Better World

Raising eco warriors: Parenting in the climate change era — Power to the Parents, Ep. 5

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In this episode of our podcast, Power to the Parents, Winona Bateman, the founder and executive director of Families for a Livable Climate, discusses her inspiration to be vocal about climate change and the anxiety and paralysis that many parents feel about the future. She emphasizes the role of stories in climate action and how they can help engage and empower parents to take action.

Winona also shares her approach to talking to kids about climate change and offers advice for parents who are unsure how to approach the topic. She highlights the importance of holding corporations accountable and taking climate action as families. Despite the challenges, Winona finds hope in nature and life, and encourages others to join the community and work towards a thriving and just world.

Transcript of Episode 5: Raising Eco Warriors: Parenting in the Climate Change Era

Ailen Arreaza, host: Hello and welcome to Power to the Parents. I am your host, Ailen Arreaza, and today I have with me Winona Bateman. She is the founder and executive director of Families for a Livable Climate, an amazing group that galvanizes families to fight against climate change in Montana. Hi, Winona, welcome to the pod.

Winona Bateman: Hello, thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here. I was so excited to learn about your show and get the invitation. I’m looking forward to our conversation.

On getting involved in climate action as an introvert…

Ailen Arreaza: Me too. All right, let’s dive in. So I wanted to start by asking you something because I’ve heard that you identify as an introvert.

Winona Bateman: I do!

Ailen Arreaza: But at the same time, you’re very vocal about climate change and taking climate action. So can you tell me about what inspires you to be so vocal about this issue, being someone who’s not really always willing to put yourself out there like that?

Winona Bateman: Yeah, it makes me think of the signs that I’ve seen at climate protests around the world. And I’ve seen one sign over and over again that says, “It’s so bad, even the introverts are here.” Which I think pretty much sums it up.

But my own personal engagement came in 2018 when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued their 1.5 degree report, which basically said we need to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees globally in order to minimize the impacts to our communities and families. And reading about that report was really sobering for me.

“The report was intense enough that when I thought of my four-year-old at the time and her future, I was really worried and upset and scared.”

I had always been engaged in different issues. But I wouldn’t say I was like an activist at that point in my life and the report was intense enough that when I thought of my four-year-old at the time and her future, I was really worried and upset and scared. And it kind of moved me out of my introverted place of like, okay, I have some flexibility in my life, which is a huge privilege, and I need to use that for something for my kids’ future and for the world that I love. I mean, we live on a beautiful planet. There’s so much to be grateful for and so much to enjoy. And so that’s what moved me out of it.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, for so many of us as parents, it’s our kids that really push us to get vocal, to get activated, to do things differently. And with climate change, I feel like for some of us or for a lot of parents, I’ve heard that there is this level of anxiety that we feel. It’s this idea of like, what is the future gonna look like for my kid? I have no idea. And sometimes that’s paralyzing. So I’m curious if you ever felt anything like that and what helped you move from that paralysis that we sometimes feel because it’s such an overwhelming problem to action.

On why community is the key to climate change solutions…

Winona Bateman: Right, 100%. And that is such a normal human response to something that’s so big. And something that none of us can solve on our own, right? So if our kid was, you know, in the road and a car was coming and we knew we had to go move them to keep them safe, we would just, we could do that, we could be the hero. But with climate change, it’s not like that.

It is this thing that’s kind of bearing down on their futures and that we need our generations as adults to act now so our kids can have a good future. But we can’t do it alone. We have to do it in community. And we have to do it on a massive scale. So obviously, one person, it’s really hard to have that much power. 

So I think what I found was that I was worried, angry, wanting to do something. And what seemed to work is to get together with other people and talk about it and share our fears and our hopes and say, well, if things are hard and it’s a big challenge, let’s be in this together as a community and let’s work together to do our part, a very small part to make the future better for our kids. And I always use the image of a tapestry.

 “We can all be weaving this tapestry of change. We can grab our thread and we can start running. We can hold hands with our neighbors and we can just start weaving in and out and doing our part.”

In the fight for a livable and thriving future for our kids, there are going to be very few heroes. Definitely some heroes, but very few. But what we can be as a community is we can all be weaving this tapestry of change. We can grab our thread and we can start running. We can hold hands with our neighbors and we can just start weaving in and out and doing our part. And if we’re all doing that, we’re going to create this big, beautiful new world. Right?

And that’s why community for me has become like the motivating and kind of cohesive inspiration. And that’s why our mission as an organization is we create community for climate action in Montana. And sometimes that feels nebulous, but most days when I reflect on our work and how we bring people together to act, it feels really concrete and really speaks to the world we want to live in in the future.

