Global Warming & Kids

On Sunday, a NYT review of Mark Hertsgaard’s new book on global warming began this way:

I haven’t had the talk yet with my kids: my 11-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. I mean the one about global warming, about what’s coming. But then, we grown-ups haven’t had the talk yet among ourselves. Not really. We don’t seem to know how: the topic is apparently too big and scary. Or perhaps, for the uninformed (or misinformed), not scary enough.

There is no reason to have “the talk.” My six year old came home from school yesterday and promptly informed me that he learned about global warming. (Fortunately, they didn’t see fit to scare him senseless.) Several years before that, while still in preschool, he proclaimed one day that I had to stop driving our car because the teachers said that cars caused pollution, which killed animals.

I also send him to a weekly after school science class (and science camp in the summers), where he sometimes learns about the environment and various threats to wildlife.

I don’t have a problem with any of the aforementioned teachings, since I’m of the mind that budding awareness (put in proper perspective at such a tender age) is preferred to ignorance.  Of course, my wife and I balance all this gloomy stuff with celebratory nature walks and hikes, vacations in national parks, and so on. (We even had his 5th birthday party take place in an urban nature sanctuary.) A certifiable bug nut, the boy has a thing for worms and ladybugs. That’s the way it should be. I want him to marvel at an ant colony without worrying unduly about what life may be like in 2025.

My job as a parent (among the many!) is to keep stoking his curiosity and exposing him to nature’s wild side, while placing all those larger concerns he brings home from school in a context that doesn’t make him neurotic with fear for the future.

27 Responses to “Global Warming & Kids”

  1. PDA says:

    Interesting. Did you read past the first two sentences? It seems the book has an extensive section on adaptation, something you’ve often complained has been missing in climate reporting.
    “All the stories are sobering, but many are also surprisingly hopeful” doesn’t lead one to think that this is an example of the doom-and-gloom narrative you often decry or that Wen Stephenson is making his kids ‘neurotic with fear.’  Stephenson closes by advocating “an honest, urgent, grown-up national conversation,” but sadly this seems increasingly unlikely when so many people tune out after reading the first few words of an article on this subject.

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    Of course I did. And I even thought about highlighting that passage about adaptation, but as you’ve probably noticed, I tend not to play the point-scoring game when I come across something that supports an argument I may have made in my blog.

    You should stop endlessly reading into whatever I may highlight from a particular post, article, or whatever. A riff is a riff is a riff. And this post is a riff on something the reviewer wrote; the post is not a judgment on the book or even the rest of the review.

    Why do you persist on causing yourself such angst over what I write?

  3. JD Ohio says:

    A talk on global warming with a youngster is a total waste of time.  No one can predict that far into the future.  I have a 9-year-old boy, and I am trying to decide how to channel his curiosity into competitiveness and make sure that when he encounters obstacles he strives to overcome instead of taking the easy way out.  Parents can help their children with character and learning skills.  Parents can do very little to prepare their children for specific scenarios far into the future.

  4. PDA says:

    There is no “angst.” You made a blog post. This is a comment to that blog post. I am responding to what you wrote. My understanding is that this is the purpose of comments on blog posts. If responses trouble you, turn off comments… or if my responses trouble you, ban me, or at least ask me to desist. I’m not trying to be unpleasant for its own sake; I seldom make a comment on any blog just to agree.
    If you just saw the words “global warming” and “kids” juxtaposed in an article and it motivated you to write a freestanding post about global warming and kids, well and good. It did, however, seem reasonable to assume that there might be some connection between the post and the article you linked above. My apologies for the error.

