I should have probably titled this blog post “Lesson 4,732 on Things They Don’t Tell You About Parenting,” but that seemed a bit too long. Here’s what’s up. My kids are in the process of learning a rather nuanced lesson that, upon reflection, really is difficult for a young mind to comprehend. For all of the explaining that I try to do, I think this is a lesson that can only be learned from experience. In short, I want them to understand when something can be fixed, and when it can’t.
Let me give you an example. My son enjoys playing with both wooden trains and with oddly shaped sticks that he finds outside. When we are playing trains, every now and then the pieces of the track will separate. When this first happened, he would get quite upset out of fear that the toy was broken. I would calmly explain to him that it was okay, because we could just put the track back together again and it would be good as new. He’s now come to accept that tracks separating is no big deal.
When he is playing with his sticks outside, sometimes a piece might snap off. He doesn’t like that either, and will anxiously bring both pieces to me asking me to fix it like the train tracks. Just as calmly, I explain that once a stick is broken, it doesn’t go back together. He has to learn to live with his broken stick, and perhaps we can go find a new stick instead. So why can Daddy fix some things and not others? That’s the distinction I’m struggling to explain to my kids.
Our car? No big deal, we can take it to the “car doctor” to get fixed. Your marker ran out of ink before you finished coloring Elsa’s dress? Sorry, but why don’t you make her dress rainbow colored instead? The TV froze while you were watching Puppy Dog Pals? I’ll just reset it. Your popsicle snapped in two? The piece that fell is gone, and no you can’t eat it off the concrete.
When it comes to global warming, there is a similar distinction between what can be fixed (or, more accurately, prevented), and what can’t. For the former, we use the fancy word “mitigation,” and it’s all about working to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That’s what Drawdown Georgia is all about – we want to reduce our carbon footprint as a state, thereby limiting our contribution to our changing climate. If enough places try to reduce their net emissions and achieve Drawdown, we can prevent some of the most catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis.
But our planet is already warming and feeling climate effects in many ways. Unfortunately, some of the harms are locked in and cannot be avoided. Unlike my son’s broken stick though, we don’t have to just accept that fact and try to find a new planet. Instead, we can work on climate “adaptation,” our other fancy word. And ultimately, we need to be working on climate adaptation at the same time as we work on mitigation.
Some places in the world have already accepted this reality, and I’d like to point to the City of Miami for an example. A few weeks ago, the Mayor of Miami announced the creation of a new position for the city – Chief Heat Officer. As the Mayor said in the release:
“As the impacts of heat grow, they are further compounded by hurricanes, floods, and sea level rise. And we know extreme heat does not impact people equally – poorer communities and Black and Hispanic people bear the brunt of the public health impacts. Appointing Miami-Dade’s first Chief Heat Officer will help expand, accelerate, and coordinate our efforts to protect people from heat and save lives.”
I applaud Miami for taking this action, especially in light of the fact that heat claims more lives than any other form of extreme weather. Other cities need to be taking note and asking two critically important questions – “How will climate change impact our city, and what can we do to adapt to it?”