I’m not sure how this conversation started, but I do know how it ended. So maybe it’s best to start somewhere in the middle. All three of my kids (ages 12, 15, and 17) were a part of this particular conversation.
At some point –after the big math problem to determine if it was more environmentally friendly to get an ipad to use for drawing and math or to continue to use 5 sheets of paper per day…. don’t ask!– the conversation move around to my oldest daughter saying that a teacher of hers had told them that rising sea water wasn’t something to be concerned about because our town was not that close to the ocean so it wouldn’t flood.
“Oh”, I said, “so this brings up and interesting thing that people often fail to set up when they are talking about any environmental issue. You have to establish who you are including in your sphere of concern. If all someone is concerned about is themselves and those close to them (egocentric concern) they will have a different idea on what we should do compared to someone concerned with all people (social-altruistic concern) or everything alive (biosphereic concern).”
From there we talked about how sometimes people make value judgements about things like which species of animal is more important. Should we care for the feral cats at the expense of the birds they might kill? Or are the bird populations more important…
It was an interesting conversation…. but then I realized that emotions were starting to run high. I remembered productive conversations about climate with kids need to include: Acknowledgement of anxiety and emotions, provide hope, and consider future dimensions. So I asked the kids what do you want your future world to look like. They had some beautiful ideas for cities with parks and corridors where animals could live and people could see them, rooftop gardens and hanging gardens on building walls, and other land set aside to not be touched. We discussed places we have seen such building and architect designs similar to their ideas (we even looked at some pictures online). We talked about other ideas like towns that require large areas of conservation land and space between houses.
Then I pulled out my new favorite exercise for processing hard things about the state of the word. (This idea comes from the book Education in Times of Environmental Crisis by Ken Winograd.) I put a stone, a stick, a bowl, and a feather in the middle of the table. I told the kids the stone represents cold, hard fear, the sick represents anger, the empty bowl uncertainty, and the feather hope. We would take turns picking up one of the items and talking about some environmental issue and how it made up feel. As we went around the circle some picked up the stone, some the stick others the feather. I asked if anyone wanted to go a second time, they said no, but that they really did feel better after the exercise.
And of course, hugs help too.