  5. It is a certainly dilemma.
    Bottom line though, I think the reviewer touches on what we eventually owe to our children when he says of of Hertsgaard: “to his credit (he) refuses to sugarcoat these facts.”
    Maybe not for five- and six-year-olds, but we certainly owe it to them by the time they are 10 or 11 to understand not just the natural world around them, but how it is changing and what our role – if any – is in these changes. Even on the celebratory nature walks and hikes you are taking, odds are there are far fewer birds, bees, butterflies, amphibians for your son to marvel at. Much of this has occurred during your/my/our lifetimes.
    If we aren’t forthcoming on this, there is risk of drifting into the shifting baseline spiral, and also of deflecting/minimizing our responsibilities. Do we take our kids fishing, or do we also document what fishing was like when we were their age?
    I’m gonna kinda bet that you aren’t going to disagree that we owe this to them. You reference your job to provide both to stroke curiousity AND provide a “larger context”.
    How to do that in a non-threatening manner? Don’t entirely know. But if climate change is part of that larger context, there is no reason not to provide it candidly.
    By the way, one factoid I found quite fascinating in Hertsgaard’s book: John Schellnhuber has a young son, no more than 3 years old now.

  6. Steven Sullivan says:

    I’m getting pretty good at this!  When I read the review on Sunday, I bet myself you’d start a thread on it, calling out Hertgaard over that very paragraph.
    I figured you’d balance that with at least a mention of the adaptationist content of the review, though.  Room for improvement in my skills, I guess.  I’ll have to keep in mind that you aren’t interested in scoring points *for* yourself, as much as *against* ‘alarmists’.

  7. Keith Kloor says:

    I’m calling out Hertsgaard?

    Room for improvement might also be reading comprehension.

  8. Keith Kloor says:


    One of the points of my post is that kids are already getting “the talk” in schools.

    As for “odds are there are far fewer birds, bees, butterflies, amphibians for your son to marvel at…” Well that also depends where, right? And I might also throw into the mix 1)exotic species, 2) landuse changes, etc, right?

    But the next time we’re in the Florida Keys, yeah, I’d probably add climate change to the multitude of factors degrading wildlife habitat.

  9. I remember, as a child, the nuclear arms race and the “three minutes to midnight” on the nuclear war clock of doom, the “WHEN the wind blows..” and perpetual sense that, no matter how great life might seem, it could all just end with four short minutes notice.
    I was glad when the wall came down and all that was over. The sense of relief was palpable, particularly for those of us living in the “European theatre”. I was relieved that our kids were not going to grow up under the constant, incessant, miserably depressing threat of global destruction.
    So I find it sad to see that the imminent threat of destruction, the fear of “surviving” the obliteration and the generally bleak outlook of life on this planet has been resurrected. And I find it particularly sad that the very tangible and imminent threat of a nuclear winter has been supplanted by what is in truth a completely intangible, apocalyptic, drought-ridden (and/or frozen) worst-case-presented-as-inevitable future.
    When I was a kid, parents had a lot of names for the older kids that used to deliberately scare their siblings with gory stories of headless horseback riders in the woods near our home, or that would describe in graphic detail how post-apocalyptic exposure to nuclear radiation would strip the skin off the bones of the living. None of those names were complimentary.
    It doesn’t matter to me whether the purpose is for fun, as teens are wont to have, or for control as governments and lobby NGOs are wont to retain, there is something truly sadistic about fearmongery of this kind that I find inherently insidious. I yearn for a return to that fleeting moment in the 80s when we were freed from such cruel influence.

  10. See, this is what is so frustrating about this blog. I didn’t say that the decline in fish size catch in the Keys was down to climate change. It was about not keeping the larger-contex facts about global change from our kids.
    But it seems to get spun that since I didn’t draw a direct causative line from climate change to trophy fish size decline (which I didn’t), then we really needn’t include climate change in those global change discussions with our kids.
    Or maybe I am misreading the “But the next time we’re in the Florida Keys, yeah, I’d probably add climate change to the multitude of factors degrading wildlife habitat.” I don’t think I am.
    Climate change shouldn’t get a “talk” anymore than other issues like invasive species, land use change, acidification, etc. Nor should it get any less.

