Fatherhood Confronts Climate Change

Environmental journalist Mark Hertsgaard's “Hot” describes what life will be like for his daughter’s generation.
This post is 38 in the series: Sustainababy: Born to be Green
Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years On Earth

Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years On Earth

Editor’s note: This post, by Sightline blogger Anna Fahey originally appeared in YES! Magazine.

“Everyone who finally ‘gets it’ about climate change has an ‘Oh, shit’ moment,” Mark Hertsgaard observes in Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, “an instant when the pieces fall into place, the full implications of the science at last become clear, and you are left staring in horror at the monstrous situation humanity has created for itself.” I’ve had countless such moments. And for a climate policy nerd like me, Hertsgaard’s basic storyline is familiar—the climate impacts and the hopeful solutions. Arrogantly perhaps, I thought my eyes were as wide open as they could get. But two aspects of this book made it surprisingly cathartic for me.

First, Hertsgaard is writing as a father. As visions of the next 50 years come into focus and predicted events unfold, we’re reminded how old his little girl will be. Rising sea levels, drought, flooding, mass migrations, deadly heat waves, vulnerable food and water supplies—she’s 15, 30, 45. I hadn’t expected a wake-up call, but mapping impacts to my own one-year-old’s lifetime in the book’s margins, I allowed myself to acknowledge for the first time that climate change will define her life.

The second eye-opener is Hertsgaard’s focus on adaptation, a topic long forbidden in environmental circles as a signal of surrender. But coping efforts must now move forward as rapidly as mitigation to “manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable,” as Hertsgaard puts it. Particularly intriguing to me is the idea that tackling adaptation may prove to be a badly needed stepping stone—an engagement strategy—for those dragging their feet on mitigation.

There are lots of reasons mitigation efforts have stalled (the power of fossil fuel lobbies and the multimillion-dollar campaign aimed at discrediting the science of global warming come to mind). But we may also be hard-wired for foot-dragging. The human brain has trouble visualizing a future different from the past; fear shuts us down rather than stirring us to action; and we’re good at filtering information that conflicts with our worldview. Rather than changing our minds, piling on more scientific evidence actually risks further entrenching preconceived notions.

Adaptation charts a middle path. It takes a problem of atmospheric proportions and makes it local—and far more concrete. Focusing on the imperative to protect ourselves and our assets makes it easier to come to terms with the problem. Hertsgaard illustrates this with examples of governments—from cities on up—building infrastructure and developing policy designed for the reality of climate change.

Although it sometimes borders on cliché, Hertsgaard’s fatherly lens nonetheless gave me license to grapple with the emotional dimensions of global warming, fears that I’d kept well compartmentalized. Would someone outside sustainability policy circles feel the same way, I wondered? As I read, I ticked off the names of friends who should read this book—friends who know there’s a problem and who’d do anything to protect their kids, but for whom the appropriate response remains a mystery.

Climate change has arrived a century earlier than predicted. We can’t avoid it. Still, anger and despair, while appropriate, aren’t going to get us far. Taking action to avoid the worst, Hertsgaard argues, has now become “part of a parent’s job description, no less vital than tending to your child’s diet, health, or education.” But how? That’s the question that stops even the most informed and motivated among us.

Most of the book is devoted to successful actions being taken around the world to prepare for climate disruption (as well as some of the biggest failures to do so) and some time is spent outlining policy-level solutions and the opportunities they represent (a “Green Apollo Program,” a price on carbon in the form of a cap-and-­dividend policy, energy efficiency incentives, and investments in clean-energy technology). But only the final chapter touches on what an individual might actually start doing tomorrow, say. Get involved. Join the movement. Stand up against industry’s control over energy policy. Push for clean energy sources. Demand accountability from our lawmakers. Easier said than done, but easier to do than many might think. And time’s a-wasting.

One thing to do right now is to go online and check out Hertsgaard’s campaign to “throw the bums out” by naming and shaming elected officials he dubs climate cranks. It’s time to turn up the heat on policy makers at every level of government. Tell them your kids sent you!

Anna Fahey reviewed this book for Beyond Prisons, the Summer 2011 issue of YES! Magazine.

