Late last year, a local middle-school teacher asked me to talk to her class about my work as a science journalist. When the appointed afternoon arrived, family scheduling conflicts required my young daughter to tag along.
“So I’m going to be talking to these kids about climate change,” I told her in the car. “You can stay in the classroom and listen, or we can find another place for you to hang out while I talk.”
She looked up from her book, one in a labyrinthine series about warring cat clans. “Another place to hang out,” she said, and returned to her reading.
My daughter is 9—9 and a half, she would tell you—and she’s curious about many things. She’s curious about dragons and hyenas, prime numbers and royal marriages. She’s curious about robots and religion and race and gender. She wants to know why kids can’t vote; she wants to know if there’s any news about the Mueller investigation.
She doesn’t want to know about climate change. Not from me, at least. Not yet.
Climate change has been part of my professional life for well over a decade, and part of my personal life for even longer. While I don’t have any illusions that climate change can be averted by individual actions alone, I spent 15 years living off the electrical grid, and for both financial and environmental reasons my family still lives relatively simply. My husband and I deliberated for years about whether to have a child at all, partly because parenting in an affluent society is, shall we say, a carbon-intensive activity, and partly because we knew that future generations will probably have to contend with the consequences of a severely disrupted climate. While my personal ambivalence about parenting is long gone, I understand it in others, and I still worry about what lies ahead for my daughter.