By RICK WHITBECK
My son is only eight years old, and already it is time for the talk.
No, not that talk; a talk that shouldn’t be happening, let alone at this age.
The talk is going to be on how, regardless of the hysteria around its “existential threat,” climate change isn’t anything to be worried about. The world isn’t going to end anytime soon, nor should my son change his happy, helpful, and high-emotional-intelligence-driven demeanor.
Unfortunately, this was not the first time my young son brought up this topic of climate change. First, he saw the character Molly grapple with her clubhouse sinking in the tundra during the animated PBS Kids show, Molly of Denali, which is set here in Alaska. Molly’s grandfather blamed climate change, and my son wanted to know what that was. I told him it was a naturally occurring situation that has happened numerous times throughout history. That appeased him.
Then, over Christmas break, his friends were discussing the tremendous snowfall levels in Anchorage this year, which led to contrasts with this winter versus the extreme heat in 2021. One of his friends’ older siblings told the group his parents blamed climate change for both, and how it wasn’t going to be good for Alaska going forward. We had a brief chat about seasons, and how weather isn’t always the same year after year. Some years have more rain, some have more sun, some are warmer and some are colder. All are beautiful here in our home state.
Don’t get me wrong: kids are naturally curious beings. They should be allowed to debate the issues, especially with each other. But there’s a difference between debate and indoctrination, and that is frustrating as a parent. They’ve led my impressionable son to wonder if his home state is in peril, just as if he’d ask if our pet throwing up means she is seriously sick. To him, without a basis to measure insignificant weather events against real-life catastrophes, questions arise.
Things took a turn last week when his friend’s father told my son that his dad (i.e. me) was helping “ruin” Alaska and “hurtling it toward a climate cliff.” His argument was based on my support for energy workers and advocating for Alaska’s resource-based economy. I verified this with the parent in a tense conversation later that night.
The other parent let me know he takes issue with my job as the Alaska state director for Power The Future. Our organization champions energy workers and fights for more jobs and opportunities, pushing back against the (false) narrative that traditional energy has no place in today’s society. We challenge the idea that there is a binary choice between the environment and responsible resource extraction.
It was clear that this had not been an in-passing comment by the parent. It was a calculated assault on my son’s innocence, full of hysteria and hyperbole. With the exception of the most ardent green extremists, most well-rounded people know that alarmism doesn’t work, isn’t accurate, and that those preaching their “climate cult” message are actually pushing people away with continuous, Chicken Little-esque fear. Yet, here was this parent, with an obvious agenda, attempting to both push his belief system on my son, and inflict damage on my trustworthiness as his provider and father.
My son’s questions were accusatory and direct: Why did I hate Alaska? Why was I making money hurting the Earth? Don’t I know Alaska is burning? Why don’t I sell my diesel pickup and buy an electric vehicle, since it is better for the planet?
The questions haven’t stopped coming. Lots of queries, and so, we’ll have “the talk” about climate, about weather, about how inventions over the past 175 years have made our lives comfortable, compared to Alaskans in past generations. How Alaska is blessed with extraordinary deposits of oil, gas, minerals, precious metals, timber, fish and God-given geography. How Alaskans work every day to safely and responsibly harvest and extract those resources, without ruining the beauty or staying power of our lands, or doing harm to our people. How those preaching doom and gloom have been doing so for decades, using worst case scenarios to describe situations that invariably do not come to pass. The same people telling us with certainty that Miami will be underwater next decade were saying the same thing about the Maldives in the 1980s.
We’ll talk about how my job isn’t liked by a small-but-vocal group of Alaskans, and how that’s OK. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions in this great country of ours, even those devoid from reality. We’ll talk about my wife and my unconditional love for him and each other, and how we, as a family, don’t need anyone else’s approval to live a happy and robust life.
We’ll talk about all of that and more, and I will let him know he should never be afraid of a bogeyman called “climate change”, nor of how others’ hysteria around the subject should cause him to stop living his life to the fullest, in the beauty surrounding him daily.
He’s eight. He’s innocent. He’s happy. He’s the most important person in my life. He’s not going to exist in a state of fear because of something as trivial as a changing cycle of heat, cold, wind and water; regardless of how his friends and their families choose to live. I owe him that, after all.
Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @PTFAlaska.