Documentaries·In Depth

'I'm all in': Being a parent amid the climate crisis

‘For their sake, you have no choice. You have to be part of the transformation,’ says climate activist

‘For their sake, you have no choice. You have to be part of the transformation,’ says climate activist

Severn Cullis-Suzuki stands on the Vancouver shoreline with her two children.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki describes herself as being 'all in' when it comes to protecting the future. (90th Parallel Productions)

The Climate Baby Dilemma airs Friday, November 25th at 9pm on CBC and is now streaming on CBC Gem.

Young people are worried about what lies ahead. 

In a global study published in The Lancet in December 2021, 75 per cent of the 16 to 25-year-olds surveyed said that they think the future is frightening given the realities of climate change. More than 50 per cent said they feel sad, anxious, powerless, helpless, guilty and angry. 

The CBC Docs Original The Climate Baby Dilemma explores the question of having children during the climate crisis. More and more young people, the film reveals, are struggling with the ethics of their reproductive choices. Some activists are even pledging not to have kids until our government acts on climate change. 

But for many who have chosen to become parents, activism can also look like bringing children into the world and working to protect their future. Below, three climate advocates share their thoughts on parenting during the climate crisis — and why giving up isn't an option. 

'If you have kids, you are completely invested in the future'

Severn Cullis-Suzuki has two children. In the documentary, she describes herself as being "all in" when it comes to protecting their future. 

Today, she's the executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation, but she's been a climate activist for 30 years. 

When Cullis-Suzuki was 12 years old, she made a speech at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, pleading with adults to change their ways to protect the environment. 

"Do not forget why you are attending these conferences, who you are doing this for. We are your own children. You are deciding what kind of a world we are growing up in," she said in her speech.

"When I think back about that speech … it can be summarized in that whole last line," says Cullis-Suzuki. "'You grownups say you love us. Make your actions reflect those words.'"

In the 30 years since Rio, she notes that a lot has changed — but not for the better. 

"We've built a system that is really facilitating greed to take over," she says. And all of these powerful corporate entities are representing shareholders, not citizens."

Severn Cullis-Suzuki says she's “all in” as a parent tackling the climate crisis | The Climate Baby Dilemma

3 months ago
Duration 2:26
Known around the world for a speech she gave at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development when she was 12, Severn Cullis-Suzuki is still fighting for change - now, as a parent.

Cullis-Suzuki stresses that we need to transform the way our society functions and move away from our reliance on fossil fuels. "We need to have an energy revolution," she says. "I'm trying to use my positionality, my privilege, my resources, my name, everything I can, to try to make this happen."

"If you have kids, you are completely invested in the future. And for their sake, you have no choice. You have to be part of the transformation."

​​'Our work, as parents, is to be deeply involved in changing the systems around us'

As a father of three working on climate action, Imara Ajani Rolston says he is sometimes asked, "Aren't you concerned about what's going to happen in the future and what kind of world [your children] are going to live in?"

Rolston is the director of the Community Climate Resilience Lab at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, which advances racial justice-oriented climate resilience work in the city and beyond. 

Black and racialized communities are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change, Rolston notes. "The climate crisis essentially will surge the cracks and chasms that chronic inequity creates, and widen them out in ways that we can anticipate."

He says he and his wife have talked at length about how they will prepare their children for this new reality, adding that this isn't a new conversation for many.

"I come from a legacy of people that had to think about bringing children to this world and raising [them] in a world that absolutely had no respect for their humanity," he says. Rolston's family is from Barbados, where generations had to contemplate growing their families and communities in the shadow of slavery.

"When I speak to folks who are in the climate space who say it's a very difficult time — I agree. But I also acknowledge that many of us have been having to raise children over the last 600 years … without a promise that they will be safe," he says. "And that our response to that has not been to recede into personal protection or to recede into apathy, but to organize and to activate." 

For Rolston, this means continuing his work advancing policy change in key areas like food systems, neighbourhood development, transportation and infrastructure. 

"Our work, as parents, is to be deeply involved in changing the systems around us and to raise children that feel a deep calling to engage in transformative change wherever possible," he says.

The climate crisis will enlarge the cracks and chasms that chronic inequity creates, says climate advocate | The Climate Baby Dilemma

3 months ago
Duration 2:30
Imara Ajani Rolston is the director of the Community Climate Resilience Lab in Toronto, and a father of three. He says we need to be deeply involved in changing our systems to protect our children.

'I remember feeling really sad at the idea that my kid wouldn't know the same landscapes that I knew' 

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a worrying report on the future of our climate — and the limited time we have to ease the impact of global warming. Jinhwa Hwong-Ambrose remembers that report well. 

"I was struck by the difference in impact between 1.5 degrees of warming and two degrees of warming," she says. 

Vancouver-based Hwong-Ambrose is a mother, climate activist and member of For Our Kids, a network of parents, guardians, grandparents and allies fighting for a better world for children.

"I remember feeling really sad at the idea that my kid wouldn't know the same landscapes that I knew and feeling like they are completely innocent of these changes that are happening to them. But it also really strengthens my resolve to try to be part of the positive change."

‘I remember feeling really sad at the idea that my kid wouldn’t know the same landscapes that I knew’ | The Climate Baby Dilemma

3 months ago
Duration 2:27
Jinhwa Hwong-Ambrose is a mother, climate activist and member of For Our Kids, a network of parents, guardians, grandparents and allies fighting for a better world for our children and grandchildren.

"I felt so many different ways about the climate crisis," says Hwong-Ambrose. "I felt total despair and hopelessness. I've felt tremendous courage and energy. I felt incredibly energized around engaging in meaningful advocacy for solutions."

"After I had a daughter, I had this direct line to a time well beyond my own," she says. "I could imagine her as an old woman, I could imagine if she had children, the years that they would live through, and so I had a new investment in what would be happening then."

Watch The Climate Baby Dilemma.

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