On the role of stories in climate action…

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, totally. And that community that you’re building, so much of it is about storytelling and telling stories and sharing experiences. So I’d love to hear about how you use stories in your work. And I know we have, I think we have a story that we wanna play, but I wanna hear a little bit about how the role that stories play in the work that you do.

Winona Bateman: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I would say they play the role of bringing us together and keeping us together and awakening us to our power and potential in this world we’re living in right now. And so we use story to help people articulate why they care, why they want to take action.

We use story to help people figure out what kinds of actions feel good for them as a human, because that’s really variable and there’s really no right answer to action. There’s literally millions of things any of us can be doing to help solve this problem. So there’s a lot of options. And so we use stories to engage parents and caregivers who come to us and say, I am really scared and I want to get involved and I don’t know where to start.

And we use story, help them try to talk about their story, tell their story, so they can find it, navigate what their pathway is going to look like. And then, we use story, we’ve been using our Montana Climate Story Project in a couple different ways. One, to just catalog what’s happening across our state in a way that’s just about someone saying, you know, I used to fish on this river all summer, and I took my kids there, and now I want to take my grandkids there, and except the river’s closed down for half the summer because of water temperature, because of what we call hoot owl restrictions on the river.

And, you know, story is a way that we can talk to each other and share experiences without political division. It’s one of our oldest forms of communication as humans and it’s like how we get to know each other, how we create culture, how we invent things, right? Story is so central.

So on one level, we’re just collecting what’s happening and trying to paint a cohesive picture or a big picture of every corner of our state. On the other hand, we’re trying to reawaken a tool in our communities that can help us have conversations. And instead of getting into political talking points that divide us, talk about our shared fears, our shared hopes, our deep love of our beautiful state, and our planet, and all the things we have to be grateful for and that are part of our family’s cultures, right? So it’s serving a lot of different purposes, I would say.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah. Well, why don’t we listen to one of those stories now?

(Climate action story as told by Laura Garber of the Bitterroot Valley)

Yeah, that was really powerful and inspiring. And Winona, I know that these stories are a way to counteract something that I’ve heard you refer to as climate silence. Can you tell me a little bit about that phenomenon?

Winona Bateman: Yeah, I can tell you a little bit about that for sure. So climate silence has been well documented. And I would say that the organization that I’ve read the most of their research about it is the Yale Climate Communications Program. And essentially, I’ll use the example of Montana.

In Montana, roughly 64 percent of people agree that climate change is going to adversely affect future generations. And about 68 percent of Montanans talk about climate rarely or never. So there’s almost the same number of people who are worried it’s gonna impact future generations, also don’t talk about it. Doesn’t mean it’s the same people, right?

But it’s pretty astonishing to me that those percentages are so close. You would think if 64 percent of people were really worried about the future for our kids, that we’d be having a lot of conversation about how do we tackle this huge problem. But because of political divisions and polarization and probably, just frankly, overwhelm and despair about what to do…there are a lot of reasons we don’t have those conversations. So stories are a way to start a conversation with someone.

You know, you’re with a friend, you’re with a family member and they say, oh, I feel I’m a little worried about our snowpack here in Montana. Like, it’s a record low for us. And what is that gonna mean in July and August when temperatures are 90 to 100 degrees for like three or four weeks? What’s that gonna mean? And I might say, well, yeah, I’m worried too. And I just remember 2021 when we had smoke for six or eight weeks in the Missoula Valley. And it was also during COVID and I couldn’t invite friends over to play in our house and I couldn’t go meet friends at the park and take my kid outside and have her engage with her friends because the smoke was too bad. And it was maddening. It was just like…I mean, certainly we’ve always had wildfires in the West, but like I’m really worried about that.

So that could be an example of where I could connect that story to that experience. And, you know, people of all political persuasions make those kinds of comments, you know, we’re all seeing what’s happening. And if you can bring your own concern and one of your stories in, it’s a way to then open the door and have a conversation.

We always say when we’re ever starting a conversation with anyone in our work, we’re like, our only goal is to connect emotionally through a story of some kind, our own story, show our vulnerability, and then make sure we end the conversation with the goal of having another conversation. So that means we have to take care of how we respond. We have to take care. And I think that’s so important. So I kind of took a sidetrack, but hopefully that is a good response.

Ailen Arreaza: No, that’s a great response. And it’s about calling people in, into community, into a, rather than calling them out about, you know, what they’re doing wrong or how they need to change their lives in all these ways in order to protect our climate. That’s a little bit too harsh, but like having a more slow, organic, real approach is totally, that makes a ton of sense.

And then your group is really focused on families. So I’m curious, we are a parenting organization as well. I have two boys. Do you talk to your daughter about climate change?

