Quirks & Quarks·Bob McDonald's blog

A child's question about climate change

Young people's voices make a difference because the future is theirs

Young people's voices make a difference because the future is theirs

Students around the world took to the streets on March 15, 2019 to protest a lack of climate awareness and demand that elected officials take action on climate change. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

"Hi my name is Sophia I am 7 years old and I live in Kelowna, B.C.. How can I help to stop climate change?"

Children ask the best questions that usually involve complex answers.

There is a lot that young Sophia can do to help stop climate change — both at home and on the larger scale, in the present and in the future.

First of all, Sophia has already taken a big step in the right direction by acknowledging that climate change is real. The scientific data is strong: we are seeing the effects around the world with disappearing ice, more intense storms, longer fire seasons, droughts, changing ocean currents and more. The time has come to stop debating whether or not climate change is happening and move on to doing something about it.

And young people can make a difference.

Greta Thunberg inspires a global movement

Take the example of 15-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden who garnered worldwide attention by going on a one-person strike in front of the Swedish Parliament calling for government action on climate change. She later spoke at the UN Climate Change COP24 Conference in Poland before the British parliament and is now the poster child for the Fridays For Future movement, which has motivated young people around the world to speak up on climate change. Recently, she received the prestigious Amnesty International human rights award.

Swedish 15-year-old Greta Thunberg decided to go on school strike every Friday at the parliament to get politicians to act on climate chance following Sweden's hottest summer in 2018. (JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Sophia can tell her friends to join the movement through social media or even start a movement of their own. But the important part of calling for action on climate change is stay cool, don't get angry. Shouting blame at politicians or those in the fossil fuel industry make both sides dig in and progress slows down. It is better to be positive rather than just protest.

Do more than sit down or lie down in front of government buildings — although that does get media attention — but go beyond that by pointing to realistic solutions for a low carbon future that does not cripple the economy or cost jobs. Those solutions are out there.

Simple steps to reduce emissions can add up

Simpler steps to solutions for climate change also start at home by thinking about all the energy used throughout a day and trying to reduce it. Turning the lights out and the TV off when you leave a room, taking shorter hot showers or using less hot water in a bathtub cuts down on the energy the house is consuming. Don't hold the refrigerator door open too long when deciding what food you want, because the cold air escapes and the fridge has to turn on more often to cool down again.

Away from home, how often are you driven from place to place? Could you walk or bicycle that distance, or take public transit? A car with only two or three people in it uses more energy per person and produces more greenhouse gasses than a bus with 30 people. If you don't feel safe on the roads, write to your local politician and ask for more bike lanes on city streets.

Several hundred people gathered in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in support of a group of young people who have filed a federal lawsuit asserting a constitutional right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)

Then there is the plastic, which is made from oil products and also pollutes our environment and contributes to climate change. How many plastic bags, plastic containers and throw-away products do you use? How many of them could be replaced with non-plastic, recyclable materials? And make sure the plastic you do use ends up in recycle bins.

Making a difference in your community

In the local community, Sophia could attend a city hall meeting, which are open to the public, and ask the politicians what her community is doing for climate change. Suggest that they make the community a model for energy efficiency and low carbon emissions through more public transit, more energy-efficient building standards and tree-planting campaigns.

Once the local community is on board, write to your provincial and federal governments asking for more clean forms of energy production, support for clean technologies such as solar panels so they become cheaper for people to install them on the roofs of their homes. There are many alternatives to fossil fuels out there, so do some research and suggest positive ways to move forward.

Hopefully, in the long run, Sophia will hold onto her vision of a more sustainable world when she becomes a business person, politician or whatever career she chooses, to make the right decisions in the future.

Young people often feel powerless, but in fact, they have the power of numbers and a voice that needs to be heard. After all, it is their future.

So good luck Sophia. You can make a difference.

About the Author

Bob McDonald is the host of CBC Radio's award-winning weekly science program, Quirks & Quarks. He is also a science commentator for CBC News Network and CBC-TV's The National. He has received 12 honorary degrees and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.