Even a child who doesn’t watch or read the news cannot fail to be aware of the climate change that is happening all over the planet. Children are global citizens and observers of the modern world. From the earliest days, we have taught pupils about the weather, about the impact of the natural world, storms, fire and floods. Whether that is the devastation of forest fires, the extinction of certain species, recycling campaigns, sustainability, or the impact of what we eat on the planet, climate change is all around, and children are all-consumed by it.
Over recent years, children have been exposed to young climate activists such as Greta Thunberg, student strikes, extinction rebellion and multiple protests, so climate change is very accessible to young people today. Over the last decade or so, the environmental agenda has become a curriculum staple in our schools, and rightly so. We are educating the future generations of society and it is important that they are aware of the potential challenges our ageing planet faces as a result of how we live.
Climate anxiety is growing among children and there is a palpable sense of apprehension, burden and fears about the future
The darker reality of climate education
Most schools are openly playing up climate action, with eco councils and eco prefects becoming the norm within school communities today. Yet over-consumption of the environmental agenda also brings with it a darker reality. Climate anxiety is growing among children and there is a palpable sense of apprehension, burden and fears about the future. In some cases, there are even deeper feelings of hopelessness and despair.
The question is, how can we retain the importance of climate change without resorting to fear, scare-mongering and negativity?
Climate education needs to be inspiring; it needs to challenge and, as schools, we need to look to channel anxieties into actions that are both empowering and encouraging.
At a past school freshers’ fair, it was striking to witness just how many young students were signing up for environmental clubs and campaigns focused on climate change. There is a big appetite out there for creating a better, safer world and, as educators, we need to capitalise on that positivity. Sadly, there are enough mental health issues within our younger generations today and feeding a culture of nihilism could lead to destructive behaviours that manifest in negative ways.
‘What is the point if the ice caps are already melting?’
This ‘extreme’ environment approach usually leads to conclusions that if the damage is done, then there is no point in trying. It is concerning to learn that some young people are so affected by climate change that they are even questioning the feasibility or the security of having their own children in the future. Why bring a new human being into a world that has a bleak future? Again, this comes back to how we communicate the impact of climate change to children.
We must continue to push the importance for change, but in a way that is supportive, invigorating and useful.
There is a big appetite out there for creating a better, safer world… we need to capitalise on that positivity
Most schools are already looking at ways to strengthen climate education within the PSHE curriculum to ensure that we are inspiring rather than reeling off statistics. There is a post-Covid curriculum agenda here, too – one that uses the last couple of years to educate children on important topics such as: What is a sustainable way to spend money? How can we live more sustainably at university? What credit options should we avoid or consider and how can we create financial security and wellbeing in the future?
Inspirational speakers in school can be very useful, too, sharing experiences of those who have made a difference and are focused on giving back rather than impending doom. We also need to consider the age group we are educating. For younger children, fears are more related to things they can readily grasp such as physical safety or animal extinction. For older children and teens, the focus might be more on how the world will be impacted by refugees or the global movement of the population, for instance.
Either way, it is vital for schools to fully understand and participate in meaningful conversations with young people around climate change, and that means we must continually re-educate ourselves, too.