I’m sorry you won’t get to do many of the things I did — all because of climate change

The other day my son asked me if we could go to Japan some day. We live in Nova Scotia, more than 10,000 kilometres (or 6000 miles) away. I replied that I was having some moral dilemmas about traveling. I’m still figuring out how to plot my carbon footprint for trips, but several articles about the impact of air travel on global warming have made that reality all too clear.

When I was a youth I took part in an exchange program in Mali. It was a profound experience that helped shape my view of the world and my commitment to becoming a responsible global citizen. I went on to volunteer for a work brigade in Central America, spent a year working for an NGO in Africa, and another year working with the Inuit in Canada’s Arctic. These were the kinds of experiences I hoped my son would have some day.

But now I find myself imagining a much smaller world for him, one filled with modest, local experiences. In a few years, he’ll be applying for universities and I’m already secretly rehearsing my speech about how great our local universities are. I worry that if he attends a university thousands of miles away, I won’t be able to visit him or send him the airfare to take a trip home for the holidays, not because of money but because our world is burning up.

I thought we had more time (when it occurred to me to think about climate change at all). I might have predicted that my hypothetical grandchildren would face these dilemmas a half a century down the road, but not me, not now. As a parent, I feel the rug has been pulled out from under me. How can I offer my son the rewarding opportunities I experienced when climate change has fundamentally altered the playbook?

The answer, I suspect, is I can’t. He may need to learn that being a responsible global citizen means staying home, if you are privileged enough to live somewhere safe. He will have to find ways to feel connected to others a world away without meeting them face to face. Instead of spreading his wings as a young man, he’ll need to sow deep roots from the outset. His dreams will have to factor in his carbon footprint, the health impacts of climate change, the viability and sustainability of the community he chooses to live in, and much more.

That’s the best case scenario I’ve managed to come up with. My darkest fear is that he and other young people will give up dreaming altogether. Sometimes when I gingerly drop climate change into our conversation, I get a nihilistic response. He doesn’t see a great or long future for himself because he doesn’t see a hopeful future for the planet. In those moments, I do what any loving and worried parent would do — I lie and tell him we’re going to figure this mess out. But I’m not so sure. And I’m deeply sorry for that.

To calculate your carbon footprint for a flight you’re considering, check out Atmosfair or one of the many other carbon footprint calculators available.

Editor, writer, and mother who wants action on climate change.

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