MINNEAPOLIS — Paul Douglas has been in the school circuit for 40 years.
The affable Minnesota meteorologist with the welcoming smile and guy-next-door charm has made a name for himself across the country.
Over the course of his decades-long career (which includes founding several weather-related companies), Douglas has spoken to “hundreds and hundreds of classes and gatherings” about the weather — and increasingly — about climate change.
With this new book (his fourth), Douglas is taking his teaching message to a larger audience. A Kid’s Guide to Saving the Planet (Beaming Books, $22.99) explains the science behind global climate change, but also includes actions kids can take to be part of the solution.
“I speak to a lot of people and there’s a sense of desperation and fear out there,” he said. “The book should counteract the narrative of darkness and doom.”
We spoke to Douglas, who lives in Excelsior, Minnesota, about his focus on the younger generation, his idea of an “ethos of sustainability” and the year 2050.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I really started noticing the effects of climate change in the late 1990s. My presentations switched from weather specific to climate change and how climate change affects our weather.
Most understand that something is happening, that climate change is real. There are natural fluctuations in the weather. It’s been there since the beginning of time. But people see climate change in their lives.
Why did you decide to write it for children?
There is an underlying fear of climate change. I see it everywhere, but it seems to be a constant with young people. They are worried. You pay attention. They connect the dots between extreme weather and climate change. We ignore this fear at our peril.
That is what led me to write this book. That and the birth of my grandson. This got me thinking about my legacy and what I can do to help him and other kids like him.
Isn’t climate change a difficult topic for children?
It’s a big, daunting topic, but I’m taking it away and making it more relevant — and actionable — for kids.
You have to be careful how you present information. If you do it in a debilitating way, people will just curl up in the fetal position. But presenting it in a hopeful way can empower people to take action. I didn’t want to scare the kids. I tried to thread the needle.
There’s a lot of science in your book – greenhouse gases, disrupted jet streams, ozone depletion, acid rain. Were you concerned that it would be too complex for children?
I didn’t want to sugarcoat the facts or downplay what’s happening. I wanted to stay true to the science and present the science in a slightly more accessible way.
The tone of the book, the illustrations help. At first I thought, “We’re going to have charts and maps and charts.” But the publisher suggested that illustrations might be more accessible to children.
Did you have a child in mind when you wrote this?
I was really trying to stay focused and envision my own 10 year old sci-fi geek self.
The book’s subtitle, “It’s Not Hopeless and We’re Not Helpless,” is a powerful message that we don’t often hear when it comes to climate change. How did you come up with it?
It’s been part of my presentation for five or six years. And I mean it. Sitting on our hands for the next 50 years, we might be hopeless. But for now, scientists are saying we must act. It’s about politics and policies, but it’s also about developing an ethos of sustainability — a smarter, greener way of living and working, which is (I think) common sense.
About half of the book focuses on the problems, the other half focuses on what children can do today.
In the book, you’ll include short portraits of children from the Twin Cities and around the world who are already fighting climate change. Why?
I wanted them to be an example for young people who are already taking the initiative.
You seem to have a lot of hope in our youth.
Tom Brokaw spoke about the Greatest Generation that lived through WWII. But I think there is room for a new, greatest generation.
Some children are angry that they will inherit a warming world. There’s a sense that “You adults kind of screwed it up.” I am optimistic that young people will save us from ourselves. They are the ones responsible for what comes next.
You end the book by imagining the year 2050, when we’ve made significant progress—electric vehicles, green homes, full recycling, reliance on solar and wind power, approaching net-zero emissions. Why paint such a rosy picture of the future?
I think we can do it. We can have everything we need and everything we want and not put too much pressure on our only home—the earth.
There will be more warming, more disruption along the pipeline. But we can avoid a worst-case scenario. Eventually we will need government intervention, but many of the solutions will be from scratch.
There is no silver bullet to combat climate change, but there is a silver bullet. When everyone takes steps towards a more sustainable lifestyle, it’s huge.
I wanted to leave this to young people: you will be part of the solution.