and so forth. Secondly, wasted food that heads to landfill rots and produces methane—a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. About 11% of all the greenhouse gas emissions that come from the food system could be reduced if we stop wasting food. Take that Eishkom! For more tips click here, and here and here.

3. Activism

This is probably my favourite way to encourage kids to get involved, but that just might be my rebellious streak talking, because I think that our children deserve the right to have their voices heard. Not to mention when children feel the need to stand up to adults (something they have been trained their whole lives not to do) and discuss serious issues (not childish matters) they do tend to grab the attention of the world. Just look at Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg and what they have achieved as children.

So how can your children actively fight against climate change?

Write letters to politicians and other leaders

Start a petition to get support for something they want to change

Speak publically on a topic they have researched

Use social media to raise their voice

Start a club or join a club and set a goal they want their club to achieve

Join a protest – like School Strike for Climate

Start a protest of their own

So as you can see there are many many ways we as parents can empower our children to defuse their anxiety and worry over climate change by taking action and fighting against climate change and change the future for better.

Watch this video to see some more ways you kids can get involved.