April 06, 2021

Climate dreams from my children

As we kick-off Climate Awareness Month in April, we applaud the promising actions taken so far by the Biden administration on climate breakdown - from key, climate-friendly appointments all across the U.S. executive branch to the 2.2 trillion dollar infrastructure plan announced by President Biden on March 31st.

We also look forward to the U.S. hosting the Leaders Summit on Climate this Earth Day, April 22nd, and we continue to lobby for ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that we hope will promise substantial emissions reductions needed for the U.S. to lead on climate.

But I am not naive that the future won’t bring many more twists and turns, and I draw strength from my children to steel ourselves for the continuing fight for a liveable and just future.

That’s why I was so proud that my children participated in the virtual climate strike hosted by the Global Youth Caucus on March 19th. While they, as probably the youngest members of GYC, were not quite the intended audience of the panel, the event was fantastic and very educational for us all. We enjoyed the informative presentations on climate action and climate justice, and the brilliant Q&A’s between the GYC and three prominent climate change activists.

It’s complicated…

My daughter has been active with Fridays for Future ever since she saw Greta Thunberg call out to young people to act on climate. She talks to her friends and to her teachers very matter of factly about the plight of polar bears losing their habitat in a rapidly warming arctic, and how fish are ingesting and accumulating plastics in their bodies and why that’s bad for us.

And she’s marched in every Global Climate Strike in Cologne/Bonn, Germany, except the last one, which we took part in virtually due to the global pandemic.

She probably inherits some of her activism from my German in-laws. They were environmental activists who marched and demonstrated in the 70s and 80s, and they raised my partner to speak out and fight for what’s right and for what’s just.

My own upbringing as part of an AAPI immigrant family in the suburbs of Chicago is more complicated. I was encouraged to work hard and not to draw attention to myself politically, as immigrants already are judged harshly enough without the additional burden of being labeled as troublemakers, my older relatives would say.

But many things that I learned to do as a kid, I now consider to be good for the environment as an adult. Actions my elders never framed as being environmental, but rather frugal and practical and “just what you do“, can have an impact on climate in the aggregate.

My siblings and I probably were amongst the first kids in our school to do our assignments at home under the harsh blue-ish light of energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs. We turned down the thermostat a few notches in the cold Chicago winters and put on sweaters. We collected every brown paper bag, then every plastic shopping bag and plastic food container in our kitchen drawers so that we could reuse them time and time again. And we returned every glass bottle to get back the precious bottle deposit.

These practices definitely have rubbed off onto my children, and my family in Germany continues to practice this today, perhaps reframed now as sustainability and environmentalism.

How might we…

With the clock ticking down the years left to avoid breaching climate tipping points and to avert the worst effects of climate breakdown, collective and political action across nation-states will have the biggest impact on the course that our climate takes.

But politics depends often on social and cultural movements, and these shifts themselves can be influenced by individual action to change the conversation. Just look at how the youth climate movement has shifted the climate conversation after decades and decades of gridlock.

As Americans, we inherit the legacy of being the world’s largest historic emitter of carbon pollution. As people of Asian and Pacific Island heritage, many of us have family and friends living in areas that are forecasted to bear the worst consequences of climate breakdown. 

While we may carry the burdens of multiple worlds, do we also, as AAPI and Americans Abroad, have access to the opportunities of multiple cultures to reframe and shift the conversation?

How might we talk about the complex relationship AAPI’s have with climate? How might we bridge our cultural experiences to come up with new ways to engage new audiences and create new opportunities to talk about climate?

I hope you will join us at the next Teatime (April 14 or April 28) where we will share our experiences growing up with our AAPI families around environmental issues. Perhaps we can also start to imagine how we might leverage our fluency in multiple cultures to bridge across people and issues and inspire more action on climate.


Calls to Action