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Taking the Kids: Continuing the discussion about climate change

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

The kids have got it right. "We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth," Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, angrily told the United Nations General Assembly in New York during the UN Climate Action Summit recently. "For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away?"

If young activists have anything to say, nations ignoring climate change is going to change. Millions of young people around the world skipped school in 150 countries on Sept. 20 to demand that governments do more to combat climate change -- now. The strikes were largely planned by teens. I saw a large group of them in Denver at the Capitol holding handmade signs. "Listen to the children!" one said.

A solid majority of American teenagers are convinced that humans are changing Earth's climate and believe that it will cause harm to them personally and to other members of their generation, according to a recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

This at the time the Trump administration increasingly moves to rescind environmental rules regarding clean water, emissions of methane, promotes drilling on public lands and moves to make it harder to protect endangered species. The New York Times reports there are now 84 environmental rules the Trump administration has worked to repeal -- half of them undercutting efforts by previous administrations to fight climate change.

Travel, of course, is a great educator on this issue. For example, when we were in Alaska this past summer -- an increasingly popular destination for multigenerational families -- photographs at destinations like the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau depict how much the glacier has receded in recent years. Young people I met in Antarctica said they convinced their parents to visit "before it is too late."

A lot closer to home, zoos, aquariums and science museums can also be excellent places to explore this important topic and start a dialog with kids -- even young ones -- about what they might do to be good environmental stewards. Point out to the kids what these institutions are doing to protect endangered animals, from rescuing injured animals to doing research on how to restore habitats and working to reduce plastic pollution.


Seventy-five percent of visitors come to the National Aquarium in Baltimore hoping to hear how they can take action to better their environment, says Megan Anderson, director of guest engagement.

But "for any age, but especially for kids, climate change is an overwhelming topic," Anderson acknowledges, That is why it is so important for parents to have conversations around positive solutions and work to get them excited about making those positive changes to better our environment.

Nor do adults have all the answers, Anderson said. Parents can suggest their family research together positive solutions. Small changes as simple as shorter showers or turning off lights and the AC when leaving a hotel room can make a difference.

"At every level, kids who take part in our programs, or who visit the New York aquarium on a school visit or with their families, are looking for ways to take action," said John Forrest Dublin, the president of the New York Aquarium and a vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society that also includes the Bronx Zoo and Central Park Zoo.


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