On Behalf of Their Children, Parents' Group Steps Up to Confront Generational Consequences of Climate Change

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Posted July 10, 2013

Interview with Mark Hertsgaard, journalist and author, conducted by Melinda Tuhus. This interview was previously broadcast in the program posted on July 11, 2012.


The year 2012 is on track to be the hottest in recorded history, while high temperatures and drought conditions have been linked to destructive forest fires and other natural disasters that are exactly the kinds of occurrences that climate scientists have predicted will come with global warming.

Yet, the June Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which commemorated the first Earth Summit held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, was widely criticized as a failure for producing an international agreement which lacks enforceable commitments to confront and reverse climate change.

Mark Hertsgaard, author of “Earth Odyssey,” reports on the environment for The Nation magazine, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and other publications. His newest book is titled, “Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth,” which he wrote for his daughter's generation. Hertsgaard says after his daughter Chiara was born seven years ago, he became even more adamant about addressing climate change and holding to account the political and business leaders who ignore the Earth's and its people's plight. In his book, he notes that climate change has arrived almost a century ahead of predictions. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Mark Hertsgaard about the worsening weather and environmental conditions connected with climate change and a new group he’s organizing called Climate Parents.

MARK HERTSGAARD: Yeah, we are living with climate change now. It's going to get worse simply because of the physical inertia of the climate system, the fact that carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for decades after it's emitted. So we've got a big job in front of us, there's no doubt. And meanwhile, we've got the president of the U.S. not saying a word about global warming, even though he knows very well what the science tells him. We don't see any real leadership coming from the national level, so I think, as always in history, it's going to rely on people from the bottom organizing together and forcing their leaders to do what's right. And that's something I'm getting started now with a group called Climate Parents -- we want to try to organize and mobilize parents around the climate issue because it – climate change – certainly endangers the thing we all hold most dear in our lives, and that's our kids.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Say more about Climate Parents.

MARK HERTSGAARD: Climate Parents is a new group that a number of us are just beginning now, and its agenda is simple: We think parents are the most under-organized constituency on climate change, which is quite bizarre when you think about what's at stake for our kids. And so what we want to do is give voice and political impact to parents across the country and across the partisan political spectrum. We don't believe that climate change should be a partisan political issue, because we think all parents want to have a safe and healthy future for their kids. But we also think that dealing with the climate issue now is part of your job description as a parent, just like providing your kid with proper food and clothing and shelter and health care and all those things, climate change and dealing with it is part of the job description of being a parent, because we now know that my daughter, Chiara, who's 7 years old – she and the rest of her generation – are now fated to spend the rest of their lives coping with what will be the hottest and most volatile climate in the 10,000 years of human civilization.

So you can think of today's young people as what I call Generation Hot, and we owe it to them, having put them in this predicament. We owe it them as their parents, their grandparents, aunts and uncles and anyone who cares about young people. We owe it to them to try and find the ways to let them cope with this problem successfully. And let's emphasize here, we know how to deal with climate change. We have the solutions; we know what to do technologically. It's all there – solar and wind power and geothermal and energy efficiency and all of the other solutions – I go into them in great depth in my book, "Hot."

The problem is the lack of political will and the fact that our government is under the control of very large business interests who profit from the current situation, you know, the oil companies, the coal companies, natural gas... It is remarkable, and bizarre, that our tax dollars are now being spent, in the billions, to subsidize ExxonMobil, the single richest, most profitable corporation in human history. We are subsidizing them to wreck the climate for our kids.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Mark Hertsgaard, so this is a group to apply political pressure on officials?

MARK HERTSGAARD: We do think that it does have to be political involvement. It's nice, and it's important as a first step, for a family to change their lifestyle choices and consumption patterns. So maybe you take mass transit more often than the car, or eat less meat and more vegetables, take the bicycle – there are a lot of personal lifestyle changes that you can make, and those are useful, but they are much, much less than what's necessary to solve this problem.

As long as we have this economic system, and rules of the road economically that essentially allow carbon dioxide pollution to be emitted for free, nobody pays a price for that, certainly not the corporations, or us the consumers. It's not incorporated into the price; indeed, as I said, we're subsidizing oil and coal and natural gas. As long as that's the case, we can't make much difference. We've got to change the main drivers of climate change, and those are the government policies and the business practices of today's world. We can do this; we know how to do this. It's a matter of changing the big political decisions, and that requires people to get involved in politics. I know, for some people, that's about as enticing a prospect as getting a root canal. But I just would remind you – especially if you're a parent or a grandparent – there are a lot of things we don't feel like doing, but we do them because they will make a difference for our kids.

Learn more about Climate Parents and the effects of climate change on weather and the environment at ClimateParents.org.

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