Climate change and the environment have been in the news lately and are often a topic of discussion, especially when the weather changes drastically. But it’s a complicated issue and may be difficult to explain to kids.

Is it climate change or global warming? Or maybe the issue is really fossil fuel emissions or greenhouse gas overload? Is that the same as the ozone hole? I know for sure it has something to do with CO2 levels, or was that carbon monoxide?

You can see how quickly things get complicated. That’s because the science of the environment is complex. Heck, a lot of the research has to be done with supercomputers. But the use of current events can be a gateway to continued family discussions and education.

This recent news item might be just the starting point to open a dinner-table dialogue. Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s fourth largest oil company, made headlines because of their decision to cease exploratory drilling for oil in the Arctic. Shell had hoped to find widespread oil and gas deposits in the far north of Alaska and had poured seven billion dollars into the project—only to give up when no significant oil was found.

oil rig in the arctic oceanvia

Carbon Footprint

On one hand, Shell and other oil companies cite the world’s need for and dependence on oil as justification for drilling. To bring this point home, so to speak, ask yourself, “Does our family depend on oil, gas, coal, and other fossil fuels?” If so, where does that fuel originate? How does our usage compare with the average American? To find out, complete this “carbon footprint” exercise from the Indiana State Climate Office.

pie chart of average american's carbon footprint - 20 tonsvia

Environmental Damage Caused by Fossil Fuels

On the flip side, what do we know about how much environmental damage occurred to the arctic and polar marine ecosystems due to Shell’s oil drilling? Additionally, is drilling for oil in an area undergoing huge changes with regard to melting ice worth it? This Yale Environment 360 article explains the possible dangers.

Talking about the dangers of oil drilling can lead to a broader discussion of other harmful, environmental effects related to fossil fuels. For example, your family can research how fossil fuels have contributed to the terrible air quality in several Chinese cities. And China’s air pollution doesn’t just stay in China. One study showed that it travels in large quantities across the Pacific Ocean to the United States.

People riding bikes in a Chinese city and covering their mouths because of the terrible air pollutionvia

Alternative Sources of Energy

A third component to incorporate into the discussion is how new, modern technologies with lower risks to the environment can help meet our energy needs. We all know about solar energy and wind power, but what about the idea of generating electricity though walking? Check out this United Nations University video to see how it works.

And have you heard of tiny nuclear reactors, called small modular reactors (SMRs)? Just one can power an entire city. Do SMRs have any risks? What are the rewards? Bring it up over chicken à la king to spark a lively conversation. Even better, discuss adopting this idea from NASA. If it’s going to work on the moon, why not in your city?

NASA colony on the moonvia

You don’t need to know a lot of science in order to use current events to start to a relevant and passionate discussion about the environment with your kids. And don’t be afraid to go where no family has gone before—away from taking sides to being part of the solution.

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