What if CO2 Were Pink?

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What would happen if we could see carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Gregg Kleiner’s new book for children offers an answer through lively writing and artist Laurel Thompson’s watercolor illustrations. Here’s the author on the genesis of Please Don’t Paint Our Planet Pink!, just out from Cloudburst Creative.

I’m a father. And a writer. And a worrier. So when I found myself lying awake nights, fretting about how my two children—and all children—will manage to live in a climate altered by my generation’s excesses and emissions, I decided to write a story. A book about climate change—for kids (and their adults). Why? Because I believe stories have immense power. Power to cut through distraction and touch our shared humanity. Power to ignite imaginations and motivate masses. The power to save lives. Time is of the essence, and I believe a story aimed at kids might be the fastest way to inspire action. Now more than ever in human history, we need all hands on deck—especially our young people, with their amazing imaginations ablaze.

But I lay blinking into the dark wondering how I could tell a story about something nobody can see (or smell or touch or taste). Part of what makes climate change so frustratingly hard to fight is the fact that we can’t see what’s causing it (mainly CO2—carbon dioxide—in the atmosphere). There’s no enemy (other than ourselves) that we can point to and shout, There! That! Let’s kick it! Let’s do this! CO2 isn’t strewn along highways like the trash in the 1960s that inspired a generation to “Please Don’t Litter.” We can’t touch CO2 the way you can touch tin cans and cardboard and be inspired to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Carbon dioxide isn’t an illness like Ebola we can see unfolding in full color and rally against globally. But CO2 is out there—everywhere—invisibly and incessantly pouring from our tailpipes and chimneys, spewing out of airplanes and factory smoke stacks, and, yes, even rising above the butts of cows. Everyday. More and more. Silently altering our atmosphere and impacting our children’s future.

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So after one of these sleepless nights, I woke wondering, “What if we could all suddenly see carbon dioxide? What if CO2 were, say, pink? How might humanity respond then?” And because children have the most fiery and unadulterated (so to speak) imaginations, I decided to write a book for them—and their adults—that explores these simple questions.

But it wasn’t easy. I didn’t want the book to frighten with dire predictions or stacks of scientific facts, and I know how scary climate change can be (it paralyzes me at times) and how sacred childhoods should be. I did want the story to inspire, trigger giggles, and spark the power of imagination. I wanted readers to learn about both carbon and caring, carpooling and community, stereotypes and compassion. So I worked with Laurel Thompson, a young watercolor artist, to illustrate the story, in hopes of nudging people of all ages to tap our collective imaginations to start seeing CO2 as bright pink puffs and plumes, and change our ways.

When my kids ask me, “What were you doing, Dad, back when you all knew climate change was coming on fast?” I can tell them I was writing through my own fears, in hopes the power of a simple story might inspire a few kids—and their adults—to start seeing the invisible, now. Imagining the impossible. Taking steps to make a lower-CO2 future possible.

The result is a slender, thirty-eight-page book called Please Don’t Paint Our Planet Pink!, about which Bill McKibben said, “I’ve often wondered what might happen if CO2 were visible. Now I know!”

My fight against climate change continues, but I sleep a little better now at night.

Gregg Kleiner is author of the novel Where River Turns to Sky, and his short stories “Light Bandit” and “Bear Water” have been published in Orion. He lives near the confluence of the Willamette and Marys rivers in Western Oregon. Learn more about his first book for children, Please Don’t Paint Our Planet Pink!, at http://cloudburstcreative.com/pink.


  1. How do we think about and respond to a problem that’s invisible? Kleiner has come up with a solution in his beautiful little book. Nicely done! Buy it for your kids and for your grandchildren.

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