One Easy Thing Parents Can Do to Show Kids They Care About the Planet
From deadly flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to destructive wildfires in California, a growing number of Americans face the consequences of climate change every day. But with the majority of people still thinking of climate change as a distant threat, two entrepreneurs want to remind Americans to consider the most important people in their lives: their children.
“We feel that if people were to think about climate change and the legacy they’re leaving for their children and grandchildren or other children in their lives that they care about, then they would be more willing to take action,” Jill Kubit, cofounder of online community DearTomorrow, told TakePart. “We can’t wait for everybody to actually be impacted before we take action.”
With DearTomorrow, Kubit and cofounder Trisha Shrum want to encourage Americans to consider climate change personally by appealing to their protective instincts. The organization asks parents and caregivers to write letters, create videos, or compose photo messages about climate change addressed directly to a family member.
The organization has collected more than 200 letters and photo memories on its website and on social media, all of which will be archived and revisited in 2030 and 2050. Some of the messages chronicle the state of the environment, while in others the writers make promises to their children, such as growing sustainable food, using public transportation, or upgrading to an energy-efficient home.
DearTomorrow won the judges’ choice award in the “Shifting Behaviors” category at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 2016 Climate CoLab. Kubit and Shrum and are in the running for a $10,000 prize and will present their project at MIT’s Crowds and Climate conference in September.
Although only 41 percent of Americans believe they will be personally harmed by climate change, 70 percent think future generations will be affected, according to a 2016 report from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Still, Kubit and Shrum found that “future generations” was too vague of a concept to encourage action. DearTomorrow makes the future less abstract by asking participants to put their children’s names on their letters.
“People really care—first and foremost—about their families and their children and their grandchildren,” Kubit said. Before cofounding DearTomorrow in 2015, she worked to institute climate-friendly policies in the workforce at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Even after a decade of working on environmental policy, she noticed a change in her perspective following the birth of her son.
“After I had my child in 2013, I started thinking a lot more about climate change through the lens of what’s his life going to look like,” Kubit said. “My child will basically be my age now in that year.... It makes the time frame in which we have to make these changes seem much shorter.”
Adults considering the legacy they will leave are more likely to donate money to conservation organizations, according to a survey published in Psychological Science last year. Feedback from DearTomorrow’s users supports that study: Participants reported making good on promises to consider their personal carbon footprint and vote for environmentally responsible leaders.
While individual participation is the core premise of DearTomorrow, Kubit hopes that activism will foster broader policy changes.
“It’s very important that we are pushing for changes on a much bigger societal level, and we’re talking about shifting to renewable energy, we’re supporting big infrastructure projects, more public transportation, better agriculture practices,” she said. “Those are much bigger than what individuals can do, but we can all participate.”