They Will Ask Us “What Did You Do About Climate Change?”

I live in Australia, and it’s clear that we are facing a climate crisis of the most profound kind. As parents we have a special and particular responsibility to understand what the science is telling us, and to find ways to take action. Our children will ask us “What did you do?” There will be many ways we can respond.

4 can engage with politicians and decision makers about policy and response at the governmental level. At the other end of the spectrum, we can reduce our own consumption, minimising our carbon footprint. But individual-level change won’t be what shifts things decisively and dramatically in the way that is needed. So we need to build community. This will insulate us against the worst of what is coming, and will multiply our efforts, which combined, may prove an irresistible force for change.

We need to build Social Capital – “the links, shared values and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and so work together.”[i] That’s what will get us through the huge challenges which are coming, or have already arrived.

We will need our children to see, clearly, that we, their parents, are also “the helpers”. We must strive to build the connections that will be necessary to reverse the damage, repair the planet, and keep it habitable for our children’s future.

We can learn

So I’m learning about Climate Change. As Joseph Romm, author, physicist and climate expert[ii] says in his book Everything You Need To Know About Climate Change, “Since everyone’s family will be affected by climate change—indeed, they already are—everyone needs to know the basics about it, regardless of their politics. Many of the major decisions that you, your family, and friends will have to make in the coming years and decades will be affected by human-caused climate change.” [iii].[iv]

Talk to decision makers

I’ve joined an organisation[v] that teaches you how to go talk to your local federal politician about climate change. I’m interested in their approach – doing it together, focusing on points of connection, building relationships.

Take action locally

I organise a local monthly cleanup event of my local Wetlands, through which I’ve made several good local friends and together we are learning about the waste stream, and what can be done about it. Picking up lots of small bits of plastic from the local Saltmarsh has made me much more aware of how much plastic I use, and committed to using less myself, and helping others to use less.

Build neighbourhoods of connection

I plan to invite my neighbours to a morning tea for Neighbour Day[vi]. As Hugh MacKay, who has been researching social trends in Australia for decades, says “when we lose sight of our role as neighbours, the health of the neighbourhood suffers. And when the health of the neighbourhood suffers, we all suffer.”[vii]

Don’t expose children

And in response to terrible fires ravaging our country, as a parent, there is much you can and need to do to provide the emotional support your children will need, but I recommend avoiding media coverage while small children are around. I’ve written more about that here[viii] As adults, we can put these events into a bigger context. We know that people can and will band together to pull through. Our children don’t always have such a big picture and it makes it hard for them to make sense of what they are seeing and hearing.

Look for the helpers

And there are many stories of helpers – people going out of their way to help this in need and in crisis. And there is legitimate criticism of the way Fred Roger’s advice to “look for the helpers”[ix] is rolled out at times like these, as a kind of superficial meme[x]. We live in an era where the problems are more complex and the definition of who is helpful, and who is not, a little harder to define than when the phrase was coined. Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s a bad place for a parent to encourage a child to focus, in times of disaster and disruption.

Become a helper

We will need our children to see, clearly, that we, their parents, are also “the helpers”. We must strive to build the connections that will be necessary to reverse the damage, repair the planet, and keep it habitable for our children’s future.


[i] Keeley, Brian. “Human Capital: READ Online.” OECD ILibrary, OECD, 2007, [Online Book], Retrieved January 10, 2020..

[ii] “Joe Romm.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Jan. 2020, [Website] Retrieved January 10, 2020.

[iii] Romm, Joseph. Climate Change What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford, 2016, preface. [PDF] Retrieved January 10, 2020 from

[iv] Harris, S., & Romm, J. Making Sense Podcast #95 – What You Need to Know About Climate Change, September 5 2017, [Podcast] Retrieved January 10, 2020, from I found this discussion interesting.

[v] Citizens’ Climate Lobby Australia, [Website] Retrieved January 10, 2020

[vi] “What Is Neighbour Day?” Neighbour Day, [Website] January 10, 2020

[vii] Mackay, Hugh. “Hugh Mackay: the State of the Nation Starts in Your Street.” The Conversation, 3 June 2019, [Online Article] Retrieved January 10, 2020

[viii] Winter, Madeleine. “Talking To Children About Violent and Shocking Events.” Madeleine Winter, 25 Mar. 2016, [Online Article] Retrieved January 10, 2020

[ix] Rogers, Fred. “Fred Rogers: Look for the Helpers.” YouTube, posted by Alex Forsythe, 15 Apr. 2013, [Video] Retrieved January 10, 2020

[x] Bogost, Ian. “The Fetishization of Mr. Rogers’s ‘Look for the Helpers’.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 29 Oct. 2018, [Online Article] Retrieved January 9, 2020

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© 2020 by Madeleine Winter.

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