Once upon a time a polar bear was in danger...

By: Monica Lafon

My niece turned one. I know it is early in the game, but when thinking of what stories I can share with her as a godmother, I took a look at what’s out there in the children’s bookstores on climate change and it’s scarier than I thought

It’s sad to think that all we talk to children about when we think of climate change are polar bears, most of the time. That narrative has long proven to further alienate the problem further from ourselves. We don’t live there right? So why should we care?

Many studies have shown that when we tell stories, we need to come closer to our human experiences, to impacts such as extreme weather events and so forth. Yale Climate Connections confirms this. 

Not only do we alienate climate change from our responsibility, but we make the future seem so grim, that instead of a bedtime story it becomes a nightmare. Titles such as The Last Wild, Exodus, It’s getting hot in here or The lonely polar bear really bother me. 

However, there’s one book title that got my attention: “The magic school bus and the climate challenge”. There might be multiple books around the world that talk to children in this spirit, and these are exactly the type of bedtime stories we should be sharing!

Empowering young children to be leaders, to be problem solvers, to think critically and to understand science in a way that inspires them. 

And yes, empowering young girls too. As the climate movement is demonstrating now with younger generations involved, the climate crisis is here and now.

It’s funny, for my thirty-third birthday, a close friend of mine gave me the famous comic book by Dr. Seuss “The Lorax”. I read it from cover to cover. It had been a long time since I didn’t read a bedtime story to myself, let alone as an adult. 

Storytelling that appeals to children as well as adults is equally moving. It’s a simple message really: take care of the planet and respect its beautiful bounty. The lorax is a great bedtime story to share with children: we recognize our love for nature, express our feelings, and we go to sleep thinking about how we can live for a better tomorrow. 

How about bedtime stories of the most neglected issue related to climate change? Ocean acidification… 

Children love movies like “Finding Nemo” or “Finding Dory”. But do they know what’s going to happen to coral reefs if carbon dioxide emissions and ocean temperatures continue to increase? And how do we tell stories that show this matters and what children can do to help?

Ocean Conservancy also has a list of children’s books they recommend to take care of our oceans, but none mention ocean acidification. Perhaps it’s a scientific problem too complex to explain or it might spur further feelings of fear and destruction.

Here are some ocean climate facts:

  • 33% of carbon dioxide from human activities is absorbed by our oceans. 

  • Ocean acidity has increased around 30% since the Industrial Revolution.

  • If the global average temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, up to 90% of coral reefs are going to disappear.

  • Scientists say this threshold is as close as ten years from now.

I searched over and around the net and seriously, no popular nor novel children’s books on this topic.

Or should there?

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Monica Lafon is an environmental freelance journalist. She got her BA degree in Journalism and Political Science at Concordia University and her Master degree in Environmental Policy at Sciences Po Paris. 

 

Sources

Michael Svoboda, “Children's books about climate change” Yale Climate Connections. August 31, 2018. https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2018/08/childrens-books-about-climate-change/

Michael Svoboda, “15 books about women leading the way on climate change”, Yale Climate Connections. March 6, 2020. 

https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/03/15-books-about-women-leading-the-way-on-climate-change/

Sara Peach, “How can I prepare my children for climate change?” Yale Climate Connections. April 23, 2019. https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2019/04/how-to-prepare-kids-for-climate-change/

Daisy Simmons, “Storytime can teach kids to appreciate nature”, Yale Climate Connections. May 4, 2018. https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2018/05/how-storytime-can-teach-nature-appreciation/ 

Katie Hogge, “12 Fin-tastic Children’s Books”, Ocean Conservancy. April 30, 2018. https://oceanconservancy.org/blog/2018/04/30/12-fin-tastic-childrens-books/

“Facts and figures on ocean acidification” UNESCO. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/ioc-oceans/focus-areas/rio-20-ocean/blueprint-for-the-future-we-want/ocean-acidification/facts-and-figures-on-ocean-acidification/

“Global Warming of 1.5 ºC” Special Report. IPCC. 2018 https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/chapter-3/

Ocean acidification. IUCN. 2020. https://www.iucn.org/theme/marine-and-polar/our-work/climate-change-and-ocean/ocean-acidification#:~:text=Plastic%20Tap%22%20Programme-,Ocean%20Acidification,a%20cost%20for%20the%20oceans.