On talking to kids about climate action and climate change…

Winona Bateman: I do. Yeah, I talk to her. I’ve been, I mean, she’s, I have pictures of the two of us at my first protest that I organized — or first, I guess, demonstration when she was four. So she’s been in it since she was four. She used to play climate strike as a game. Now she’s kind of grown out of it. But yeah, we talk about it. And you know, our conversations are going to start to get probably more intense here in the next few years. She’s 10 now.

“I try to be real and say it’s a really big problem, but millions of people are working to solve it and we have all the solutions we need to actually solve it. We really do.”

But, you know, I share like, oh, like we’re low on snowpack and that is because, you know, a contributing factor is our changing climate and our warming temperatures. And so I just, but I try to be real and say it’s a really big problem, but millions of people are working to solve it and we have all the solutions we need to actually solve it. We really do. I mean, there’s problems we have to solve within those solutions for sure, and we should address them. They’re very serious problems.

But we have the solutions, and what we need is connection and community to get those solutions implemented. It’s like the missing piece. But yes, we talk about it all the time, and I try to just be truthful and focus on solutions and the fact that we can solve it, because we can.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, that’s a great formula for talking to kids about anything complicated. Yeah. And do you have any advice for parents who don’t know how to approach this with their kids? You know, it feels daunting and big, and sometimes I feel like I need a degree in some sort of science to be able to talk to my kid about it.

So how can I approach it as a regular mom whose kid might be learning about it in school or whose kid might be frustrated because they can’t go skiing or because it’s really hot or because there’s seaweed in Florida when we go visit our cousins down there?

Winona Bateman: Well, I mean, it certainly depends on the age of the kiddo, but I would say, you know, if you don’t have a lot of information as the parent because you’re aware of it as a problem and you’re worried, but like you haven’t been able to kind of look at it, I would say if your kid comes to you and is having questions or you’re ready to start talking about it with them, just getting age appropriate videos… 

“The Earth is covered in the atmosphere and it used to be like a little light blanket but because we’re releasing carbon dioxide through burning fossil fuels, the blanket around the earth is getting thicker. And so it’s trapping more of the heat that comes in.”

The science of climate change is pretty simple. Like the Earth is covered in the atmosphere and it used to be like a little light blanket but because we’re releasing carbon dioxide through burning fossil fuels, the blanket around the earth is getting thicker. And so it’s trapping more of the heat that comes in. It’s like how a greenhouse works, right? And that’s like the basic idea. And there are tons of videos out there that you can watch. You can find one to watch with your child, and then just talk about it.

Maybe prepping yourself with understanding it, the science of it and kind of what you want to focus on for your community or the sort of habitat that you live in. Some folks are in a really urban area or along the ocean and they have different issues than say we have out here in the inner mountain west, right? And they’re all being driven by rising temperatures. But what the impacts are a little bit different. So learning about the impacts in your area, and then maybe, you know, is there anyone working on a local solution to build resiliency in the community?

If you have a kiddo who’s like, I’m really worried, and I’d like to do something, because let me tell you, our tagline is action is our hope. And every time I take an action, or especially in community, my hope grows. And that’s how we build hope is by acting. And so I would say that taking action with your kids will probably feel really good and relieve a lot of anxiety. And finding a community of people who care.

But starting the conversation, not trying to sugarcoat it, it is serious and telling them it’s not serious…that’s not true. So it’s really important to be real because they’re gonna figure it out, they’re gonna hear about it, right? It’s important to be real.

It’s also important to focus on solutions and that if we work together, we can solve it because that is the truth. And I mean, if we’re gonna have to spend time thinking about it, I’d rather spend time in that space of like, we’re going to work together to address it and build connections and hope and work for a better future. It feels way better than like I’m gonna stay home and be really sad. Both are human reactions. I don’t shame anyone for having those feelings at all because I’ve had them. I’ve had bad days.

On how to decide which climate change solutions to focus on…

Ailen Arreaza: Right. That’s such helpful advice. You were saying earlier that there are a million solutions and a million things that we can do to combat climate change. And yet at the same time, there is nothing that one of us can do that will solve it. We need to do it in community. So how do we decide what to focus on? And also I’d love to, yeah, so let’s start there. How do we decide what to focus on?

Winona Bateman: I would say pick something you enjoy doing and that brings you joy. You know I mean there’s so many avenues you could go, from we’re going to grow more of our own food and we’re going to try to reduce our waste, just on the home level. And those things can feel really good and if there’s something that are already part of your family’s culture or just how you work, or maybe it’s your neighborhood or whatever wants to do a project or something.

I think finding things that bring you joy, but also not just focusing on the home front, but figuring out what in the broader world and the system would feel good to do. Like maybe, for example, I have a friend who’s a financial advisor and what he has done is learn about sustainable investing, ESG investing, and he has started educating families. We’ve done a bunch of Zoom workshops and also in-person workshops where Montana families have come and essentially just gotten information about how to move their money out of fossil fuel investments. And I think we’ve, to date, through our workshops, families have invested $10 million or something. It’s a drop in the bucket globally, but it’s substantial, right?

