December 29, 2007

Environmental child abuse

Tom Standage reviews in Nature several books aimed at children with titles such as George Saves the World by Lunchtime, 101 Ways to Save the Earth, and Superkids: 250 Incredible Ways for Kids to Save the Planet. Standage describes how these and other books tell children to recycle, buy locally produced strawberries, live for a day without electricity, conserve water (including putting a brick in the cistern), and make their own compost. As Superkids puts it,
"Help! The Zombie Adults are messing up the world! They're killing our animals, wasting our water, destroying our trees, poisoning our food ... Who can save the day? We need ... the Super Kids."
All this is not enough to satisfy Standage.
The underlying problem is that voluntary greenery by a few eco-conscious consumers in the wealthy West is not going to be enough. Voluntarism is a good way to practise for a carbon-restricted world, and can help to galvanize support for broader political action. Addressing the environmental challenges of the coming decades will require high-level political action by governments. A minority of consumers may choose to avoid incandescent lightbulbs and gas-guzzling cars, but governments can ban them outright. Ultimately, if Ella's generation is to save the world, it will be by voting for politicians who are prepared to impose tough restrictions on them. Perhaps they will be more inclined to vote for painful emissions cuts if they have grown up reading books like these and worrying about polar bears.
Richard Dawkins argues that religious indoctrination of children amounts to child abuse, and that child mental abuse - the instillation of irrational fear and feelings of guilt - is more painful and long lasting than some types of physical abuse.

Perversely marketed in a pseudo-scientific wrapper, the environmentalist religion shares both the sado-masochistic - sin, guilt, and hell - and the self-congratulating - liturgy, communion, and salvation - ingredients of Christianity. Poor children.

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