Every year around this time, the father in me starts thinking deep thoughts about why I’ve dedicated my career to environmental awareness and, in particular, helping people who don’t consider themselves activists understand why environmental issues should matter to them. In more recent years, it’s morphed into an almost singular focus for me on why global climate change should matter to all of us.
For me, it’s simple. It’s the kids.
As a parent, I am firmly in the camp of those who want to do everything they can to make sure their kids are exposed to fewer potential hazards than they were. I always laugh when my own mom says, “Well, we fed you [some processed food I could never imagine giving my kids] and you turned out OK,” or “We didn’t even have carseats when you were growing up and you’re just fine.” Yeah, yeah, yeah — I for one feel completely free of nostalgia for the “good old days” of the polluted 1970s or blissfully ignorant 1950s. We’ve evolved in many ways, and that’s a good thing.
What’s not evolving is the point of view of many of the companies that are making the products we parents are buying to protect our kids. In many ways, companies that make children’s safety equipment are incessantly frightening us into an upgrade: “Hey concerned parent, remember that car seat you used for your newborn in 2006? Well, nothing could be more dangerous for your newborn with a 2009 birthday. You’ve got to buy this year’s model in order to keep you kid safe!” Most of us hear the call and do just as we’re told, stretching our own wallets way too often to support a business model fueled by planned obsolescence.
Look, I’m not really out to pick apart a business model, regardless of whether it relegates lightly-used carseats to landfills. Indeed, we parents — we consumers — have to make our own choices. If it boosts the revenues of the companies we buy from, I guess that is what it is.
But here’s the problem I do have — and it all gets back to climate change.
Children’s equipment companies know we want to keep our kids safe. And that’s not just today or this week or this year. I think about the safety of my kids long after they’ll have left my house, long after I’m gone. I want their entire lives to be safe and secure. I want to take every precaution possible in the way I treat the world I leave them. I’m not trying to anticipate what could result from global climate change. I don’t want to know — and not because I’m trying to avoid thinking about it. I don’t want to know because I don’t want it to happen.
So that affects the way I think about the products I buy ostensibly to keep my kids safe. I think those choices have to extend far beyond the catastrophic car accident I hope will never happen, far beyond the tiny fingers that might get slammed in the bedroom door (which has happened, despite my precautions), far beyond the potential toxic chemicals that may be in the food we feed them. They have to extend to climate change.
It concerns me as a parent and as an advocate for climate change that many of the most well-known companies making children’s equipment are not actively involved in reducing their global warming pollution. When Climate Counts (which I direct) announced scores on the climate action of the toys and children’s equipment sector a couple of months back, results were dismal. At the request of consumers who were interested in this sector, we scored 13 of the biggest companies — companies who make familiar family brands like Graco, Safety 1st, Instep, Evenflo, Chicco, One Step Ahead, Britax, Peg Perego and more — and TEN scored less than five points out of a possible 100 on climate. No understanding of the overall impact of their companies’ energy use, waste, distribution and sales on climate. No evidence of any efforts to reduce energy use or greenhouse gas emissions. No support for good climate policy. And no conversation at all with the legions of parents who buy from these companies because they help to ensure the safety of their kids — no conversation about climate change, something that could have a greater impact on the safety and well-being of the current generation of children than maybe anything else.
Sure, the toys and children’s equipment sector has a tiny impact on climate change when compared to the oil industry or the automobile industry. But that shouldn’t matter. Each of our families and our communities is thinking about how we can have a smaller footprint. Every company should be trying to do the same thing — and doing it in such a way, frankly, that not only creates real value for the consumer but also results in the long-term viability — and credibility — of the company itself. We parents have demonstrated our consumer power by greatly expanding the market for organic food in recent years. We can also shape the market in favor of those companies that care as much about climate change — and the long-term safety of our kids — as we do. To not to be thinking in these terms is to be completely diminishing our parental role as protectors and nurturers of our kids.
Some of the deniers out there will say, maybe not. Maybe, just maybe there will be no measurable negative impact on our children’s lives because of climate change. You know what? I don’t believe in maybe. I simply don’t want to know what will happen if we don’t demand more from the companies we trust.