Last week I began to present ways that you could talk to children and youth about climate change and other environmental catastrophes of our own making. As promised, I spoked with a class of kids aged 13-16 that I was teaching chemistry too. As it was chemistry class I began with Greta Thunberg talking about why ACTION NOW was vital, told the kids about how the Swedish chemist Arrhenius calculated the effect of increased CO2 concentrations on the world’s temperature over 100 years ago & how the Greenhouse Effect behaved, then we moved onto a study of the water and carbon dioxide molecules, next onto an examination of how the composition of gases in the atmosphere has changed over the past few billion years and how these variations impacted the world’s climate and life on it, with a particular focus on mass extinctions. The main point I wanted to make is that this is not ‘belief” or “opinion” and that CO2 was CO2 – made-made or volcano-made it was just CO2 and it was a greenhouse gas. After that we did a “field trip” to my electric car parked outside and then chatted about all the choices we could all make to live without fossil fuels. Mostly, I let them take the lead in a discussion where we all sat in a circle to allow them to just talk, to let them take make all I had shown them real and part of their lives. This led us to discussions about Lyme disease, flood homes, vegetarianism, and the surprisingly about the fact that most of them had learned the most about climate change from chat groups of students their own age where is was a relatively common topic of discussion. Now, I am not saying that this is normal, but it was still interesting. Surprisingly, there was a positive mood in the class, one, of course, that I had worked hard to nurture by focusing not on the overwhelming nature of the climate challenge, but the fact there are concrete actions we can all take that matter.
Greta Thunberg School Strike March 15 Around the World
It was VERY helpful for the students to listen to Greta Thunberg, a girl their age, yet a girl clearly speaking with emotion and moral authority. She has called for world wide strike by students for March 15 – I hope you can find a local group who will participate!
This is how The Guardian has reported on this coming event:
The students striking from schools around the world to demand action on climate change have issued an uncompromising open letter stating: “We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not.” The letter, published by the Guardian, says: “United we will rise on 15 March and many times after until we see climate justice. We demand the world’s decision makers take responsibility and solve this crisis. You have failed us in the past. [But] the youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.” The Youth Strikes for Climate movement is not centrally organised, so keeping track of the fast growing number of strikes is difficult, but many are registering on FridaysForFuture.org. So far, there are almost 500 events listed to take place on 15 March across 51 countries, making it the biggest strike day so far. Students plan to skip school across Western Europe, from the US to Brazil and Chile, and from Australia to Iran, India and Japan.
Climate Anxiety is a Mental Health Issue
What amazed me is that the conversations that I had last week confirmed much of the research I have been undertaking for a joint presentation that I am making with my wife, a mental health Nurse, at a mental health conference later this year. Here are one relevant quote to give you a feel for the scope of the issue.
Children are particularly at risk for heightened anxiety and depression from a natural disaster. The American Public Health Association is working hard to study and educate people about the impacts of climate change on mental health. According to this organization, up to 45 percent of children suffer depression after a natural disaster. Some of the behavioral and psychological changes in children include an inability to speak, bed-wetting, stress or fright when not in danger, and self-harm. For children who are just learning about these events, they worry that something bad could also happen to them. They have active imaginations and want to always feel safe. Climate change can instigate feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness that take the shape of anxiety. Surveys indicate that not only is global warming on our children’s minds, it is scaring them. One report found that approximately half of the children surveyed, ages 7 to 11, were anxious about climate change and often lost sleep over it. Another study showed that children ages 11 to 14 were more concerned about climate change than they were about their homework. Wow!
As you can see this is actually a large, mostly new, and highly relevant area that really requires more research and more reading by you, before you make the mistake of traumatizing the children you speak too and create a “deer in headlights” response which stops their ability to constructively respond to the climate challenge. What helps kids is concrete action by YOU! Like Greta, kids cannot understand the hypocrisy of adults who say how “vital it is that we all face the reality of climate change” yet make no significant changes to their lives, and by significant, I mean actions such as becoming a vegetarian, stopping to fly or getting rid of your gasoline powered car. With this in mind here are some links to sites that are focused on how you can best talk to children about the climate crises.
Good Luck teachers, parents, Aunts and Uncles, Grandmother and Grandfathers ! Having these hard conversations, AFTER you have taken concrete actions to be credible, is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to the children and youth in your life.