By Michelle Hudson
The List of Demands
It started with my older child, Vivienne. One day when she was in 5th grade, she declared out of the blue that she was a vegetarian for environmental reasons. Then she requested we no longer buy disposable plastics, hoping to become a “zero waste” household, which apparently meant that we could fill no more than a single glass mason jar with our total landfill waste each year! She even committed to buying all of her clothing second-hand because she considered fast fashion to be horribly unsustainable. Her environmental code of conduct was so strong that my son, Zach, started to follow suit.
All of this was a bit surprising at first. But, of course, kids see the signs of climate change all around, and they are not immune to the many scary news stories about climate change and its impacts.
Rather than sweeping my kids’ concerns aside, I was supportive. I was not (as of yet) vegetarian, but I cooked vegetarian meals for them. I tried my best to reduce my purchase of plastics and started to research sustainable products. Yet despite my efforts, my kids’ worries and demands did not subside.
My Own Growing Concerns
Meanwhile, I was feeling my own worries about climate change. Both my kids have asthma, and they suffer when the air quality is bad. During wildfire season, they have to stay indoors, with the air filters running full blast, to not feel really awful. As the incidence of wildfires has increased, I began to feel extremely worried about our changing climate, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
My feelings of helplessness grew until I tried the following google search: “What to do when you feel helpless about the environment.” That was when I first learned from the major news outlets that my kids and I, along with many other people, had a big case of “climate anxiety” or “eco-anxiety”.
If you’re not familiar, climate or eco-anxiety is described by the American Psychological Association as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” that Psychology Today notes is afflicting more and more people— especially young people. My children, I’d discovered, were part of this growing group.
Tackling the Anxiety: Lessons I’ve Learned
So what is the remedy for this climate anxiety that has been affecting my kids and me for years? The sources are all unanimous on this: Take Action!
Here are the actions I took to help tackle our family’s collective climate anxiety, and how I included my children. It’s important to note that climate change is a huge and global problem, and one thing that helped us get through the anxiety most was simply realizing we could have a much bigger impact on local climate solutions.
I educated myself, and then my kids. I learned about climate change from reputable, non-political sources. I was then able to talk to my kids about what I knew.
I connected my kids with nature. I taught my kids to be stewards of the environment by instilling in them a love of nature.
- We became native plant gardeners to support biodiversity, and have had so much fun with it! Native plants attract native birds, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators. Planting native also reduces the use of irrigation and harmful fertilizers, and helps sequester carbon. Websites and videos helped us along the way.
- We volunteer on native habitat restoration projects through local California Native Plant Society chapters (Yerba Buena and Santa Clara Valley), San Mateo County Parks, and Grassroots Ecology. All of our volunteer projects have been kid-friendly, fun and educational!
I took meaningful climate action that felt empowering, and was beneficial for my children’s health.
- I volunteer with a couple of environmental organizations that are focused on local level climate action, most often with the Sierra Club.
- I committed to electrifying our home - i.e., replacing our greenhouse gas-emitting gas water heater, furnace and stove with electric alternatives at the end of the useful life of the gas equipment, or earlier. I started with the easy step of purchasing an inexpensive portable induction cooktop to try out, and I love it! In addition to enjoying the many benefits of induction cooking, I’m thrilled to no longer be contributing to my children’s asthma by cooking with gas.
- I co-founded the San Mateo Climate Action Team. We are a group of San Mateo residents supporting local solutions to the climate crisis. My kids and I are active members of the Team who write letters to the City Council and speak up at City Council meetings in support of local climate action. We have received a really positive response from our local leaders, which has been a very empowering experience.
I keep it positive. The recent NYT article, "OK Doomer", explains it well: when it comes to taking climate action, everyone responds better to messages of optimism rather than doom and gloom. Here’s what I do:
- Shift the perspective. Whenever there is troubling climate news or my kids express climate worries, I tell my kids things like: “It was good that this news came out because this is important information for people to know”, and “Your actions are making a difference, and setting an example for others to follow.”
Until I started acting, and role-modeling climate action for my kids, they felt that I was placating them without really listening to them. Now, I am showing them that I have heard and agree with their concerns. My kids tell me that they are proud of me, and their climate anxiety seems to have calmed down significantly. We are taking action together that feels meaningful to us, and having a lot of fun at the same time.
Michelle Hudson is a mom of two, an attorney, and co-founder of the San Mateo Climate Action Team
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash