Pester power: The new weapon in the fight against global warming

The world’s leading climate economist is urging children and young people to guilt-trip their parents and other adults into doing more to save the planet

Tom Bawden
Wednesday 03 June 2015 00:06
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A climate change protest in LA, California
A climate change protest in LA, California

Climate-change campaigners have a new weapon in the fight against global warming : pester power.

The world’s leading climate economist is urging children and young people to guilt-trip their parents and other adults into doing more to save the world.

“Today’s young people can and should hold their parents’ generation to account for their present actions. They can elicit an emotional response that can motivate action,” argues Lord Stern, a respected London School of Economics professor who wrote a hugely influential review on the financial implications of climate change in 2006.

“If thinking about the lives of unborn future generations seems too abstract to motivate you to act, try instead looking a young child or grandchild in the eye and asking yourself what sort of future you are leaving for them,” he writes in a new book .

Children have significant leverage with their parents, Lord Stern argues, because they will suffer the most from the older generations’ inaction. “There is something that, on reflection, many adults would surely find repugnant in the idea that they will leave their children a damaged planet that will radically affect their life possibilities,” he writes.

Lord Stern speaking in 2013

“Children can teach their parents: I am reminded of the song ‘Teach Your Children Well’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which also says ‘Teach your parents well’. Education goes both ways.”

Other climate change campaigners backed Lord Stern’s call.

Tom Burke, chairman of the E3G sustainable development charity, told The Independent: “Young girls have enormous influence on their fathers. In the work I have done I would say that the most influential group of people of all are 12-year-old girls; they have their fathers wrapped around their little fingers.”

Experts said that to really maximise the potential offered by pester power, schools needed to play a bigger role in influencing students.

“Pester power and education very much go together. Schools can do more to educate children, who can then go on and pester their parents,” said Andy Deacon, managing partner of the environmental charity Global Action Plan.

Cecily Spelling, of the 10:10 climate-change group, is managing a campaign to help schools raise money for solar panels. “The kids get very heavily involved in the fundraising and it really makes them think about the environment – to the point where they have told off head teachers for not turning off the lights in their offices,” she said.

“Then they go home and tell their parents they don’t need to boil a full kettle of water for one cup of tea. It’s quite inspiring and the parents take notice,” she added.

As a crucial UN gathering in Paris to tackle climate change is planned for December, Lord Stern’s new book Why Are We Waiting? The Logic, Urgency and Promise of Tackling Climate Change also calls for businesses and cities to put much more pressure on world leaders to create “political tipping points” for action.

No nature minister: Portfolio to be shared

Conservation groups are shocked that the government has not appointed a full-time minister for the natural environment.

Lord Gardiner has been made House of Lords’ spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) replacing Lord de Mauley, who combined the post with being natural environment minister.

But Lord Gardiner is already juggling his new post with being deputy chief whip for the Lords. This will mean his nature portfolio will be much smaller than Lord de Mauley’s – with the remainder being shared between other Defra ministers.

Tom Bawden

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