In an article cleverly titled "Inconvenient Youths," The Wall Street Journal recently described young children nagging their parents to turn off lights, buy hybrid cars, change lightbulbs, and switch to more eco-friendly toilet paper. The newspaper quoted Laurie David, co-producer of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and co-author of The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming (Scholastic, 2007): "Kid's are putting pressure on their parents, and this is a very good thing."
David's Guide is a brightly illustrated and humorous attempt to put parents on the receiving end of lots of advice. It starts with the science, bringing abstract points to kid level with an effective use of practical analogies, photographs, and charts. The book then hits the emotions by projecting a catastrophic effect on weather and plants and animals. The message: Glaciers will melt, oceans will get too warm, causing fiercer hurricanes. Animals and plants might die because they can't adapt to the change.
David gives kids their marching orders, ranging from big and questionable (lobby mayors to agree to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement), to small and sensible (unplug chargers when not in use). She musters popular celebrities as expert witnesses. Cedric the Entertainer: "We're like a big bag of microwave popcorn in here, people. Eventually we're all gonna start poppin'!" Jennifer Garner: "Imagine a world without polar bears. Or penguins!"
Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth book (Viking Juvenile, 2007) also makes its points colorfully with photographs and charts. The text is dry and lacking humor-"We are witnessing an unprecedented and massive collision between our civilization and the Earth. We are trashing the planet. How has this happened?" The book, like the documentary upon which it is based, projects a relentless series of catastrophes: missing glaciers, drowning polar bears, blazing forest fires, devastating hurricanes and floods.
After touting the benefits of the Kyoto accord, Gore lashes out at enemies: "Companies that don't want to control their global warming pollution . . . mount campaigns to throw evidence into question. . . . No wonder people are confused." He tries to inoculate children against evidence from "powerful businesses that make money from activities that worsen global warming. They want to censor scientific research."
Going up against the Goliaths on the global warming crisis side are two books, one for children and one for their parents. The Sky's Not Falling by Holly Fretwell (Kid's Ahead Books, 2007) is a slim paperback with no color photos, charts, or illustrations, yet at $17.95 it costs about two dollars more than the other books.
Fretwell casts doubt on the theory of man-made global warming. She also makes an economic argument, emphasizing freedom and markets, and addresses specifically several of the emotional illustrations made in the other two books, using a Paul Harvey approach: Here's the rest of the story.
She may have the better case, but she won't change many young minds-and it's not necessarily her fault. Yes, the book would be more attractive with color photos, but the greater problem is that she's countering images of hurricane destruction with an argument that we shouldn't encourage people to live so close to the shore. A young child will react to photos without being able to grasp a more complex argument. (Adults don't have the same excuse.)
Parents who want to engage their brains along with their hearts will benefit from Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, a short book by Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg (Knopf, 2007). Lomborg acknowledges man-made global warming but debunks some of the most exaggerated global-warming claims and focuses on choices that policy makers will have to make (see "Cool-headed," April 21).
"Kyoto is an extraordinary expensive way of doing very little good far into the future," he writes. Parents could teach kids the basic facts of ecological and economic life: We should fight social ills such as malnutrition and disease and not waste money on marginally useful plans.