The Four Children Engage With Climate Change

The four children of the Passover Haggadah can furnish models for four ways people understand climate change. Every person is unique—but we can learn how to approach each type of learner appropriately to bring more action on the climate.

The wise (hacham) children know how serious climate change is, and earnestly desire to avert or minimize it. Realizing they are not doing everything they could to fix the problem, they ask for guidance. Some of them, unfortunately, use their knowledge in unproductive ways, such as shaming other people for being less active than the are, or boring people by citing too much technical detail. Some may even turn their knowledge to destructive ends, selling it to companies promoting more fossil fuel use. We can try to keep them focused on positive hopes for improvement, and inquire deeply into their lives to see how they can best join the movement to reverse climate change.

The wicked (rasha) children don’t focus on knowledge like the wise children, but pester us to explain what we must do to solve the problem. They hold a potential for great contributions, because their rebellious streak is needed to challenge a fundamentally destructive, abusive system blind with greed. These people will disrupt polite convocations and break laws to fight climate devastation. We need to direct their energy to the most effective strategies that will overturn the current system predicated on the production of carbon emissions.

The simple (tam) children are not sure what climate change looks like, do not connect it to incessant stories of draughts, storms, and heat waves, and are ignorant to the point where they may not think climate change is happening or that it threatens them and their families. Frankly, they have many stresses in life that take precedence for them over climate change. The simple children need a dialog where you ask what bothers them and bring it around to understanding the role of climate change in trends that are visible to them.

The children who do not know to ask (she’einu yodeia lishmol) are traumatized by climate change. They may have gone through an event such as losing their homes to a storm, and do not want to be told that such events will recur. They are afraid of something so world-historic and final as climate devastation, so they assiduously practice avoidance techniques. One must approach such people by acknowledging their trauma. One has to give them room to discuss their fears and gradually build their capacity to face and bear the pain. It will take time before they can actively participate in battling the evil that has harmed them.

As with the Passover Haggadah, our goal is to make each person understand that climate change is happening to him or her right now—not affecting just people far off in space or time—and to make everyone active participants in ameliorating climate change's effects.

March 26, 2018

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Andy Oram

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