Climate Change Is Threatening Our Children’s and Grandchildren’s Quality of Life

Portrait of Michael Mann Photo: Patrick Mansell, Penn State

By Katherine Larsen and Jenny Powers

8 min read

“We’re losing the beauty and wonder of this planet, but it’s much more than that. As a person, as a human being who has empathy for other human beings, I’m becoming deeply aware that climate change is no longer a theoretical problem that I study on computers. It’s a real-world problem that’s hurting my friends and my family and everyone we know,” said Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and the Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, and winner of the 2019 Tyler Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize for the Environment.

He’s also been called the Jon Snow of climate change for all of you Game of Thrones fans.

While Dr. Mann assesses the destruction of coral reefs, the melting of glaciers and permafrost and the ways climate change is wreaking havoc on our infrastructure, he also relates to it away from work. “My own experiences as a father, as a husband, as a person with friends who’ve been impacted by these disasters reminds me of just how great the stakes are and it makes me more determined in my efforts to explain the science. Sometimes you need a reminder in your own life, you need to experience something to realize that this is very real. Having friends, for example, who have family members who lost their homes in the great California wildfires – the impacts are becoming so profound that we’re starting to know people who’ve been directly impacted by these climate change fueled events,” he said.

And while coral reefs, glaciers and polar bears are symbols, climate change also threatens things we consume and use everyday like beer, coffee and chocolate as well as many things we truly need… our infrastructure, health, water, food and livable land that we have available for a global population. So why is it so difficult to get people to appreciate climate change and commit to making necessary changes? “There are a lot of myths out there. For example, the claim that the Earth isn’t warming, when in fact it is warming dramatically – 18 of the warmest years on the planet have happened in this century (note that we’re only in the 20th year this century so far). And you often hear the claim that warming is due to natural causes, when the science shows without a doubt that the increase in greenhouse concentrations from fossil fuel burning and other human activities is what’s at the foundation of climate change,” said Dr. Mann. He also notes that while the impacts of climate change are becoming obvious to the person on the street, there are still many misconceptions surrounding climate change. For instance he said some people are under the impression that climate change is good for us, or that it will destroy our economy if we try to do anything about the problem, or that “a magic technology will save us. It’s very convenient trope.”

It might also be surprising to know that the natural greenhouse effect is the reason for the planet’s being habitable in the first place. In the absence of the natural greenhouse effect from natural carbon dioxide, water vapor and other greenhouse gases, Earth would be a frozen planet. So the natural greenhouse effect is in fact, a good thing. Dr. Mann explains, “The problem is that we are increasing the greenhouse effect rapidly, and that’s leading to rapid warming across the planet, melting of ice, rise in sea level, and more extreme weather events – super storms and droughts and wildfires and floods of the sort you’ve seen in recent years. The impacts of climate change are now here and they’re not subtle.”

“Climate change threatens the quality of life that we would like our children and grandchildren to be able to lead. We are talking about a fundamentally degraded planet in the absence of action on climate, so we might be around for a while, but with a Mad Max or Hollywood dystopian future. I don’t think that’s what we envision for our children and grandchildren, and that is not an unrealistic analogy to what the world would look like if we failed to act on this problem,” he adds. 

We are seeing an improvement and an increase in the amount of coverage climate change is getting in our media but Dr. Mann would argue it’s still not nearly enough. “Climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge, the greatest threat we have as a species, but it tends to be treated as a niche issue.” It’s not. “There literally isn’t a single sector of modern civilization that isn’t being touched by climate change. So it’s really about connecting the dots, realizing that climate change is not an isolated issue. It is an issue that impacts every aspect of modern life.

There is a little bit of good news though. Some preliminary numbers suggest that we’re going to see a drop of several percent in carbon emissions this year, which gets us on the path to reducing carbon emissions by a factor of two by 2030 and keeping warming below the 1.5°C mark where many scientists believe we’ll see some of the most dire impacts of climate change. But that isn’t enough. “We’ve got to reduce carbon emissions by at least 5% a year to get on that path, and we have to do it now. We need to change the incentive structure so that we naturally embrace the solution to this problem which is moving away from fossil fuels, moving on to renewable energy,” according to Dr. Mann. 

