We all know that being a parent is hard work. Unfortunately, parenting also often involves a huge amount of consumption – especially in the United States. Those of us who live in the United States and other rich countries are responsible for a disproportionate share of consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste, so if we worry about the future for our own sake, we have to worry about the future even more so for the sake of our children.
Obviously, we are in the midst of a climate and ecological crisis. Thankfully, there are plenty of reasons for optimism at the moment, but sometimes it can all still feel overwhelming, and as individuals, we can find ourselves uncertain what it is that we can do.
So what can New York City parents do to help shape a better future for themselves and their children and grandchildren? There is a spectrum of actions you might take which range from the strictly personal to the more broadly institutional and political.
Starting simply, we can all consume less. That means fewer flights, less driving, less plastic, turning the lights off, turning the thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer, giving up meat, not buying things we don't need and then landfilling them, and a whole host of other simple lifestyle adjustments. You might consider giving up Amazon Prime; using Postmates, Caviar, Seamless, and other on-demand services less; or avoiding single-use plastics for a month to see how doable it is.
To the extent that some consumption is unavoidable, you might consider composting your organic waste (which the city is now making much easier!); cloth diapering; buying sustainably-sourced, locally-made, and recyclable products or even just buying second-hand; avoiding wasteful packaging (like single-serve food pouches); and supporting our local small businesses and farmers market rather than big-box stores and major corporations.
Building on consumption reduction, we can transition to using renewable energy to the fullest extent possible. Obviously, in New York this can be a bit complicated! If you’re not in a position to install your own solar panels or windmill, then you might explore community solar or reputable energy services companies (ESCOs) that offer the opportunity to buy renewable energy certificates (RECs). If you rely on an automobile, go electric if possible. (Incidentally, on this front, Love Child is a proud community solar subscriber with PowerMarket, an initiative that offers NYC residents the opportunity to support local NYC solar energy projects. You can sign up to get 10% off your monthly electricity bill and and $50 off one month of membership using code LoveChildYoga.)
Another simple step you might take is to donate – for example to environmental nonprofits – if you can afford to do so, although of course you have to be realistic about the actual impact and cautious about where your money is going.
Not only can donations go to environmental nonprofits, but towards political candidates, which brings us to another potential action item – voting for climate sanity! This means being informed about local, state-wide, national, and global climate issues. In New York State, we can look to organizations like NY Renews, Sane Energy Project, and We Are Seneca Lake for guidance on issues like moving New York towards 100% renewable electricity generation and stopping the ongoing buildout of fracked gas infrastructure in New York State and across the region. (For more about preventing the construction of a fracked gas pipeline under New York Harbor, visit Stop the Williams Pipeline.)
If you are feeling motivated to take public climate action beyond the relatively passive acts of donating and voting, there are no shortage of opportunities to get involved in climate action and activism. Not everyone is prepared to protest in the streets, but you can be on the phone to your elected representatives, at community meetings, and in conversation with your friends, neighbors, and loved ones about how essential climate issues and climate action are.
We can also audit our own investments and financial commitments. New York City and State have made significant progress on fossil fuel divestment, but sadly, we have a long way still to go, especially when it comes to the role that our banks and financial institutions play in funding the fossil fuel industry and deepening the climate crisis. The bad news is that J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup – indeed all the major American banks – are pretty terrible on this front as this new report documents.
If you happen to be in a leadership position of any organization, you can look to reshape your organization with climate sanity and climate justice as key pillars; however, this will no doubt present some serious challenges, so be prepared for the obstacles that will arise.
At an even broader scale, we can support civic initiatives, for example the renewal of New York City's mass transit or the retrofitting of our building stock to radically improve energy efficiency. Few things make a bigger ecological and climate impact then having and using excellent mass transit at scale, so for the future of the City and the world, we should all use our trains and buses as much as possible – even though the MTA has been struggling mightily in recent years – and perhaps even more, throw our collective weight behind restoring and renewing our transit system so that we can leave the next generation a system that is truly world-class. After all, part of what is great, and uniquely democratic, about New York is our mass transit!
Bold initiatives extend beyond our great city too, of course, and you can also throw your energy behind a Green New Deal or something like it to help move the country and the world in the direction we need to be going. There is a huge amount of work to be done, not least in figuring out how we accomplish the necessary transformations (electrification, decarbonization, re-imagination of our food system, etc., etc., etc.) at the massive scale and with the urgency required.
Finally, as we educate ourselves, we can also look to educate our kids and others around us. As you take action, make a point of sharing with your child why you are doing what you're doing. Keeping plants at home, engendering an appreciation for non-human animals and nature, and looking to consume and waste less and take responsibility for the consumption for which we are responsible can all be learning and teaching opportunities. There is a power in seeing others take action, and we have great opportunities to learn from each other, and to model for young people what a better world might look like.
Tom O’Keefe is a writer and educator based in New York City. You can read more of his climate writing at Climate / Change. He is also responsible for Love Child’s thriving garden, greenery and adopt a plant program and hosts Love Child’s monthly Partner’s Meet Up.