And he had decided that he wanted to use his field, like what he did for a living, to make a difference. And that feels really good to him and feels really impactful. And I would say it is. So looking around in your life and saying, what am I already doing where I could talk more about climate, I could take action, I could go speak to lawmakers and say, hey, I’m a horticulturalist, right? And I’m seeing the impact on plants and I’m worried about how we’re gonna preserve this amazing plant we have in our community. I don’t know, that’s like a random idea.

But I think, if you want to take action, it’s good to pick something that feels like, it makes you want to do it again, I would say. I would also say that it is important to not get too caught up in like…I mean, do the things at home that feel good and that makes a difference, but we really need systemic change. So how can you do something that brings you joy, that gets you involved with, you know, advocacy for certain laws or changing something on a more systemic level in your community or your state. And also it’s really important that you enjoy it on some level.

On putting pressure on corporations to take climate action…

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, that’s totally right. Because that’s what’s going to keep you going, right? And that’s what’s going to make it sustainable for you. But yeah, I wanted to ask you about the role that corporations are playing here, right? Because we always talk about like, we caused climate change and now we have to solve it. And yes, but corporations are the ones that played like, you know, the biggest role in destroying our planet. So yeah, how does that fit into the work that you do?

Winona Bateman: Yeah. We take on corporations, I mean specifically the energy company in our state, Northwestern Energy is our largest energy monopoly in the state, monopoly utility in the state, and we have been pressuring them to do better and move in the right direction since we started.

Corporations have a huge role to play and applying pressure to corporations is, I think, really worthwhile. It gets their attention. Most of them want to be, you know, the folks who run the company want their company and their work to be thought of as a good thing. And shining a spotlight and applying pressure is super important. I mean, I see, personally, I hear from families all the time who are like, well, I would get involved, but I feel like a hypocrite because I have to get things in plastic packaging and I have to drive to work and I’m part of the problem.

But the missing piece there is, is like, well, the system is set up that you have to drive to work. Like that’s how we built our neighborhoods and our communities, and we need to revisit that. And yes, if there’s public transportation and you feel comfortable taking it and that works for you, that’s a thing you can do. But if you can’t, don’t be awash in guilt. Like, right? Because we need it to change on a much bigger level.

Like energy companies could be like, okay, our product is putting Earth and all of its people and animals and other families of life into danger. We could change our business model. They knew 40 years ago that we were going to be where we are today, they knew. So they could have changed their business model and they didn’t, and that’s not our fault.

So I would just say corporations have a huge role to play and, you know, we want them to be heroes. Come on corporations. Like now’s your time. You can be a real hero, not a zero, right? I would love to see that, but we’ll, you know, we can hope.

Ailen Arreaza: Yeah, I think that’s such an important message. It’s a both and, there’s tons of things that we can do as families and it’s not our fault that we are where we are and we can hold corporations accountable, we can do things as a family, we can take action. There’s a whole menu of things that we can do.

And so I wanted to ask you, what would you say to someone who’s still sitting on the sideline around climate change, to a family who’s…one of these people who are just participating in climate silence because they don’t know, they don’t know how to start.

Winona Bateman: And they’re listening and they’re curious about where to go. I would say there’s no time to start like today. And I would quote Thich Nhat Hanh. And I would say the future is made up of the present moment. And every time you act and do something positive right now, that builds a better world. And our kids need us. And we need you, and we’re here for you. And join us. Come into the community.

On finding hope in climate action…

Ailen Arreaza: I love that. Okay, one last question for you, Winona. What gives you hope right now when you think about climate action?

“Spring is coming and all the plants are showing up 150 percent to grow their fruit and make their pollen and bring life in full force. And we can do that too. We can be like those plants and all the living things that are just bringing their whole selves.”

Winona Bateman: Just our beautiful world and my kiddo. And I’m going to get emotional now. Life gives me hope. One of our storytellers at our last event. Well, she’s been at two events, but she talked about, you know, spring is coming and all the plants are showing up 150 percent to grow their fruit and make their pollen and bring life in full force. And we can do that too. We can be like those plants and all the living things that are just bringing their whole selves.

We’re not gonna be perfect. And that’s okay. Nature’s not perfect and we’re part of it. So that gives me hope that we’re part of this amazing web of life. And I just want all of our kiddos to live in a thriving, beautiful world that’s just and connected. And I’m happy showing up for that every day.

Ailen Arreaza: That made me want to cry and gave me chills.

Winona Bateman: Well, yeah. It’s the time we’re in. We need those big stories.

Ailen Arreaza: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed our conversation.

Winona Bateman: Me as well. Thank you for having me.

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