Bananas, clementines, and string cheese decorated the table, alongside coloring pages and markers. As half a dozen kids took to the snacks and the nearby playpen, parents stuck name tags on their shirts then quickly fell into deep discussions of what they could do about the unsettling global catastrophe that poses a risk to their children’s well-being and kids everywhere: climate change.
It was the first “Climate Papa” playdate, held at the end of September under the high wooden ceiling of Stoup Brewing, uphill from downtown Seattle. The invitation suggested that the conversation, part of Pacific Northwest Climate Week, might cover “heat pumps and parenthood,” “home electrification and nap schedules,” and “batteries and bottles.” It inspired the attendance of about a dozen adults, divided roughly equally between moms and dads. Anyone was welcome to come to the meetup, provided they weren’t turned off by the labels in the invitation — climate grandpa, climate aunt, climate human.
Also present was the Climate Papa himself, otherwise known as Ben Eidelson. He currently advises climate tech startups and is raising money for Stepchange, a venture fund that invests in software products aimed at tackling climate change. His own startups have been acquired by Stripe and Google, and he spent years working as a product manager for both companies. Eidelson had claimed the domain climatepapa.com in May sort of as a joke, inspired by a group of concerned parents called Climate Dads. But his two children, 2 and 5 years old, don’t call him Dad. They call him Papa, a remnant of his wife Anna’s Russian heritage.
Soon enough, what had started in jest revealed itself to be a mission. Eidelson realized that his son and daughter were his real motivation for doing something about global warming. Climate Papa became a home for his newsletter and podcast, venturing from nerdy (methane removal and financial technology) to cutesy (interviewing a 7-year-old about climate change). It had sparked enough interest to merit an in-person playdate.
Eidelson makes the case that parenthood is often missing from how people in the tech world talk about climate change. “These things are not separate,” he told me across the table. “The more we separate them, the more we’re dismissing the inherent motivation people have.”
He pointed to groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, founded in 1980 by Candy Lightner, whose daughter had been killed by a drunk driver. Since then, the group has helped cut the number of drunk driving deaths in half — saving an estimated 400,000 lives — by raising awareness that such “accidents” were avoidable and working to pass roughly 1,000 local and national laws related to driving under the influence, playing a role in getting Congress to raise the national drinking age to 21 in 1981.
Moms have long been seen as a force in the climate movement — not necessarily a surprise, since women still tend to be the primary caregivers in the family, and are more likely to embrace environmental causes than men. While dads have been on board behind-the-scenes for a while, they’ve started getting more attention this year. The advocacy group Climate Dads, founded in 2018 by Ben Block and Jason Sandman in Philadelphia, got a wave of attention after a feature in Bloomberg in August. At least 800 dads around the country have joined. (The signup page says: “Interested in getting involved in our dadvocacy for the planet?”) Earlier this year, a poll from Heatmap News found that fathers were particularly amenable to taking public transportation or trying to eat less beef compared to the rest of the population, though the sample size was admittedly small, at around 1,000 people.
It’s widely known that young people are distressed about climate change — an international poll in 2021 found that 45 percent of teens and young adults say anxiety about the warming planet affects their daily lives and ability to function. Of course such concerns touch their parents too, sometimes prompting a twinge of guilt or fear for what the future holds for their children. They might imagine the prospect of their kids confronting them one day, asking them what they did to quell the climate crisis.
The conversation at Stoup Brewing leaned into the kinds of topics you’d expect from climate dads — heat pumps, e-bikes, artificial intelligence. Some at the meetup had recently been laid off from tech companies and were pondering a career path that included climate action.
Patrick Gold, the director of engineering at the nonprofit Climate Neutral, remarked how rare it was to find a work-related event he could take his daughter to, as his 13-month-old attempted to climb out of his arms and onto the wooden table, perhaps in search of something interesting, like a snack. Everyone here had two things in common, Gold remarked: climate change and babies. For him, that made it worth the drive from Federal Way, half an hour south of Seattle.
Mike Cozart, a father of two from Bainbridge Island, hadn’t thought of himself as a “climate dad” until a few months ago, when he decided to do something about climate change and found Climate Papa online. He thought the idea of the meetup made intuitive sense: Millennials, who have long been lumped into the “younger people who care about climate change” category, are older now, in their 30s and 40s, many with children.
After recently looking around for a new job, Cozart wasn’t finding roles that excited him. Thinking of his kids, he wanted to find something with a mission and a positive impact, but was having trouble figuring out the details of how to make that transition. “I think there are a number of folks that don’t think there’s a role for them,” he said. Climate change felt like a challenge for scientists or mechanical engineers, the producers of climate models and wind turbines, not for someone in software like him.
Part of Cozart’s inspiration was finding a guide to software in climate tech, co-written by Eidelson, which makes the case that software engineers are uniquely positioned to address climate change, even though most of them don’t realize it. The idea is that software touches everything, from transportation to groceries, and that innovations in design tools, accounting tools, and data can contribute to decarbonization.
“[E]very solar engineer needs a tool for designing custom solar systems,” they wrote. “What else is like this? EV charging infrastructure, utility grid design, commercial HVAC systems, battery storage systems, farm management, and so much more!” The guide has been viewed by more than 11,000 people since its publication in June, according to Eidelson.
Eidelson said that he would consider holding another Climate Papa playdate in Seattle — perhaps it could be a quarterly gathering, he suggested — and pondered the idea of trying to get similar meetups started in Portland or the Bay Area, run by his connections in those places.
Looking back at the event, Eidelson marveled at the fact that he got to talk about working on climate change with people at the same time as meeting their 2-year-old and watching their kids play together. “To me, it’s kind of a dream come true, to have people showing up as their full selves,” he said. “Like, you’re distracted by your kids, they need help peeling an orange, but we’re all in that mode all the time.”