How to Talk to Your Kids About Global Warming (and Not Freak Them Out)

,,Discussing the birds and bees with your kids - that universally awkward task - is a lot less awkward than telling them why, in the foreseeable future, there may not be any birds or bees to speak of.

That may sound farfetched, but in reality our kids are growing up in a world where climate change has already begun to hammer our ecosystems and compromise our living conditions. On Friday, President Obama announced that he'd created a national network of emergency responders - a kind of A-Team of local officials in 21 states - to address "the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change… [including] severe heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods." These climate impacts, he said, are very real, very costly (we tax payers have already absorbed tens of billions of dollars in recovery fees from extreme weather events), and will only intensify.

Related: The 25 greenest homes in the world

Climate change is no longer a looming-in-the-future problem, it's a here-and-now, in-our-faces problem, and our kids and grandkids will bear the brunt of it. As the White House gets serious about preparing the nation to respond and adapt, we as parents need to get serious about preparing our kids. While stopping climate change is no longer possible, solving it is still within our reach. It's up to us as parents to arm our kids with the knowledge, the emotional endurance, and, above all, the optimism they will need to generate solutions.

Thomas Edison famously said "Necessity is the mother of invention," and that's truer now than ever before. Climate change could very well be the most powerful catalyst for innovation humanity has ever known, and the biggest job-creation of our time - a lemons-into-lemonade scenario of cosmic proportions. But all this depends on the preparedness and resilience of our kids.

To begin preparing them and building their resilience, we need to do the following 6 things: listen, read, dream, change, and vote:

Listen

It may be that your kid knows a lot more about global warming than you do. Ask them what they know, what they've discussed in school and with their friends, and what questions they have. Many kids already understand that they're inheriting a problem they didn't create. They may ask: How did you get us into this mess? If they do, don't squirm, just reframe the question: How can global warming be the best - not the worst - thing that ever happened to us.

Read

A number of authors have taken on the challenge of explaining global warming in kid terms. Four great options to read with your kids: The Story of the Blue Planet, by Andri Snaer Magnason; The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, by Joanna Cole; Why Are the Ice Caps Melting? by Anne Rockwell, and Lyn Cherry's How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming.

Dream

Global warming is already inspiring innovation on a grand scale. Zero-energy homes, the smart grid, electric cars, solar power, wind turbines, algae fuels, vertical farming, green cities… a clean, smart, sustainable future is a beautiful dream to dream. And it's within our grasp. After all, it was American ingenuity - our penchant for big cars, big highways, energy-guzzling homes, machines and gizmos - that led us down the path to global warming; and American ingenuity can get us out of it. Explore this concept with your kids.

Change

Decide with your kids to change one thing (or one more thing) in your family's lifestyle to help curb your carbon footprint: screw in CFL light bulbs; recycle; grow your own food; reduce your red meat consumption; carpool, ride bikes, take public transit; have a staycation. These small steps can be - must be - the gateway to broader sea change.

Vote

In the long run, nothing will do more to solve global warming than putting the right local and federal policies in place to cut carbon emissions and jump-start a clean-energy economy. Research with your kids the environmental platforms of your elected officials. Decide together who you think will be the best candidates to help solve global warming, and bring your kids with you to the voting booth.

-By Jeanne Nolan and Amanda Little

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