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Doing it for Our Kids/Grandkids?

I read an interview with Avi Lewis, Naomi Klein’s husband, about his new environemntal documentary. Avi’s answer to a question about whether becoming a parent motivated him to work against global warming surprised me. He said: “I don’t like talking about it … because I actually have an allergy to this notion that we’re ‘doing it for the children’ and that somehow becoming a parent gives you some magical insight into the future and makes you ‘care about stuff.’ …. [I]t’s so indefensibly exclusionary toward people who decide not to have children or who can’t have children. …. But also, it kicks the can down the road… [when] it’s happening now….”

His comment made me think. I’ve written many times that although I have been aware of and concerned about climate change issues for decades, the birth of my first grandchild seven years ago goaded me to become more active in combating global warming. I agree that urging people to act for the benefit of future generations could deflect attention from the need to act now, and it could ignore that climate change is already fueling 200mph hurricaines, drought-triggering regional wars (Syria), and much more. But this is a reason to carefully qualify and explain your motivations, rather than reject another’s urging because it doesn’t apply to everyone. Climate change is already having disasterous effects AND it will get qualitatively worse for future generations.

Focusing only on the present could be just as problematic as concentrating solely on the future. It could promote the false notion that future disasters will be nastier, more frequent versions of what we are seeing already. Unfortunately, it is worse than that. If we continue business as usual we will produce a planet that is inimical to almost all avian and mammalian lifeforms, including our own. Some say such nightmares won’t happen for hundreds of years. I hope they are right, but climate model projections, which to date have been overly conversative, indicate there is a good chance we will face civilization-ending threats before the close of this century. That puts the second half of my grandchildren’s lives in jeopardy. I can’t speak for everyone, but that knowledge motivates, rather than paralyzes, me.

While I don’t wish to exclude those who can’t or won’t have children, and I believe childless people can be as foresighted and caring as those who have them, having children, and then grandchildren, changed my perspective. If some get involved because they have children or grandchildren, so much the better.

My problem with Avi Lewis’ answer is its either-or approach. Climate change is multifaceted, and coalition building requires engaging people with a range of motivations. One person’s reason for becoming involved is not necessarily wrong because it doesn’t apply to others. So long as those reasons aren’t oppressive, or lead someone to support the production of more greenhouse gases, we need as many as we can get.
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