My daughter is turning thirteen. Tasked with the challenge of hosting a birthday party for a gang of tech-savvy, prematurely jaded teens, I contemplated my options: Ignore the elephant in the room (climate change) and seek out the latest chocolate coated thrill such as indoor skydiving, replete with made in China last minute birthday gifts from the mall? Or attempt the potentially contentious path of mixing old fashioned outdoor fun with a teaspoon of reality, (quietly) calling attention to just how precarious Mother Nature’s health is these days? With schools generally choosing not to address climate change, or to give it scant attention at best, I took a deep breath and decided to forge onward, into uncharted parenting. We live in urgent times – the Anthropocene.
How could a father be so cruel and out of touch as to inject gloom and doom into what should be a coming of age party? Well, first off, there’s no need to ever go down the gloom and doom path. As long as there is life, the possibility of joy, truth, love, peace, equanimity – is ever present in each moment. The key to facing any problem – particularly as a parent teaching healthy emotional and intellectual strategies for children – is empowerment. There Is Hope!
“Okay, but save your adult agenda for another time – not a birthday party” – I imagine some parent blasting me for daring to abuse the sacred rites of birthday parties with my political leanings. Why take away an opportunity for kids to immerse themselves in fun? What were you thinking?
I’m thinking about the denial our culture wraps itself in continually – from the engines of capitalism turning out endless piles of junk literally paid for with the lives of coal miners in China, smart phone factory workers in China, and sweatshop workers everywhere. I’m thinking about colonialism, racism, patriarchy which also drive climate change.* I’m thinking about the falling dominoes of runaway ecological tipping points now in motion. I’m thinking about the moral obligation we have as adults – both to speak truth regarding what previous generations have set in motion, and to prepare kids – physically, emotionally, and intellectually – for a radically changing world.
And there can still be fun, so please chill out a little bit if you are a parent of a girl at my daughter’s party and reading this. I’m not going to drop all the world’s problems on their conscience. Learning can be fun – it all depends upon the packaging. Fun – in my considerable experience – is all about being absorbed in the present moment. And while computer games, movies, amusement parks, and the latest consumer thrills prove that game makers and carnival managers have figured out what interests children, electronic-media excitement can have a short fuse. Nature and the planet as a whole are what actually sustains us.
So I decided upon a walk in the woods – a treasure hunt. The clues will be hidden near unusual natural features, requiring kids to stay alert to nature, and be in the moment – awakening their senses, not dulling them. The clues are pictures telling the kids what to search for. The verse is meant to inspire reflection. A few climate change facts are thrown in for possible discussion. Each child gets a turn finding a clue and reads the accompanying verse and climate change fact, and gets a complete copy to take home for later reflection. Maybe a parent at home will pick it up and run with it – or not.
Climate Change Treasure Hunt
Thirteen Years, an amazing journey
Future is yours, open for discovery
Look for clues in quiet places
Bald Eagle Path, walk 300 paces.
Earth’s climate has been relatively stable since the last Ice Age, allowing human civilization to flourish.
Magic in each moment
Friends all around
Mother Earth announces your appointment
Wander onwards, listening for a sound
However, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, humans began burning fossil fuels (oils and gases from dinosaur remains that died millions of years ago), releasing climate altering chemicals into the atmosphere. The chemicals trap heat in the atmosphere surrounding the planet, causing the earth to warm.
Change is the law of the universe
This world keeps flowing like a river
With the trees let your heart converse
Mother Earth – a perpetual giver.
As human population has multiplied, the amount of fossil fuel burning has increased dramatically and a few large corporations overly focused on profits, deny the effects of global warming (unpredictable weather such as heat waves, drought, stronger hurricanes, floods, fires, rising sea levels, etc.) at the expense of the welfare of the world.
7.4 billion people – a gigantic challenge
We need creative thinking and talents
As we enter a treacherous passage.
Here in the forest, the air is clean and fresh and healthy because trees and plants breathe in carbon chemicals and breathe out oxygen. Trees and forests are the lungs of the planet, cleaning our air and supporting diversity of life (called biodiversity), which Is an important factor of ecological health.
Beside deep water
Surf this planetary wave
Of a world getting hotter.
All over the worlds, forests are being cut down – for the wood so that people can build cooking fires in many places, to process the trees into lumber for houses, paper, and even disposable consumer products like chop sticks! Vast areas of forest are cleared by cattle ranchers in order to raise cows and other animals for human consumption.
The first step to understanding
Is gathering knowledge
Ask lots of questions
Don’t wait for college.
When forests are cleared, the soil releases stored carbons and methane into the atmosphere, increasing global warming. Methane is a very powerful climate warming chemical, into the atmosphere. Cows also release methane into the environment as a byproduct of digesting food (i.e. farting).
Kids see brilliant solutions too
Let your laughter ring
As you uncover what is true
Animal agriculture (raising cows and others animals for food), according to some sources, is responsible for up to 51% of all human caused greenhouse gases. Over reliance on traditional agriculture, including animals, results in poisoning of the lakes, rivers, and the ocean itself, creating large dead zones where nothing can live. Learn more about the problems with animal agriculture from the film, “Cowspiracy”.
Are you ready for some birthday treats?
Working together, everybody wins
With compassion and wisdom, life is ever sweet.
Someone once asked a Zen master to summarize the deepest truth of life in just a few words. He thought for a moment and said “things change.” Human survival has always depended upon our ability to adapt to change, but right now, climate change is happening with unprecedented rapidity, causing disruption to the habitat of many species (including mankind). Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi
Are the real treasures you see
Each moment a birth
May all beings be happy and free.
Time for vegan cake and ice cream!
*The problem with many organizations fighting climate change is that they do not address the root causes but instead apply band-aids to a broken political, economic and social culture. While recycling, driving hybrids, installing solar panels, and replacing energy intensive appliances are all important, these are not solutions. They do not change the inherent flaw that capitalism views the earth as a commodity to be exploited for profit. They also tend to ignore historical discrimination against women. For example, the job of mothering – the single most important task on the planet – is nowhere calculated into GDP. Women are devalued. Discrimination against women, including rape culture, mirrors our exploitative attitude towards the Earth – our original mother. Similarly, racism and colonialism also contribute to climate change in profound ways which can not be solved without deep system change. For example, first world countries are major consumers of energy and green house gases. However, the most severe effects of climate change are being felt in the developing world now. More discussion and acknowledgment of the intersectionality of oppressive institutions and their effects on climate change will be critical to the emergence of creative solutions.