– Could you check this chemistry assignment for me? I calculated that it should be 52 trees. Is that correct?
– What is it about?
-Aha, okay, so you just calculated the amount of carbon that is released into the atmosphere for your trip to Italy and, with that, how many trees are needed to compensate for this?
-Yes, indeed. So, are my calculations correct?
-It looks like they do, but, what do you think of your calculated number?
-What do you mean?
Lenses, at expenses?
From the moment we are born, lenses through which we observe and interpret our surroundings are passively put on our noses, influencing our ideas and thoughts and subsequently our opinions and expressions. But, how passive are these lenses, especially regarding big challenges like climate change? Should kids in the backseat be steered towards the direction someone in the front seat is steering them to, just because they do not have their driving license yet?
Whether they eventually become able to drive this hypothetical car themselves is something for another discussion. But the point here is to think about this concept of serving lenses. Regarding myself, the lenses I bother people with nowadays are the product of predominantly family and school. The latter for which I currently also work as an after-school homework attendant. Remarkably, a lot of exercises I am asked to help with are actually climate change related topics, be it about the population proportion that experiences ‘fly-shaming’, concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, sustainable society planning, energy transitions or a trip to Italy.
Whether it’s by a human-roadblock, a blazing wildfire on the news or such a chemistry assignment for school, facing climate change starts to become inevitable. Even when the direct effects are yet to be felt in some parts of the world. But is this facing actually desirable, especially to the new generation of children? It seems a bit odd to make someone aware of a threat that is, at least partly, caused by my own participation in the problem. However, keeping children ignorant about climate change intuitively feels even worse.
Who to blame?
Ignorance is bliss they say, right? But when a problem becomes a potential threat to one’s health, is it still? Worldwide, people are already affected by the impacts of climate change. Be it by extreme weather events, food scarcity or because they are raised with stress about climate change1. And this last thing is something I would like to stress. Apparently, a situation (read: climate) is created in which the effects are so severe. That thinking about the situation already causes problems. Well done. But should we bother children with lenses revealing something they can’t be held accountable for? In fact, can we be held accountable? Could we, and by ‘we’ I mean the people that pollute now, actually be harming children that have not been born yet?
According to Derek Parfit’s idea about ‘non-identity’, we might not. Derek Parfit was not some grumpy old man who hated children and didn’t believe in global warming. In contrast, he spent his life thinking about future generations. His non-identity perspective implies that ‘harming’ can only occur if it makes you worse off than you would have been if the action, being born in this case, would not have occurred. Regarding climate change and its effects, he questions whether the children to be born would be worse off living in a world with the effects of climate change. Than they would have been if they weren’t born at all. Different policies would cause different circumstances (climates) and therefore other jobs, cities and opportunities. In turn, people would meet different people than they would have with different policies. Creating different children than they would have without the policy.
Even though children most likely will be the ones to cope with the effects of climate change more than we do. Providing them with lenses to be wearing in Italy might not be as evident as I once thought.
Whether making children aware of a threat and whether making children that will face it is something I keep struggling with. At least I could say that, if I decide to have children, I should be conscious of this choice. With respect of the future.
Burke, S. E., Sanson, A. V., & Van Hoorn, J. (2018). The psychological effects of climate change on children. Current psychiatry reports, 20, 1-8.