  11. Sashka says:

    one day that I had to stop driving our car because the teachers said that cars caused pollution, which killed animals.
    You really have no problem with that?

  12. Keith Kloor says:


    That was the 4-year old interpretation. I suspect that the teachers didn’t quite put it that way. Hence the need for context…


    You made a general statement about the decline of species due to climate change. I’m merely saying it’s location-specific, and likely to be felt harder in some regions other than others. So I used a low-lying area to make my point. And on this blog I’ve previously discussed how some of these location-specific climate change-related impacts are (see here and here) are already being observed.

  13. Keith Kloor says:

    Also, I didn’t mention anything about trophy fish (and I don’t fish, either) when I mentioned the keys.

  14. Nosmo says:

    Speaking of scaring children in school,  there is a wonderful scene in “Where The Wild Things Are”, where the teacher talks about the sun burning out.  One of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.  It really expands the story, going beyond the book while remaining true to it.  Not to be missed.

  15. Tom C says:

    Mr. Kloor –

    Kudos on your parenting style.  Don’t hire Romm to babysit.

  16. Sashka says:

    I have very low confidence in science teachers. Even less in pre-K teachers.

  17. Keith Kloor says:

    Every science teacher is different. The one my son goes to is awesome because 1) he’s hilarious and and 2) he makes science fun to little kids.

  18. Barry Woods says:

    my 5 year old came home from school saying polar bears are dying because of humans.. and she went round the house turing off lights, because of CO2.

    She was voted into the Eco team (and I’m very proud of her)

    On the Eco team wall drawings of polar bears, and CO2 ‘poluution’

    I’ll put the picture on my site one day.

    My childrens infants and junior school were also fully signed up to 10:10.

    one minute 12 seconds of a ceratin video, and the headtecher put a stop to that.. She was looking very unhappy about it, BEFORE the button came out.

  19. David44 says:

    You don’t fish?!  Why the heck not?  If every kid got introduced to fly fishing early (preferably Catch-and-Release using single barbless hooks) , we would have many more children knowledgeable about the beauty, wonders, and interrelationships of the natural world, and the importance of conservation, unpolluted rivers and riparian habitats.
    And to think he’s a bug nut, too!  Mind you, I’m not saying that this the only way to introduce kids to nature, but it’s a great one.

  20. Keith Kloor says:

    I’m not a birder, either. Yet I worked for most of the 2000s as an editor at Audubon magazine. Go figure.

  21. Jack Hughes says:

    If you really really believed this apocalyptic nonsense then you would not even have children.

  22. kdk33 says:

    “But then, we grown-ups haven’t had the talk yet among ourselves”

    Oh, please.

    Global warming has an academy award winning movie, a nobel prize, a dedicated section on the Wall Street Journal webpage, an intergovernmental panal, a NASA funded propaganda site…  Cap and trade passed the US House and was 2 or 3 (thereabouts) senators from becoming the law of the land.  Decarbonization is underway in parts of Europe.  Republicans are even now scheming to thwart the EPA.  Clean energy was central to POTUS recent SOTU addreass.

    The conversation has been had.  And had, and had, and had.  And had some more.

  23. Steven Sullivan says:

    Sashka Says:
    “I have very low confidence in science teachers”
    If the link below to be believed, there’s at least a 1 in 8 chance that a high school biology teacher is incompetent to teach the subject.

  24. Steven Sullivan says:

    #7 KK
    “I’m calling out Hertsgaard?”
    Not literally. ‘Taking him to task’.  Better?

  25. Keith Kloor says:

    No. Maybe you were speed reading. The post plays off the reviewer’s passage, not anything from Hertsgaard’s book.

  26. Steven Sullivan says:


  27. “That was the 4-year old interpretation. I suspect that the teachers didn’t quite put it that way. Hence the need for context”¦”

    You have no issue with this subject being broached by a kindergarten teacher?

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