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  1. Alec Rawls says:

    The planet is cooling you fruitcakes. Average global temp. this year is so far about the same as 1980 (you know, before all that scary supposedly man-made global warming that followed the 50s – 70’s cooling):


    What it is going to be like for sons and daughters? COLD, now that the sun has gone quiet. You know, that big ball of nuclear fire that ACTUALLY controls our climate. How you luddites can think you are doing a good thing, unplugging the modern world just as the modern warm period comes to an end. You children will NOT thank you.

  2. NikFromNYC says:

    Bunch of sad fossil hippie freaks!

    The LA Times featured cold fusion in ’89 before its debunking. Greens were aghast!
    “It’s like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.” – Paul Ehrlich (mentor of John Cook of the SkepticalScience blog, author of “Climate Change Denial”)
    “Clean-burning, non-polluting, hydrogen-using bulldozers still could knock down trees or build housing developments on farmland.” – Paul Ciotti (LA Times)
    “It gives some people the false hope that there are no limits to growth and no environmental price to be paid by having unlimited sources of energy.” – Jeremy Rifkin (NY Times)
    “Many people assume that cheaper, more abundant energy will mean that mankind is better off, but there is no evidence for that.” – Laura Nader (sister of Ralph)

    CLIMATEGATE 101: “For your eyes only…Don’t leave stuff lying around on ftp sites – you never know who is trawling them. The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone….Tom Wigley has sent me a worried email when he heard about it – thought people could ask him for his model code. He has retired officially from UEA so he can hide behind that.” – Phil “Hide The Decline” Jones to Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann

    Here I present A Global Warming Digest:
    Denial: http://i.min.us/ibyADs.jpg
    Oceans: http://k.min.us/idAw6Y.gif
    NASA: http://i.min.us/idFxzI.jpg
    Thermometers: http://i.min.us/idAOoE.gif
    Earth: http://k.min.us/ibtB8G.gif
    Ice: http://k.min.us/ibBgw2.jpg
    Authority: http://k.min.us/iby6xe.gif
    Prophecy: http://i.min.us/idEHdo.jpg
    Psychopathy: http://i.min.us/ibubmk.jpg
    Icon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmPzLzj-3XY
    Thinker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n92YenWfz0Y

    -=NikFromNYC=- Ph.D. in Carbon Chemistry (Columbia/Harvard)

    P.S. In 1986 The Oxford Union debating society rejected “That the Doctrine of Creation is more valid than the Theory of Evolution” by 198 to 150.
    In 2010 they accepted “That this House would put economic growth before combating climate change” by 135 votes to 110.”

    Today’s view of this summer’s “ice free” Arctic is here: http://tinyurl.com/icefreearctic

  3. John Shade says:

    From my perspective, Hertsgaard is failing in his basic duty as an adult and a parent to seek to protect children from groundless fears. The level of alarm about CO2 is out of all proportion to the actual evidence that more of it has an appreciable impact on climate.

  4. myna lee johnstone says:

    my oldest daughter is now 41 yrs old
    when she was 1 and i was pushing her down the street in a stroller one day and stopped at a traffic light, i realized that all that toxic EXHAUST from all those automobiles was aimed straight for her little face and going into her LUNGS
    That is when I chose to move to the country and create an alternative community with others so that our children could live in a healthy environment with plenty of homegrown food and fresh air
    All these people arguing over whether or not global warming exists or whether or not Climate Change exists need to wakeup and smell the EXHAUST and hear the roar of traffic as well as count the dead and injured
    as well as the oil spills,gas leaks and other environmental disasters

  5. Rey Sunstrom says:

    Whether you’re expecting your first child or your kids are grown and on their own, being a dad is a new experience. When my wife was pregnant, we decided to have a homebirth. We hired a doula and two midwives. I won’t tell you how much it cost. According to them and other experts, labor was going to last 10-12 hours. My son had other plans. My wife’s labor was so short that the only other person in the room when he was born was – guess who? – me. After nine months of preparing to support my wife in the birth of my first child, there I was, with no medical training, serving as midwife, doula, and doctor. I fought off the strong desire to run out of the room as fast as possible. When I caught Joaquin, I experienced pure exhilaration and love. `..

    See ya soon

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