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A Letter to Alberta Parents and Grandparents

Andy and Ariel Kubrin
Andy Kubrin and Ariel Kubrin
Andy and his son

Alberta parents, it’s time we talk about climate change and our province’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Recently I took care of my young adult son as he weathered a brief illness. There wasn’t much I could do for him physically, but I wanted to keep an eye on him, and I  sensed he wanted company, so I brought a chair into his room and spent the morning at his bedside. My son was drowsy, dreamy, vulnerable, and frank. At one point, he said to me, “I guess parents are here for this.”

“Of course we’re here for this,” I told him. “We’re here for everything.”

The most serious illness most of our children face is not taking place within their bodies, but around them. I’m referring, of course, to the disruption of our atmosphere brought on by the combustion of fossil fuels. The Earth is now 1.2℃ warmer, on average, than it was during pre-Industrial times. How much it continues to warm depends on us and on the actions we take today.

IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) released its Sixth Assessment Report in August 2021. The report projected five climate narratives for our century, with each one predicting a different level of warming and varying levels of societal success in adapting to the changes.

If our children and grandchildren are fortunate, they will inherit an Earth that is merely 1.5℃ warmer than it was during pre-Industrial times. If they are less fortunate, the Earth they inherit will be between 3.6℃ and 4.4℃ warmer than during pre-Industrial times. These figures are “best estimates,” with a considerable amount of variance in the “very likely” ranges.

How much their lives will change depends on the amount of warming caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and on humanity’s ability to adapt to the changes. There is no concise way to express the range of outcomes, so I will rely on a simple formulation. If our children and grandchildren are fortunate, they will be able to endure the upheaval unleashed by rising seas, refugee flows, war, famine, pestilence, and drought. If they are less fortunate, their lives will be less healthy, comfortable, and secure than ours.

Our children and grandchildren probably know these things. A recent Lakehead University study that queried young Canadians between the ages of 16 and 25 found that 80 per cent of its respondents reported climate-related impacts on their mental health. Over a third of these young people said the situation affected their daily functioning. More than half of them reported feeling anxious, sad, or powerless.

How we help our children and grandchildren contend with global heating might be one of the most urgent  questions we face as parents today. If you are pondering this situation, here are some areas where you can concentrate your efforts.

CLIMATE, ENERGY AND ALBERTA’S FUTURE

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Listening to Young People

One of the most important things we do as parents is to be present and authentic. Thoughtful listening is the cornerstone of any relationship, and by practicing it, we strengthen our bonds with our kids.

Young people are observant, and they recognize sincerity. They also know, through school and the news reports that reach them, that global heating is a serious threat to their futures.

The best thing we can do for our kids is to listen carefully when they voice concerns about the climate crisis. Don’t make the topic off limits. Don’t sweep aside their concerns or give false assurances. Acknowledge the gravity of the situation. Help your kids take action if they’re mature enough and inclined to do so.

But above all, take action yourself — and let your kids know you’re taking it. I’ve outlined some steps and provided an opportunity for you to act now, today, in Reducing Alberta’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions, below.

Help move Alberta beyond fossil fuels. Our children and grandchildren are watching us.

Adapting Our Homes and Communities

There are many things we can do to adapt our homes and communities to a warmer era, and now is the time to start doing them.

If you own a home, make sure your roof and siding are in good shape. They are going to face some powerful storms. Plant native shrubs and drought-resistant vegetation. Install a rain barrel. Summers will be much warmer in the future, and water may become more expensive as supplies dwindle.

Municipalities should also act now to adapt to climate change. Communities near rivers and other water bodies will need better flood protection. Some may need flood walls. Others will need relocating. With wildfires increasing, clearing brush also becomes more important. Climate adaptation in the Prairies will take many forms. We should start working on it now.

Reducing Alberta’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions

I’ve saved the most urgent area for last, because it is the focus of our efforts at Alberta Beyond Fossil Fuels.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that Alberta’s past, present, and future projected emissions are large — large enough to take a big bite out of the carbon budget for 1.5℃. Our outsize emissions profile makes mitigation especially important here in Alberta.

Every gram of CO2 we add to the atmosphere now will become a burden for our descendants. We must do everything we can to reduce our emissions as quickly as possible. The date we reach net zero is important, but so is the shape of the curve. A speedy path of reduction will leave less CO2 in the atmosphere than a gradual one.

Reducing emissions means exercising our personal and social responsibilities. Personal responsibility is important, but let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking it is adequate. By all means, lower your personal emissions profile. Insulate your home and turn down the thermostat. Leave your car in the garage whenever possible and ride a bike or take the bus. Fly less, buy less, and eat less meat. All of these things are important.

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Advocating for Emissions Reduction

But it is even more important that we exercise our social responsibilities. That means advocating for emissions reduction because it is in the best interests of our children and grandchildren. We must mobilize ourselves, our friends, and families to act on behalf of our young people. So have a climate conversation with your friends, coworkers, siblings, in-laws, and others. Start with your children. Share your concerns. Speak frankly about the gravity of the situation.

Above all, we must mobilize our elected officials, because they are the ones with the greatest power to effect change. Get to know your councillor, MLA and MP. Communicate with them regularly. Call them, write them, ping them on social media, meet with them in person or online. Tell them unequivocally that you want Alberta to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions sharply and quickly. Tell them that mitigation must include a reduction in our life cycle emissions — the downstream emissions occurring as a result of the fuels we export to other countries.

Make that call. There’s no better time than right now.

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