Dear Umbra,

What do you feel is the one issue of personal responsibility regarding the environment that people ignore the most?

Jackson, Tenn.

Dearest Vaughn,

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.


But what can you do? As I said the other time I touched this topic with a 10-foot pole, we don’t make childbearing choices based on politics. If we don’t want kids, we bolster that decision by patting ourselves on our environmentally aware backs. If we do want kids, we scoff at the notion that we would avoid creating life and happiness simply because kids will consume and pollute.

Teach your children well.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Photo: Vedrana Bosnjak.

Hopefully those of us who choose to have children can ameliorate the consequences through modeling good practices for the kids and for other parents. Children change your life, but you can work on leaving your conservation habits unchanged, or even improved. Example: Unless you live close to school and friends, kids need to be towed about in a car. Committed parents should consider relocating to minimize schlepping their offspring everywhere and contributing to carbon emissions. Another example: A veritable high tide of toys and gizmos (many of them electronic, and thus not insignificant in terms of their environmental impact) seem almost obligatory to modern childhood, but committed parents can explicitly disavow such needs. (For starters, read your tots The Lorax.)

I know this all probably sounds insane and naive to those raising kids, but we have a responsibility to be the change we want to see in the world (Gandhi, by the way). Parents can certainly walk the talk: Be clear and firm about avoiding car trips, about eating sustainably produced food, about eating less meat, about practicing home conservation habits, even when they’re inconvenient or uncool. Maybe it’ll annoy the kid, but someday, hopefully, it will come back around.

Friends of families also have a responsibility to encourage good habits and eschew ecologically stupid gift-giving and play dates. There are plenty of fun times to be had without adding to greenhouse-gas or plastic production, and no need to be rude or holier-than-thou about it.

There, I’ve fulfilled my obligation to mention this touchy subject pseudo-regularly. Go forth and ecologify.


Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.