I grew up in the UK during the end of the Cold War period, under the threat of being eviscerated in one second by nuclear missiles. If not that, I could have died slowly of radiation burns or sickness in the eternal nuclear winter that followed.
That’s some pretty cheery prospects for a little boy to grow up with.
However in my case I actually knew nothing about this scary reality because no one ever told me anything about it. Not my parents, not my friend’s parents, not my schoolteachers, not anyone. They say ignorance is bliss and I must say I am eternally grateful for it and that some of the best times of my life were living under that potential Armageddon.
I didn’t know at the time why we had left the UK. Later I learned that my parents decided to move back to New Zealand in part because they didn’t like living under such a threat. Even if we had a good life there, the other side of the world sounded safer.
Back in New Zealand we didn’t quite escape the issue and a few years later protests were ramping up to ban US nuclear-powered/armed ships in local harbours. My older sister ran through the crowd at one protest screaming with a burning baby doll in a pram. By this time I was aware of the dangers of nuclear war and Pacific testing. This obviously didn’t add to my peace of mind, though I was by that age somewhat able to make sense of things and felt some comfort being far away from the hot targets of the USA and Europe.
So I do have a sense of experience being a child aware and unaware of a serious crisis, and I write about the matters at hand with this in mind.
A review in the Lancet, titled The impact of climate change on youth depression and mental health, recognises some of the research into the known drivers of youth depression and other mental health issues – although the paper acknowledges that there’s not much research looking at how climate change might impact mental health.
What research there is apparently focuses on the potential physical environmental impacts of climate change on youths such as extreme weather events, food shortages and poverty and so on.
What’s interesting is that so far the research appears to not consider the detrimental mental health impacts that the concept itself can have, or what affect the delivery of the projected doomsday predictions of climate change might have on children’s mental health.
The issue of climate change has recently been rebranded as being a “Climate Crisis”. Clearly this is an alarming and emotive descriptor to increase concerns and active measures to address any potential human induced climate change impacts.
A Sydney-based child psychologist has said that in her experience children are facing unprecedented levels of stress due to ‘climate anxiety’, and that referrals for child anxiety are through the roof in general. She has stated that what especially concerns her is that she is even seeing pre-schoolers who know about climate change and is wondering how it is such young children are finding out about these frightening messages.
British psychologists from the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) have said similar things about child climate anxiety and advised parents discuss the issue “in an age-appropriate way”. Though what does that mean?
It’s quite different telling a child that recycling is good, to telling them that we have 8 years left before adults cause a catastrophic climate meltdown a mass event.
Caroline Hickman, a teaching fellow at the University of Bath and a CPA executive has said, “Children are saying things like, ‘Climate change is here as revenge, you’ve messed up the climate and nature is fighting back through climate change’. There is no doubt in my mind that they are being emotionally impacted… That real fear from children needs to be taken seriously by adults.”
It is adults, teachers and young activists that have given children a speculative, yet scary and at times greatly exaggerated, problem to think about.
It may be that some parents and teachers are attempting to allay their own fears and also feeling an impetus or responsibility in their positions of caregiver to inspire some kind of action, or for the very passionate, a revolution. With climate politics this motivation does seem to be linked into other issues like poverty and equality etc. Still, a good teacher should probably focus on a subject’s full scope, not push or promote a personal or group ideological standpoint.
Indeed, it could be considered emotional manipulation. Are there not other rational or well-considered positions that do not resemble a chicken running around with its head cut off? Not according to documents like the IPPC’s Fifth Assessment Report from 2014 which mentions “Risk” 139 times and “Opportunity” just 8 times.
Curiously, maybe the idea that the climate is taking revenge for the sins of the mother and father is maybe a sign of innate religiosity?
Anyway I would have thought that there might be other concerns raised. Like: is the fear of an imaginary future climate disaster warranted in the first place? Is it wise to actively push climate anxiety and horror stories on children who may already be coping with psychological stress for other reasons?
As if the message that the world is actually going to end in eight or so years’ time in mass extinction is some casual throw away idea to tell children and not expect them to suddenly be beside themselves with anxiety. What about simply questioning who it is that is pushing such talking points onto children. Surely such is a concern and those people should be acting more responsibly if it is the children that are the reason to act to avert disaster.
A six-year-old is not an ‘Eco-Warrior’, he or she is a child.
Imagine being six and hearing that the world ends in eight or so years. Imagine comprehending what that means when you have only been alive for six years, and only able to talk properly for three.
It’s clearly concerning that some schools are promoting the issue of the supposed “Climate Crisis” and that this might be or is negatively impacting children psychologically.
