Love and Rage: Kids In The Climate Crisis - The Years Project

Love and Rage: Kids In The Climate Crisis

By Maya Lilly

When interviewing the lead plaintiff suing the U.S. government over climate change recently, I asked what it feels like to have support from community. Kelsey Juliana put it to me this way:

“When I first started out in the climate movement, I was 10 years old. There was no one. It was like banging pots and pans in the street, and everyone still had their windows shut.”

I thought about that statement for days after she said it. My experience was eerily similar, though I am decidedly older than Kelsey. When I became aware of the climate crisis in the 90s, Whole Foods didn’t exist, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report wasn’t easily accessible because there was no INTERNET yet, nor widespread community movements around global warming, the term at the time. We were protesting corporations, pushing for certified organic labeling, and rallying at the World Trade Organization. When I talked to someone about the warmer winter, they would stare at me blankly. It was chilly. Lonely.

Meanwhile, I had always wanted kids. I have always been a Pied Piper around them, prone to kids following me around weddings and giggling at my creativity at tea parties. I never thought twice about whether I would have them. Neither did anyone I knew.

One of my first experiments in talking about climate was to write a script for a Theatre as Activism class. The scene was about a pregnant woman who discovers how deeply we’ve destroyed the ecological checks and balances for a safe earth, and reconsiders whether she’s made the right choice. We performed it for a student audience, and paused for questions afterward. It ended up being an hour-long, deeply divisive conversation. I was mostly attacked for even questioning whether or not a woman should have children. My best friend was the most virulent: “How dare you ever question this choice. This is deeply offensive.” (She didn’t remain my best friend for long.)

Having kids is the most forward-thinking thing that most of us do. Kids give us a subjective stake in an objective, nebulous future, both for their lives and for ours.  We’ve recently released two videos here at The Years Project that take two sides of this issue: David Wallace-Wells had a kid because the future is not yet written and he still has hope human systems can fix things, and Blythe Pepino is not having a child because she thinks it’s pretty clear where we are heading: nowhere good.

Under current circumstances, we are heading for severe climate disruption of all systems, human and ecological, tracked by the lifelines of our children. 2030 is the UN’s big year for cutting emissions. If you had a kid right now, we will need to cut our carbon emissions 45 percent by 2010 levels at the time that your 11-year-old is tiptoeing up to puberty, making emotional friendships more important than family, and just starting to push you away. She will declare her disdain for geometry as the oceans rise and wipe out coastlines. We’ll lose staggering amounts of living species when she loses her lunchbag, and climate refugees will cause political instability just when she maybe, almost, possibly has her first real crush. And that person is, of course, not good enough for her.

The climate scientist Kate Marvel so astutely puts it this way: “I’ve said before that there’s no scientific support for inevitable doom: The barriers to action on climate are social and political, not physical or technological.”

There is a strong possibility we can solve this. There is an equally strong possibility that it will stagnate like income equality, like reparations for slavery, like reforming the prison industrial complex. Yet I’ve never felt more strongly that the world is pushing for a solution than this year, when I’ve produced shoots with all the young people, like Greta Thunberg, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, and Kelsey Juliana, who are on fire. They are fully awake, and in simultaneous LOVE AND RAGE at what’s happening to their planet home.  These are the kids we need born in the world. This is the community I wanted when I was banging on pots and pans and so very alone. And maybe these are the kids who will change my mind about having kids.