Leave It Better Than We Found

I had the great privilege of representing fathers worldwide as a guest at the United Nations on behalf of The Women's International Forum. An incredibly talented and driven panel of female leaders gathered in order to develop effective climate solutions for present and future generations, appropriately titled Leave It Better Than We Found.

So many women throughout the world are taking this challenge seriously. As I took my seat and looked around, I saw a room full of confident, powerful, and committed women from all regions of our planet. The Republic of Austria, former head of the EPA under President Obama, Ms. Gina McCarthy, representatives from Island Nations in the Pacific, and one of Pennsylvania’s own, state representative Ms. Donna Bullock, as well as many private sector leaders. Every passionate leader present at this gathering shared a success story, an optimism and even some unique challenges from back home. 

The positive energy was infectious and again I was reminded of the diversity of my little block in South Philadelphia, of our neighborhood, and I began to consider what takeaways from this gathering I could bring back home to small neighborhood in Philly. A larger question, and one that I’ve given great amounts of personal energy, time, and emotion toward since becoming a father is exploring the intersection of climate change and parenting. What role or responsibility, if any, do parents have during the climate crisis?

If we continue toward our current trajectory, we estimate that by the 2080s the climate of cities in the northeast will tend to feel more like the humid subtropical climates typical of parts of the Midwest or southeastern U.S.

Will our children and grandchildren thrive in a few decades because they remembered to look at the days mosquito index before looking at the days weather forecast and prepare accordingly? How will communicable diseases spread in temperatures that stay warmer and wetter for longer periods of time? What strategies will they use to safeguard themselves from infectious diseases? What can parents like us do today, work on right now, that safeguard our children in the future?

Here in Philadelphia, and many of its most vulnerable neighborhoods in particular, we parents are given multiple opportunities to become active participants in bringing climate solutions to our families. Is renewable energy or home energy usage a sticking point for you? Check out the Solarize Philly program. Is air quality and environmental health outcomes something that makes you tick? Both Moms Clean Air Force and The The Clean Air Council have been relentlessly dedicated to keeping our indoor and outdoor air healthy for generations. Do parents have a responsibility to nourish and cultivate a child's interest in the natural world? Check out The Nature School of Philadelphia and their family hikes in the Wissahickon! Is regional sustainability policy and partnerships a game changer for you? Check out how The Climate and Urban Systems Partnership here in Philly is preparing our region for climate-related outcomes.

More parents need to speak up about climate change and more specifically, how our collective capacity can be a successful catalyst in supporting climate adaptation strategies. The Our kids Climate campaign, a group of international parents formed from that April UN gathering, is a coalition of stewards committed to action. Not next year. Not next week. The time must be Right now.

Observing the energy coalesced from a committed international parents, and mothers in particular, driven to create healthy and sustainable communities, reminds me of nothing short of a herculean effort. I arrived back to Philadelphia with a renewed sense of what can and needs to be done.

I no longer view global warming or climate change as a grandiose problem that polar bears have to adapt to as a matter of survival. Nor is this matter political. For me, it’s not about being republican or democrat. Once your child is born, climate change is about recognizing your new responsibility as a parent. All parents have a role to play, and looking around that conference room reinforced my belief that climate change is not solely a mothers problem to solve. I think the phrase It takes a Village is relevant here.

There is real power in collaboration. As the Co Founder of Climate Dads, I know that all dads have an incredibly critical and important responsibility both for our families and our communities. I’m making it my personal and professional goal to elevate the role of male caregivers in the response to a warming planet.

Indeed more fathers at conferences like this can amplify the parent message so necessary in combating climate change related outcomes. No longer will cognitive biases impede fathers from creating a healthier and safer world. “Being green” doesn’t give others the impression you are less of a man or make you look weak. Quite the opposite actually. 

The debate over global warming is over and I believe a community of Climate Dads is more necessary now more than ever in the history of our brief existence on this planet. A population of committed parents create change for their children and community everyday so why can’t that same population of caregivers be a big part of bringing climate solutions and powerful strategies directly to where we need it most? Directly to our families, for our families, and most importantly, for our children.

I’m challenging all of you in Philadelphia, in the United States, and worldwide to consider how a changing climate will affect your children. For you fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and godparents, know that you aren’t doing this alone. Your community is here. Let’s do this!

Jason Sandman is the Co Founder of Climate Dads, a diverse population of male caregivers who lead by example. 

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