Raising Kids and Companies in the Climate Change Era

During dinner this week, my 14-year old son posed a hypothetical, but achingly relevant question. “Mom, if you had all the money and all the power in the world for 24 hours, what would you do to fix the climate.” The combination of great schools and a mother who works with sustainability teams globally means that my kids are very aware that we have just over 10 years to cut emissions by nearly half or we face catastrophic impacts.

Ironically, I had just had a similar conversation with someone who may have a lot of funds and a whole lot of power, for up to eight years, not just 24 hours, starting in 2020. A critical question was whether nuclear fusion and carbon capture would be ready in time. The consensus of the scientists and innovators around the table was that it’s critical to invest in both, but it’s a long shot. So I asked my son, “Can I invent something or does it have to be a realistic solution?” He decided on realism, although he hoped a vacuum existed that could suck up all the carbon.

My answer was decidedly more boring to him than a carbon vacuum. I said I would immediately implement a very high global tax on carbon pollution.

He seemed puzzled so I tried to explain it in “snowblower economics,” since that’s how he earns money. Imagine that when you snowblow a driveway, you have to pay a tax for the amount of carbon you emit. If you use a gas snowblower, you have to pay $10. But if you use an electric one, you don’t have to pay a tax because mom and dad purchase renewable energy. Which would you use? Now imagine everyone in the whole world starts to decide that way. He got it. [For those who would like a less simplistic explanation, here is a carbon pricing 101 guide from the Union of Concerned Scientists].

Whether you are a parent or a leader these days, you need to be prepared for this “what should we be doing” conversation. My kids might be a little more sensitized, but they aren’t yet among the tens of thousands marching in Fridays for Future school strikes. The Green New Deal was universally defeated for a complex set of political reasons, but some of the core ideas will re-emerge in a better bill soon. The most important message in climate, whether talking to kids, employees or community members is agency. As one climate scientist states, “The science news is depressing. The good news is in the solutions…Depression is fed by a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. It’s all about framing. How am I going to act? What am I going to do? Because action feeds hope feeds action feeds hope.”

I certainly do not want my kids, or my employees, feeling like they are doomed. Therefore, I perceive my role as a leader, and a mother, to be focused on solutions and to embrace and promote as many as we can, both personally and professionally. WeSpire is broader now, but was built originally to educate and inspire personal sustainable behavior change at work and at home, like eating less meat, switching to renewable energy, and choosing low carbon commuting options. I would like to see every business commit to 100% renewable energy and join the RE100. I am a big fan of how Microsoft cascaded their internal carbon tax to every business unit to change employee awareness and behavior. Every company should consider that model, both to create a significant impact on their own operations, but also to be prepared for a world with a price on carbon.

Because being prepared is the other part of leadership. If you haven’t checked out a climate risk map for your home or key business or supplier locations, look at it (although I recommend a glass of wine in hand when you do). At WeSpire HQ, our office is in the ocean with a 2 degree rise, a risk made very real when the Boston Harbor inundated downtown last year. Our data center, in Northern Virginia, has less risk from sea level rise, but faces risk from internal flooding and extreme heat. If you haven’t met your corporate risk team, meet them, ask what they are preparing for, and how you can help. If you don’t have a risk team, volunteer to lead a climate resiliency task force.

The hopeful part is that it’s still solvable in the time we have left. Yes, it will require unprecedented global change. Not just a price on carbon, but also a rapid move to electric vehicles, massive rollouts of renewable energy, ending deforestation, moving buildings off natural gas and more. Acting now is our best hope for a day when our kids are in their twenties and our younger employees are progressing into leadership roles, where we can look them in the eye and tell them what we did, now, that worked to fix the climate. Because action fed hope fed action fed hope and the alternative was unacceptable.

Quote of the Week: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Dr. Seuss

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