Reckoning Parenting, Raising Kids in Time of Climate Change

A new project with local connections frames global warming as a reproductive justice issue. (Illustration by Conceivable Future)

A new project with local connections frames global warming as a reproductive justice issue. (Illustration by Conceivable Future)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

The size and scope of climate change is mind bogging. While its impact is already being felt locally and globally, our warming planet is expected to inflict vastly greater damage on the built and natural environment for decades and centuries to come. Its impact on human health, farming and the economy is projected to cost trillions of dollars annually.

Already, climate refugees are taking flight as parts of the planet become uninhabitable. Prolonged conflicts, like the war in Syria, are partly blamed on intense weather events such as drought, flooding and forest fires.

For some, contemplating this current and future dystopia — combined with reluctant leaders to confront it — induces a great deal of anxiety. The prospects are especially daunting for anyone weighing life-changing decisions, such as parenting. In particular, the dilemma is very real for many 20- and 30-somethings who grew up only knowing the threat of climate change.

This trepidation is akin to the distress and uncertainty Baby Boomers endured from the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, according to the co-founder of a project that confronts parenting in the era of climate change.

“History is full of examples of people wondering if the world is safe for their children,” said Meghan Kallman, a Pawtucket, R.I., resident and co-founder of Conceivable Future, a project centered on the principal of reproductive justice.

Conceivable Future advocates that the choice to be a parent should be free from destructive societal institutions such as slavery, racism and genocide. It also calls out those to blame for the problem, and in the case of climate change, the blame falls on the fossil-fuel industry.

“People should have the right to make reproductive decisions free from massive political and government sponsored harm from the subsidized fossil-fuel industry that renders life less habitable,” Kallman said.

Josephine Ferorelli, left, and Meghan Kallman call themselves climate activists. (Conceivable Future)

Josephine Ferorelli, left, and Meghan Kallman call themselves climate activists. (Conceivable Future)

Kallman and Josephine Ferorelli created Conceivable Future as a platform for anyone conflicted about raising children in world that is growing more perilous. But the mission is more than a vehicle for personal grief. The idea is to channel that grief into political power.

Kallman and Ferorelli have a wide range of experience and expertise to draw from. Kallman is a Brown University-trained sociologist. She teaches sociology at Brown and at the state prison, the Adult Correctional Institutions.

In November, Kallman was elected to the Pawtucket City Council. She said her know-how as a sociologist and community organizer helped her connect with voters and empathize with constituents since she’s been elected.

“I spent a lot of time walking around, knocking on doors. It’s one of the things I do best,” Kallman said. “It’s a good set of tools for engaging things that are important and it helps me see what’s happening better.”

Kallman’s partner, Tim DeChristopher, is a well-known climate activist who served two years in prison for stymieing a federal land auction in an incident known as Bidder 70.

Kallman and Ferorelli also identify as climate activists. Ferorelli lives in Chicago, where she is a writer, illustrator and yoga instructor. She was an editor for the activist and social-justice news site Occupy.com. Both consider Conceivable Future a vehicle for personal protest that channels grief and helplessness into a defined call for change.

“The only thing that helps is to take action, to get involved and do something,” Ferorelli said. “Whatever those outcomes are I think we will all be more able to face them head-on if we are actively involved in the struggles to protect ourselves and our communities.”

The election of President Donald Trump has made Conceivable Future all the more necesary, according to both Kallman and Ferorelli. Trump opposes reproductive rights; he’s a climate-change denier; a staunch advocate for the fossil-fuel extraction industry. Kallman and Ferorelli say the uncertainty posed by Trump has heightened the anxiety about climate change and led to an increase in people reaching out to Conceivable Future for help.

“Trump is a wild card. He’s done a lot of things to suggest the world is going to be less safe for everybody’s children,” Kallman said.

Soon after launching their website, Kallman and Ferorelli discovered the benefit of the video testimonial. The confessions allow people to articulate their feelings and put them on a path to resolve or at least improve the moral quandary posed by climate change and parenting.

The video "does very important work in humanizing the climate crisis,” Ferorelli said. “The testimony is about saying to the world, ‘This is my truth and I’m going to share it with people.’”

They came up with the idea of hosting house parties as a way to encourage discussion and inspire attendees to feel emboldened to record a testimonial. The group gatherings have been a success, increasing the Conceivable Future's video library from a handful to more than 70.

Kallman and Ferorelli insist they are not advocating for or against having children, nor are they taking a stance on the broader debate of overpopulation. Instead, they want to help anyone conflicted by parenting and climate change to speak up for themselves, to say it’s acceptable to expect leaders to help society come to terms with the immense challenges ahead.

“We want an environment in which the political structure and social structure is actively seeking to make life safer and healthier for any children that are born.” Kallman said. “The world is full of so many ills already, but the way the deck is stacked right now — politically and environmentally in terms of climate change — that it makes any future just absolutely terrifying.”

Editor's note: The next Conceivable Future house party is scheduled for March 7 in Providence. It will hosted by Interdependence Days and is open to he public. For more information, e-mail Kate Shapira at kate_schapira@brown.edu.