Parenting in the Age of Climate Crisis: Our Journey from Wildfire Haze to Climate Action

As my wife was discharged from Greenwich Hospital, two days after my daughter was born on June 5, 2023, wildfire smoke tinted the sky an eerie orange.

Published June 28, 2024 9:03 AM
3 min read

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-By Jeffrey Prosserman

As my wife was discharged from Greenwich Hospital, two days after my daughter was born on June 5, 2023, wildfire smoke tinted the sky an eerie orange. The smoke from the fire burning in Canada had created the worst air quality levels since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began measurements in 1999. As the nurse waved goodbye, I quickly placed my daughter in our car, knowing the health risk of her first gulp of outside air. We chose to have a family. Yet with the climate in crisis, can we be great parents without taking climate action?

My son was born Nov. 2018, when people globally were joining climate strikes. As the pandemic lockdown took hold, the looming impacts of the climate crisis made my wife and me question having a second child. Despite wanting a sibling for our son, we wondered if bringing more life into a declining world was irresponsible.

Prior to pivoting to climate technology, I was the director of innovation at Samsung in New York City where I managed a team to develop a portfolio of products. During the pandemic, my wife encouraged me to go back to school and get a Master’s in Sustainability Management at Columbia University. Scared of the world we may leave behind, I learned the problems we must resolve to provide a sustainable pathway for people and our planet.

We are enduring a climate emergency. Too many people feel like there is nothing they can do. But complacency is more dangerous than wildfires, floods, and dirty air combined. Complacency gives people license to give up while there is still a limited window to turn things around.

In May 2022, just after I walked the Columbia graduation stage, my wife and I moved to Rye to lay roots for our family. We were still struggling with whether having a second child would be wise, given the climate crisis. After arriving in town, I joined the Rye Sustainability Committee to make a positive impact.

Taking climate action in some way provided hope. When we discovered my wife was pregnant, we were overjoyed and terrified. Were we doing the right thing? Who knows? But like other Rye parents, we are trying our best. That said, I still vividly remember the day we rushed my daughter into the house after that ride from the hospital through the orange haze.

Since her arrival, her smile fuels a shared mission to achieve a net-zero emission economy. “Dada,” she coos at me. Some parents may question whether changing their habits — driving or cooking electric over gas —will truly make a dent. However, these actions do add up, and we have a responsibility to be climate advocates for our kids. Each decision we make is a step forward or back.

When I look into the ocean of my daughter’s crystal blue eyes, I see that how we choose to invest our time is our greatest gift. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported 28 climate disasters in the United States last year that cost $94.2 billion in damages and took 492 lives. By the time my kids graduate Rye High School, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero — known as decarbonizing society. It sounds like a tall order, but in spite of uncertainty, we each can apply our skills to make a difference.

In the first year of my daughter’s life, there were moments where I worried how her generation will be impacted by the climate crisis. But when I run down at the Rye boardwalk pier at sunrise, I believe we will win the race to net-zero for our kids. When I see my daughter clapping and giggling, I imagine she just may be cheering us on.

Climate parents are taking a stand. But there are not enough of us. Our kids need more parents to join the climate movement. We are the authors of our own stories. The choices we make today shape tomorrow. Please do not wait another day to take the small steps that you can.

As we celebrate my daughter’s first birthday, we recall the day the sky turned orange. But we look forward to the day when we no longer worry for clear blue skies and clean air because we tried to make a difference. Are you trying?

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