When asked what sorts of behavioral changes we can make right now that would make a difference, Dr. Mann said that he usually thinks about things in terms of large-scale changes in energy, transportation, food and lifestyle but he suggested — on the transportation front — getting a good pair of running shoes and some workout clothes (he tends to be a New Balance guy)… and a bicycle and a bike helmet. To get you started, here are a few that caught our attention:

(We update links when possible, and all prices are subject to change.)

New Balance 990v5

With a legacy that spans over three decades, this timeless go-to sets the industry standard. Designed without compromise, the 990v5 blends the perfect combination of cushioning and stability. The result: a shoe that looks and feels as good on your morning run as it does on the runway.


New Balance Women’s Accelerate Fleece Full Zip

Keep your workouts warm and cozy. The full-zip fleece hoodie features a kangaroo pocket, V-fold finish, reflective trims and an athletic fit. NB Dry moisture-wicking fabric releases moisture away from the body and is designed to help keep you dry.

New Balance Essentials Stacked Logo T-Shirt

You can never go wrong with classics like the Men’s New Balance Essentials Stacked Logo Tee. Made of 100% cotton, enjoy pure natural softness and a great looking logo.

New Balance Women’s Accelerate Reflective Fleece Jogger

The Accelerate Fleece Pant is a fit and fashionable jogger with a branded elastic hem, braided drawcord and reflective trims. NB Drymoisture-wicking fabric releases moisture away from the body and is designed tohelp keep you dry.

New Balance Men’s Accelerate 7-Inch Short

The Accelerate 7-Inch Short is one of our top picks for runners, but versatile enough to satisfy any athlete’s needs. Featuring streamlined performance technology, lightweight recycled woven, hand pockets, drop-in pockets at the waist and an internal brief, this short delivers a secure fit no matter what your workout throws at you.

sixthreezero Pave N’ Trail Women’s Hybrid Road Bicycle with Rear Rack

Handling both pavement and hard-packed trails while balancing comfort with performance, the sixthreezero Pave n’ Trail hybrid bike looks good and reduces vibrations with its Vibrazorb front suspension. The bike provides options for exercise rides and hilly terrain over trails and grass. sixthreezero designed the Pave n’ Trail hybrid for maximum body comfort during moderate adventure or exercise rides without compromising performance. Clean and sleek, the bike features all black components from top to bottom for a simple yet sophisticated look.

Brilliant Bicycle Co – L Train

Every component on the brilliant L Train was meticulously chosen based on the rigors of NYC commuters. The bicycle starts with a new lightweight frame, making the bicycle easier to carry through walk-ups. It also features seven gears, offering riders more than enough flexibility to get across the Williamsburg Bridge with ease and conquer anything the city (even San Francisco) can throw at them. It comes in a signature subway grey color that pays homage to the iconic L Train and Hudson River blue, inspired by the water views on the other side of Manhattan. The L Train is built with a low-maintenance, grease-free gates carbon belt drive that can go thousands of miles without a tune-up. The bicycle also comes with a top-of-the-line FSA threaded headset and Shimano V brakes for superior stopping power.

AirFlow Bike Helmet from Team Obsidian

Make no compromise on safety or looks with the state-of-the-art unisex AirFlow Bike Helmet from Team Obsidian! Lightweight, but very durable and resistant to shocks, this is a high-performance helmet made with an incredible attention to details and the finest materials available.

You can find out more about Dr. Mann and the work he’s doing on his website or by following him on Twitter. His latest book is The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, and he also recently co-authored The Tantrum that Saved the World, a carbon-neutral publication aimed at inspiring children to act on climate change. Dr. Mann is an advisor to Powerful.

Editorial content on Powerful is designed to make climate change relatable and find useful products that offset impact and/or use less of things that contribute to climate change. If you click a link in one of the articles and buy something, Powerful might earn an affiliate commission. Some of the proceeds from commissions go to cover the cost of publishing the article, and because Powerful’s aim is to help as many people as possible connect with climate change, all remaining proceeds go into paid promotion of the article.