Hardly a day goes by without someone, somewhere, talking about climate change. Everyone has an opinion: It’s coming. It’s here. It’s not going to happen.
The prognosis, you’ve probably heard, is dire, according to some experts. The good news: There’s a lot you can do at home with your kid to learn about climate change and help save Mother Earth.
1. Raise your climate-change ranger’s awareness.
Set aside time to talk about climate change: what it is, why it’s a concern, and what it means for all life on the planet.
You don’t need a higher-ed degree. Just find the right moment—an extreme-weather day, for example. Then, make your point about global warming. Explain that for almost 150 years, humans have used fossil fuels (oil, coal, and gas) to power cars, trains, planes, and many other things we take for granted.
In an age-appropriate way, tell your child that fossil fuels are made from millions-of-years-old animal and plant remains—and add that burning those remains releases gases into the atmosphere. There, gases act like a blanket that traps heat above the earth’s surface, preventing the planet from cooling properly.
2. Reveal the whole smelly story.
Discuss the activities and events on Earth that are responsible for climate change. Talk about the human-induced greenhouse gases produced by our lifestyle choices. Note, too, that farm animals—cows, sheep, pigs, and more—play a role, too, when they release methane gas into the air while eating and digesting. Ew. We know, it’s gross but true!
3. Accept personal responsibility.
Remind your child that industrialized nations around the world also contribute to global warming. They cut down trees to clear land for other purposes, leaving Earth less able to reduce greenhouse gases through natural processes. This too, scientists say, is linked to the frequent heat waves, heavy precipitation, rising sea levels, threatened habitats, and the Arctic melting we see today.
4. Bestow power.
There are many things your child can do to fight climate change—if you support him. School-age kids love taking charge and helping. So, take advantage of this and show your child the big and small ways he can do his part.
Let your child track her own efforts to slow climate change. She can draw and decorate charts that follow her daily efforts to save the planet. She can award points to family members who use environmentally safe products, read labels, and change habits. Encourage her to set an example for younger sibs by turning off lights when not in use, taking quick showers, and ditching plastic cups for glass tumblers to avoid waste.
5. Devise a system.
Make each kid responsible for recycling and discarding his own refuse. Encourage your climate-change ranger to separate plastic, cans, and paper products at home. Assign tasks based on age to boost compliance. A six-year-old is perfectly capable of sorting and carrying six small items to the recycling bin; a 10-year-old can spend 10 minutes on an Earth-friendly project or chore. If you compost, great—let your child help you. If you don’t, learn what to do together.
6. Indulge their fashion sense.
Let kids search for cool clothes and accessories made from recycled materials and encourage them to wear or use them. Find pencils made from old newspapers or denim, backpacks made from used plastic bottles, and toys that come from milk jugs, to start.
7. Encourage e-shopping.
Seek out environmentally friendly, reusable totes for children. They’re totally cute and don’t tax landfills, where nonbiodegradable items harm creatures who get tangled up in them or eat them.
8. Ban the bottle, really.
Studies show Americans buy an astonishing 50 billion bottles of water a year. Less than a quarter of those bottles get recycled. That means that every year, nearly 38 billion water bottles go straight to landfill, increasing pollution and waste. Like plastic bags, these plastic bottles stick around and pollute the environment. Drink water but lose the disposable-water-bottle habit to help solve the problem.
9. Eat less meat.
Plan family meals that include more poultry, fish, fruits, legumes, and veggies, and let your kids find awesome ways to serve them. Burgers are yummy, but the livestock contributes global greenhouse-gas emissions—and most of those emissions come from livestock raised for red meat. If Americans cut beef consumption by a third, it would be like eliminating the tailpipe emissions from roughly 10 million cars each year.
10. Adopt a motto.
Let these three words become the family mantra: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Change your habits and you can change the world.