Twenty-seven years ago, my husband and I met while working as field biologists in the Arctic. It all started in a 1920’s trappers cabin on the Caribou River on the Southern tip of the Alaskan peninsula. As graduate students, we worked on caribou population ecology, climate change and the relationships between female caribou, their calves and wolves. Since then, we’ve returned to our long-term study site in Greenland to examine, plant by plant, how spring is arriving earlier, and how the Arctic is changing.

So we’ve thought a lot about climate change. Yet, I admit, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the question “What can I do about climate change?” For a fresh perspective, I turned to our kids: Mason (22), Phoebe (20) and Boochie (17).

They are now young adults—some of them new voters in next week’s mid-term election. They seem to have a keen understanding of wildlife biology as it relates to climate change. After all, they literally grew up counting caribou with us and learning about the beauty of the north. Their early years have been influenced immensely by their parents’ intimate relationship to the rapidly changing Arctic.

UC Davis polar ecologist Eric Post in Norway in 1997 with his then-infant son, Mason. (Courtesy Pernille Sporon Bøving)

Young voters increasingly care about climate change

Most young people don’t grow up with that experience, yet more are getting concerned about climate change. A poll from Pew Research Center conducted in June 2017 indicates that more than 80 percent of Millennials from both political parties say there is solid evidence of global warming. Most of them (65 percent) attribute that change to human activity, compared to only 40-53 percent of older generations.

Asking my own kids their thoughts about climate change was, in some ways, like asking what they thought about putting on their pants in the morning – you know, just another thing we do. In other ways, it was an eye-opening and interesting experiment.

Teenaged girl with large backpack looking across open landscape in Greenland, snowcapped mountains in distance.

Phoebe looks out at Russell Glacier and Greeland inland ice while visiting her parents’ field site.  (Courtesy Pernille Sporon Bøving)

Q&A

Q: Do you ever think about climate change and how it impacts your life?

Phoebe: No, I don’t really consider how it affects me on a daily basis, but I think about it when I hear about the increasing hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters and its effects on people.

Mason: Not much.

Boochie: I have not really made the connection between the increased number of natural disasters and climate change. I have not thought about it that much, but I am aware of what is happening.

Q: Do you ever feel inclined to do something about climate change on a global scale? That you need to make changes in your life?

Mason: I would like to have a fuel-efficient car. I have a pretty low-carbon footprint. I’m a low- emission kind of guy.

Q: Does climate change ever come up as a subject when you’re voting?
Phoebe: Yeah.

Q: So what are you paying attention to? Do you pay attention to the actual politician and how they talk about the subject of climate change?

Phoebe: I think the only politicians who are talking about climate change are the educated ones. The ones who have a plan, the ones who truly think about it.

Mason: Yeah, I pay attention to policies or lack of policies and how people my age talk about climate change.

Boochie: I think climate change should be a big part of their campaign. They should not use it as a buzz word.

Teenaged girl with big backpack looks and fence and grasses in Greenland.

Boochie studies an exclosure on caribou calving ground in West Greeland. (Courtesy Pernille Sporon Bøving)

Q: Do any of your friends ever bring up climate change as something they worry about or are concerned with?

Mason: No.

Phoebe: No, not particularly.

Boochie: Yeah, I have one friend who does, and she is frustrated with the lack of action and that we’re not doing anything about it, and that people in government are not doing anything about it.

Q: Do you ever feel that there is nothing you can do about it as an individual? 

Mason: Not really.

Phoebe: You can do small things like recycle, use a reusable bag when you go grocery shopping. I feel overwhelmed when I think about it on a bigger scale. I don’t have much power as an individual. I think that lies very much in the hands of politicians. You can see particularly in European countries that politicians have made changes to reduce their carbon footprint, and it has local effects. Basically, I feel it’s in the hands of politicians and that’s what comes into play when I vote.

Q: So I guess your childhood has not been impeded by the gloom and doom of climate change?

Mason: No.

Phoebe: No, I think it is more because you are climate-conscious parents. I think we were raised to be more conscious about our environment and learned to naturally step lightly.

Boy looks down at animal skull with Greenland landscape in background

Mason, then age 12, looks at the skull of a muskox. Greenland inland ice stretches across the landscape. (Courtesy Pernille Sporon Bøving)

 Fresh reminders

I must say that their sometimes laid-back responses and even lack of concern made me feel rather optimistic and empowered. To me, it is a fresh reminder of the optimism and hopeful attitude that is so intrinsic to youth and to the human spirit. It gives me hope for their—and our—future.

Pernille Sporon Bøving is the Director for Engagement and Programming for the Polar Forum at UC Davis. She is also coordinator of the Arctic Plant Phenology Learning through Engaged Science (APPLES) program, and an academic coordinator in the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology. @polarforum

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