Just because it’s raining today doesn’t mean climate change is not real (and other facts I learned from kids TV).
A lot of what I have learned recently about the planet, I have learned from children’s TV and videos.
I have learned about recycling from Storybots. I have explored the world again through Our Planet. Like any parent I am constantly answering questions through online videos.
Every time, I feel the same stab of embarrassment. I thought I knew about all this stuff, but it turns out that in lots of ways, I don’t know anything at all.
I don’t remember learning about the philosophy of reduction and reuse, in other words the other two arrows on the recycling symbol. I just thought that putting three arrows on the symbol made it a nice design.
I don’t remember anyone telling me that urbanisation and industrial agriculture had a direct and dramatic impact on species that I loved.
I’m not in any way blaming our educational systems. I just don’t think that I was listening or watching. I don’t think I sensed the urgency. I didn’t see the world in the same way as the generation of younger children who are growing up in our world.
We were not as connected by technology as we are now and so I couldn’t feel what was going on elsewhere as we can now. Extreme weather, floods, industrial deforestation — happened via grainy pictures on the TV. Famine happened in newspaper articles or photographs in the National Geographic magazine. They seemed far away, and someone else’s problem.
But now we see.
We see, and I can see how far behind I have been in my knowledge of the planet. Now I can go back to basics, thanks to our children. I can learn about the planet is a new way, through resources that exist now online.
Even climate change, is something I don’t remember studying. It means that I get easily lost in scientific definitions. I don’t know how to interpret grams and tonnes of carbon dioxide are. IU don’t know what zero or net-zero means.
The good thing about going back to basics, also allows facts to win. It removes emotion. Learning again from scratch, is an excuse to look past this complicated data. We can forget about blame or the weaponisation of information.
We can focus on facts, and what we can do to slowly and persistently change our human behaviours to help the planet.
These are good places to learn from the very basic level what climate change is, and how it works.
This is what I have learned.
The first thing that climate change is not the same as weather. Weather is what is happening wherever you are, right now. For example, whether it is raining or sunny right now, is the weather.
So if it is raining today, it doesn’t mean climate change isn’t real. Climate change is about longer term trends, and the average changes in conditions over many years. And right now, the long term trend is that the world is heating up, and heating up quicker than we would expect. The climate is always changing, but the speed this is happening to us is important.
I also now understand more about greenhouse gases, which is big news for me. I always knew that the sun warmed the planet, and that some of this heat escaped back into space. But now I know that some stays in our atmosphere thanks to certain gases that act as a kind of blanket for the earth. Making sure that enough warmth from the sun did not escape back into space for us to exist.
The leap I have made about greenhouse gases, is the next bit. It is the difference between the natural process and how it is impacted by things that humans do. I’ve never been able to get my head around the cause and effect of the increase of greenhouse gases.
What I now understand is that human activities are increasing these greenhouse gases, and keeping more heat in. Burning fuels to power factories and cars, commoditised agriculture or decaying landfills, releases greenhouse gases. Trees and oceanscan help by absorbing carbon dioxide to keep this balance of heat. This is why deforestation is a big issue as it means we are removing one of the ways the planet regulates this heat. What is also an additional problem, is that although plants remove carbon dioxide through photosynthesis when they are alive, it is different when they are destroyed. When they are destroyed and decay, they release their stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Which makes things even worse.
These human actions cause higher temperatures and the unpredictable weather we are experiencing. It causes drought where we grow some of the things we eat. It triggers wildfires or intense storms that destroy land and habitats. It causes temperatures to rise in cold places — which then melts ice and raises sea levels.
We are allowed to be here by nature. Although we can understand this through science, we can’t explain this away as some kind of natural cycle. We act as if because we are humans, we can control everything. But we didn’t invent the climate, it has been a gift to us. It is one of the reasons that our planet is inhabitable, and that we can’t very easily live on Mars.
In terms of what we can do about it, this is where our carbon footprint comes in. Although I think this is not named in a dramatic enough manner. I think it should be called our carbon hand-grenade or our carbon hammer. This is because the size of our individual carbon footprint makes a difference. It will make land unproductive for agriculture, or uninhabitable, or frankly underwater.
This will affect us all, whether or not it’s raining outside right now.
Kid’s TV has given us some ideas as a family about things we can do. And we put this into action on a recent trip.
We went to Edinburgh, about 3 hours from where we live. We took the car, and we don’t have an electric car. It made me feel bad, but right now we can’t afford a new car.
By happy accident, our route to Edinburgh takes us up the beautiful Northumbrian coast. It also takes you past many different ways that we create electricity. You pass coastal power stations, which sit hulking on the otherwise gentle slope to the clifftops. You pass close to huge wind turbines, doing their stately front crawl into the breeze.
We had the time and the chance to be curious about what we were looking at, and through this had the chance to talk about how we make electricity. We could talk about electricity that made by the wind or by water as renewable. We could talk about how other types of electricity is made by burning really old stuff out of the ground, and that this is not renewable. And we could take about climate change.
But I still couldn’t justify the car and the exhaust fumes, and this made me feel even worse. But it also meant that by the time we arrived in Edinburgh, we had instead hatched a plan. Some small and immediate ways that could be our first step and a new habit to reducing our carbon footprint.
Our trip was always going to be an urban adventure. But now, we were going to do as much of it as we could, on foot. We decided that we would downgrade our travel wherever we could. If we’d usually drive there, we’d take the bus. If it was a few bus stops away, then we would walk. And walk we did. It was awesome — in the weekend, we managed to measure ourselves taking over 40,000 steps.
We also saw so much more than we would usually. We were able to escape into alleyways, race up hills. We saw statues and monuments that we wouldn’t have seen before, and were able to learn the rich history of the city from the inside. We took regular ice cream and coffee breaks to people-watch. We stopped to jump off things for no other reason than the joy of it, we sang songs and played i-spy.
It made the days someone slower, but more full of fun. We lose a part of our lives with Leo next week, as he goes to school for the first time, with many others. As a parent this is a big moment, the next normal. This adventure, was a fitting end to our time together over the last 4-years of his life. But through making this small planetwise change, it also has given us a new way that we can enjoy things and makes us excited for the weekends ahead. At the end of each day we were exhausted, exhilarated, and all went to bed at the same time.
This feels like how we make systemic change. Together, and through connection. Small things at a time.
To be thirsty for knowledge, but to share this knowledge as universal and for everyone. Not to feel bad about what we do, or don’t know. To share ideas, openly and positively, To not judge. This is how we teach our children to learn.
The final statistic and thing I learned is very current, and blew my mind. It is the impact of the current coronavirus pandemic on emissions.
The reason this impact is important, is because in lots of ways it is becoming a fact that coronavirus is the planet forcing a break from our normal lives.
That the various restrictive or lockdown measures, has somehow created a forced pause and a way for our planet to heal. This is a romantic notion, and the pictures of clear skies are great. But the facts and the reality is much different. There is disagreement on exactly the impact of this awful virus on emissions, but recently that has been put at an 8% reduction.
The World is apparently at a standstill, and we don’t use our cars for half a year, and emissions are 92% the same.
It shows that we can’t rely on lists, or on anger. It shows that one pause in activities, is not enough. It needs to come from within, it needs us all to go back to basics, and learn how we do things, a small and persistent step at a time.
As humans, this is something we are good at, if we have the tools and use our technology for good. And if we do it without ego, together.