Mothers Talk Climate Using Climate Bathtub Analogy

May 10, 2013 by Ellie Johnston

_In the Boston area, as in other places, parents are coming together to discuss how they can address climate change and discuss the issue with their children in a constructive way. University of Massachusetts Lowell Professor, Juliette Rooney Varga, a mom herself, was on hand at one of these events explaining how carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere, just like a bathtub accumulates water when the faucet is on but the drain is plugged or doesn’t drain as fast as the water coming in. We use this analogy frequently here at Climate Interactive and have a simple simulation to help people understand it for themselves. Read below for the full story about the event Juliette was a part of._

Conversation on climate change at Somerville’s Brown School - Somerville, Massachusetts 02144

By Delia Marshall, May 04, 2013 @ 10:46 AM

Somerville Journal

Somerville — For many parents of young children in Somerville, the idea of climate change inspires fear, loathing, and silence. Wanting to inspire some hope, connection, and constructive conversation on this topic, Brown School PTA president MaryLou Carey-Sturniolo asked fellow Somerville moms Juliette Rooney-Varga and Eliza Johnston to help her host an April 3 event called “Parenting in a Time of Climate Change.” Johnston, the mother of a toddler, serves on the city’s Commission on Energy Use and Climate Change. Rooney-Varga has three children at the Brown School and directs the Climate Change Initiative at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Rooney-Varga opened the meeting by giving a visual model of the earth and its atmosphere. “When you look up, …you think maybe the sky goes on forever,” she said.  “It’s a surprise for most people that the sky is a very thin layer. If you think of the earth as an apple, it’s the skin of that apple.” For millennia, the inflow and outflow of carbon dioxide in that thin layer was in balance. But since the industrial revolution, humans have been generating carbon dioxide at unsustainable levels. To help attendees imagine this, Rooney-Varga held up a large pitcher of water and began pouring it into a small pitcher, stopping just before water spilled over the edge. The earth’s people, by contrast, have reached the brim and kept on pouring carbon dioxide into its atmosphere, at a rate of 33 billion tons per year. Carbon dioxide traps heat, which contributes to rising sea levels and extreme weather, from droughts to floods and “freak” storms.

Participants exchanged ideas, voiced questions and concerns, and pondered how to be “honest but not scary” when talking about climate change with children. Examples were cited where children have been key players and even role models for their elders in decreasing a family’s carbon footprint. But, as several speakers noted, climate change must also be addressed at a policy level. If there is to be permanent progress on the issue, said Johnston, people must “engage in creating political will.” She has co-founded a group of moms who, though typically overscheduled and exhausted, are getting energized by learning and working together. “Mothers Out Front: Mobilizing for a Livable Climate,” brings friends together to learn about climate change and to put pressure on politicians and business leaders to do better by the planet.

Rooney-Varga stressed that crises related to climate change will not go away by being ignored. Asking “What did Hurricane Sandy cost us?” she said, “Taking action is less expensive than not taking action.” And, although “it’s hard to get our minds around it, …we can’t stick with the status quo. The status quo is over.”

The Brown School PTA gratefully acknowledges First Church Somerville and Reverend Molly Baskette for the use of their parish hall. For more information on local sustainability initiatives, visit: Mothers Out Front at; Somerville Climate Action at; and Groundwork Somerville at