Small changes, huge difference: Ways to tackle climate change as a family
This article was written for the Book Trust to give my top 9 tips on how to make HUGE positive difference to our planet and also some of the many children’s books that have inspired me over the years.
2021 is a crucial year for climate change – and we can all get involved. Stella and the Seagull author Georgina Stevens shares her top tips for making little changes as a family that can make a big difference to our future.
With COP26 in November in the UK (where global governments are meeting to agree critical environmental targets which, if ambitious enough, could prevent run away climate change and biodiversity loss), this is the year for families to add their voices to those calling for ambitious targets to help support our beautiful planet. Here are my top tips for making yourself heard and having the biggest impact:
Do you know what your savings or your children’s savings are up to whilst you are getting on with your life? Are they being used by your bank to fund fossil fuel projects such as coal mines, fracking projects or projects that cause deforestation? You can check here. Switching away from banks that fund environmental and socially destructive projects sends a very strong message to banks and our governments about what we want for our world, and it is also the most impactful single action you can take to cut your carbon footprint.
Let it shine
Do you know where your energy comes from to heat or power your home? You can check here and by switching to a renewable energy tariff (which can sometimes be cheaper) you are telling energy companies what you want for your children’s future – and, you could cut your carbon footprint by about 25%. Plus, you might even save money!
Live life on the veg
Eating less meat, particularly beef, can really help cut your family’s carbon footprint (a vegetarian diet is about half as impactful as a meat-based diet.) So why not ramp up the veggies this summer? Get the kids grilling food on the barbecue, try some of the amazing vegan burgers around these days, or try out a new veggie dish. If every family in the UK swapped one meat meal a week for a vegan one, it would be equivalent to taking 16 million cars off the road and it sends a strong message to our supermarkets too that we want more tasty planet-friendly alternatives!
Illustration: Erika Meza
Be like Stella
In my latest book, Stella and the Seagull, Stella writes to a local company to ask for their help to reduce single use plastic which is polluting the beach, and asks her local stores to help too. Is there a local company whose products you like, but who you feel could do more to help the climate crisis or plastic pollution? Why not write to them with your children? Or help your children write to your MP and tell them about all of the things you are doing as a family about climate change, and ask them what they are doing – or thank them if they are doing a good job!
Holidays that don’t cost the earth
We all know now that flying is one of the most polluting ways we can travel, and with all the restrictions currently in place, why not choose this year to take the train instead? If trains get busier, it will send a message to governments that you are taking the risk of climate change seriously and will help trains to become more competitive with polluting planes. It will also get the airlines thinking more seriously about using sustainable biofuels.
Promise to the Planet
Children can send a direct message to world leaders at COP26, by creating leaves bearing their #PromiseToThePlanet, which alongside schools and scout troupes across the UK will be used to create a virtual forest of messages. These messages will be presented to Boris Johnson and other world leaders at the COP conference itself, so this is certainly a direct route to your children getting their voices heard!
Become Citizen Scientists!
Did you know that we can all be really helpful to many environmental organisations to get a clear picture on the impact of climate change on biodiversity, simply by counting wildlife in our gardens and elsewhere? And this summer there are lots of projects to help with; from counting butterflies in the Big Butterfly Count, to helping the woodland trust monitor the effects of climate change, monitoring your shoreline, doing a 24 hour bio-blitz, or monitoring bats, there is certainly something for everyone!
Illustration: Kate Alizadeh
If you have a garden or a balcony or a sunny window, why not get growing or foraging in your local area this summer? Our food contributes about 25% of global greenhouse gases and depletes our soil, so any food we can grow ourselves or find growing in the hedgerows can help reduce that impact. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live near a farm, pick your own and cut out some of that polluting plastic.
There is no such place as away
We all know landfills are overflowing around the world, and producing a lot of climate warming methane, but what can we do about it? The most important thing we can all do is look at what we are throwing away, so why not turn your kids into waste monitors and keep a tally of what your family are putting in your landfill bin.
Print out a list of what your local council will recycle and ask your children if there are any items in your bin which can be recycled. Ask them what is taking up the most space in your landfill bin and think about ways to reduce them. Perhaps there’s a local farm where you could buy a veg box, or does your local shop do unwrapped veg? Are there lots of chocolate bar wrappers or crisp packets? Is there a different brand they like with a recyclable wrapper – or could you make your own snacks?
Get inspired through reading
There are now a wealth of great books out there to inspire the younger generation. These are some of my favourites:
The Trouble With Dragons by Debi Gliori
This is a truly brilliant book that provides some much-needed honesty about the scale of the issue, and clarity that it’s our fault, but in a really fun way with advice as to what we all need to do. “Dragons eat all the food, and drink all the drink, and use everything up without stopping to think.” It even addresses the population issue in an unflinching way.
There is so much to love about this book. It’s old (1973) but has really stood the test of time and the story of a silly man burning down the trees and ruining the planet to build a rocket to get to a star is particularly pertinent right now.
Illustration: Michael Foreman
The Unexpected Visitor by Jessica Courtney-Tickle
This beautifully illustrated and poignant book has a very clear and timely message about over-fishing and food waste, which it delivers in a gentle and clever way by talking about only taking what we need. Thought provoking and gorgeous!
I love this book for really small ones to help them fall in love with the nature around us. Beautiful humorous rhyming verse from the master of the spoken word and lovely illustrations too.
This book gives us all another reminder that we need to listen to young people and that even our most experienced people do not have all the answers; we can all contribute and right now we need everyone to play their part. Beautiful!
This is a wonderful rhyming verse book which cleverly touches upon a destructive part of our culture which is looking for perfection and cleanliness, and shows how sanitised and boring that can be. Also with some underlying very clever messages around how trees protect us from flooding.
Illustration: Emily Gravett
A much more recent book, inspired by Greta Thunberg. Beautiful illustrations and a beautiful story of how a group of young people can inspire a community to rise up and ask for change, and how that change can be better for everyone.
Georgina Stevens is a sustainability writer, advisor and campaigner. She is a big believer that each of us has the power to make seismic change in our world, and she organises the Be The Change events to help plant seeds of inspiration in this direction. Her favourite things are walking with her dogs, forest-bathing and planting things with her son, Rafael.
Stella and the Seagull by Georgina Stevens, illustrated by Izzy Burton is published by Oxford Children’s Books.