How do you tackle difficult topics with kids?

If something’s boring, scary – or unthinkable – should we just move the conversation on for the sake of the kids? A look through two new books Naomi Klein’s authoritative This Changes Everything (Penguin, £20) and After Sustainability: denial, hope, retrieval by John Foster (Earthscan/Routledge, £29.99, cheaper on kindle) gets Nicola Baird thinking about children and climate change. More work at http://www.nicolabaird.com

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Self-sufficiency practice on a day out in Kent. Here the kids get the bonfire going after three hours spent pruning fruit trees.

My friend Pascal is just about to leave for a job in the US. He’s really excited about this change – and a good thing too as his new job means his wife and their 10 and 12 year old will be also be starting afresh with new schools, friends and country.

We were talking about the climate changing, so when Pascal said he dreamt about building an energy-efficient house with a bit of land another friend joked that he’d need to add a safe room to see out the climate Apocalypse. Turned out Pascal didn’t plan to do that because he’d already imagined it while growing up in Switzerland in a house which came with it’s own nuclear shelter. “What kind of life would you have living in a box room, hiding from everything?”

I’m guessing his point is bigger – it’s not just that we can’t hide; it’s an understanding that we have to engage with what’s going on. And if government – or business – won’t then civil society must. Perhaps this is why so many people have recently been joining the Green Party that membership has increased by 45% during 2014.

downloadBig idea
A crop of new books, including Naomi Klein’s much talked about in business circles, This Changes Everything: capitalism v climate change and philosophy lecturer John Foster’s After Sustainability, make it clear that as the world’s resources dwindle the world’s going to become a more tempestuous place.

Klein anticipates the end of traditional politics as hyper localism grows. She charts the lightning-quick spread of networks of local resistance particularly to new oil drilling, fracking and shale gas extracting. (Also introducing me to the word Blockadia “not a specific location on a map but rather a roving transnational conflict zone that is cropping up with increasing fequency and intensity wherever extractive projects are attempting to dig and drill, whether for open-pit mines, or gas fracking, or tar sands oil pipelines…”). Klein points out this is happening because the oil companies are aggressively looking for new supplies and as a result the people who are resisting are no longer single-issue campaigners, they are people that “look like everyone else: the local shop owner, the university professors, the high school students, the grandmothers”.

Here's a rock off Savo, Solomon Islands that tells a story of sea level change.

Here’s a rock off Savo, Solomon Islands that tells a story of sea level change in the South Pacific. That rock underwater used to be in a thriving vegetable garden, used as a boundary marker. Sea level rise means less land can be used for crops on this volcanic island.

Taking this idea several steps further Foster in After Sustainability argues that areas which can support human life need to be ring-fenced. You’re either in or you’re out. But most people would be out as Foster argues that for a handful to survive plenty have to, well, die. He puts it more palatably as “not everyone has an equal right to life” when climate disasters force populations to migrate towards areas that simply cannot support a deluge of people.

In my worst nightmares of what might happen due to sea level rise causing so many people in the Pacific Islands, Bangladesh, Norfolk to be made homeless I’d imagined offering a kind of benign B&B for climate migrants. I thought we’d fill our home with climate refugees. I realise I’ve been kidding myself, it won’t be a happy house party on the borders of the worst affected areas. And rather worse as a thought – there just isn’t a safe place to run.

Klein and Foster have very different approaches but their books made me think about my own planning. Is our house safe from even the most basic societal breakdown? The answer is absolutely not. If the toaster fuses the house’s electrics or the wi-fi hiccups there’s meltdown at home. Homework can’t be finished; deadlines can’t be met; a hunger that cannot be sated by a packet of biscuits causes temper tantrums. I haven’t yet worked out how we could deal with no running water. But I know crossing my fingers isn’t good enough. It’s time to make far more fuss about the future.

To do that we need to skill up, talk honestly about the climate change problem, and start getting off the consumer treadmill.

Which book to buy?
Sometimes my teenage daughter howls melodramatically: “What’s the point? We’re all going to die!” But we always were facing the big D. That’s never stopped people having children. So for those of us already with children we need to think up what would make us more resilient. A good starting point would be another book, Don’t Even Think About It by George Marshall (Bloomsbury, £20) which with wit and authority finds ways to get us to do exactly that – think about the unthinkable 4 degree C rise in global temperature.

Definitely read Klein’s book too. The chapter comparing her own struggle to conceive and the decline of our planet’s fertility is amazing – with strong debts to the biologist and writer, Sandra Steingraber. But for the sake of your health avoid John Foster’s book. That way leads despair.

Over to you?
How are you dealing with this challenge? Are we still blog friends?

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