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Preparing Our Kids for A Climate Change Inheritance

We all know that at long last the global community is taking steps to address the certain catastrophic environmental and health effects of climate change. But let's face it: under even the most optimistic of scenarios, intergenerational injustice has been done, and global warming will be our children's cross to bear.

How possibly to prepare our youngest for the defining challenge of their generation? One place to start is the raft of excellent children's books available on the subject. Herewith are some of my favorites (tested and approved by two spirited elementary school aged children):

This visually appealing, information-packed book does a terrific job breaking down the subject into bite-sized subtopics, such as the carbon cycle and the health impacts of heat and drought. Each subtopic, in turn, moves from general to specific, encouraging further exploration when interest is piqued but allowing for some skipping around when small minds wander. It also comes with a CD of clip art.

An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore (2006) (adapted for the younger reader). This book features memorable renditions of disappearing land masses, both real and anticipated, and easy to read graphs. It's got an urgent tone which drew my kids in—if not panicked them a little bit. It's the only children's book I've seen highlight the infamous Cooney memo in which a former oil industry lobbyist redacted warnings about global warming from a Bush white house memo. Surprisingly, my kids focused intently on this, repeatedly asking for explanations. How could our government lie about science? It turned out to be a great teachable moment on the fallibility of grown-ups.

This book makes powerful points using appealing graphics and kid-centric language: it's pretty easy to remember that CO2 and temperature go together like peanut butter and jelly. And it effectively dramatizes scientific events—like the exploration of the Dome C ice core and the discovery of the Keeling curve—to make them understandable. It also has an excellent section on what children can do in their schools and communities to combat climate change, complete with suggested career paths.

This is a traditional picture book, geared toward the younger child. It employs simple language and an even tone and puts forward understandable solutions like using less heat, air conditioning, and packaging. It contains some questionable advice about the effectiveness of tree-planting but who's to quibble.

And of course there are a number of very good websites devoted to children's climate change education, including those of the National Wildlife Federation, Pew Climate, EPA , and the Environmental Literacy Council. These have interactive games, puzzles, downloadable fact sheets and guidance for parents and educators in choosing age-appropriate material and handling difficult questions.

I am certain there is so much more out there, and it would be great to hear about any books, websites, videos or other tools you've found helpful in educating your children about global warming. Maybe something as simple as rereading the Lorax or taking in a Planet Earth episode? The pedagogical task at hand is daunting, but the good news is that with little coaxing, children take these important issues to heart and want to act.

Why Are the Ice Caps Melting, Anne Rockwell (2006).

The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming, Laurie David and Cambria Gordon (2007).

Climate Change, Eyewitness Books (2008).