It seems odd to me that children are in a way being encouraged to shoulder the burden of the situation as a symbolic call for adults to take action, as if having traumatised children is acceptable collateral damage for a worthy cause. If this is what’s happening, that is quite an atrocious use psychological manipulation. It seems to be promoted by the UN that is supposed to protect the rights and wellbeing of children.
It is also very odd that our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern is saying in one breath that they she is prioritising wellbeing and suicide prevention over economic growth and in another, pushing the climate anxiety bandwagon. A mirroring, appeasing, and pandering to the UN’s own incongruity on the issues.
Now maybe it is all warranted. I can’t see into the future. Maybe this climate or eco-anxiety will make children and young people more resilient, aware and resourceful.
Still, to a large degree the issue of climate change is a political and ideological one. For schools or teachers to encourage students to go on a climate strike, they are essentially politicising them via indoctrination into Labour Party and UN mandates, whilst heightening the risk of traumatisation. It could be viewed as a contemporary version of the Children’s Crusade of 1212, an unofficial initiative that wasn’t a proper Crusade, as the Pope didn’t call for it. Some suggest it was a bit of a disaster as basically the children marched off and were apparently later rounded up and put into slavery. A small price to pay for salvation.
One senior lecturer at Melbourne’s RMIT University apparently offered his students full marks on an assessment if they attended Friday’s climate strike. Once we had radical students, now it appears we have radical teachers. Of course we also have the kids who said that they didn’t care about the climate strike though joined into wag school for the day.
Obviously it’s not just children and young people who seem to be deeply impacted or manipulated by the Climate Crisis messaging. It’s adults too. There is one curious initiative called ‘Birth Strike’, were some millennial women are asserting that they won’t be having children until climate change ends.
The question I wonder is how this is all a mature and well-considered approach to addressing the economic, scientific, technological, industrial targets and limitations that are faced?
Greta Thunburg has repeatedly expressed outrage that adults are not doing anything. “Parents should be held accountable”, “You are failing us, but young people are starting to understand your betrayal”. Clearly Thunburg suffers from climate anxiety herself and this anxiety is motivating statements that are not exactly accurate.
All sorts of improvements have been happening for many years. People are choosing electric cars and recycling. Locally one-use plastic bags have been phased out and there is a focus on public transport and cycle way construction. Still there are economic considerations. Jacinda Ardern’s 0% emissions target apparently doesn’t include agricultural emissions, so maybe it’s actually a cleverly worded 50% target.
Like New Zealand, many nations are already taking steps to address how to reduce emissions and implement sustainable practices whilst signing up to initiatives like the Paris Accord.
How is encouraging New Zealand children to potentially become mentally unwell help suddenly amend the biggest polluting nations like China, USA, India and Mexico? Is it even possible for them to suddenly make an accurate system wide change by the supposed deadline of eight or so years? China is still building new coal-fired power plants. Ironically Germany’s lowest emissions recently came from warmer weather and less need for power.
Lowering pollution levels is clearly better. Undoubtedly built-in obsolescence should end. Once things were proudly made to last, like a Briggs and Stratton lawnmower.
It’s taken at least 300 years to build our modern civilisations. Ironically without this development maybe we wouldn’t have the technology to appease the cries of the children and save the planet from itself.
As it’s going the children will have their traumatised revolution and either we will save the climate or the UN will just say we did with their new global rules and taxes. A new era of stability will be born with lower emissions and millions of then young adults dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Maybe there are some good reasons parents and schools should be making an effort to not tell children about apocalyptic climate predictions to save them from psychological trauma. Or do we need emotionally traumatised children to make practical steps towards renewable energy?
Caroline Hickman of CPA suggests that young people were left feeling “betrayed and abandoned” if adults refused to acknowledge their fears about the climate, but they also “don’t need horror stories.” She suggests parents should give young people facts about climate change and offer them opportunities to do something proactive by considering what they consume or by joining a campaign group,
It seems she is suggesting that parents should, in a way, entertain some kind of acceptable and inevitable stress that they must take on as a burden. As if there are no other options for them, like maybe literally allaying children’s fears by pointing out that there have been many future predictions that have not come true and these might not either. Or to maybe tell them that there is no reason to worry as the best science/technology is looking at the issues and taking steps to address them. After all, that is what they are actually doing. Even oil companies are investing in renewables.
It is okay for parents to be parents.
Suggesting children join “a campaign group” though? To what, ramp up their anxiety and frustration? I can see that children having an outlet for their concern might be good, though I wonder if some psychologists have a vested interest in children’s anxieties.
Hickman suggests children “don’t need horror stories” just the facts about climate change. Is the message that we have 8 or so years left a fact or a horror story?
There have been predictions of a climatic tipping point for at least 40 years. In 1989 the U.N. suggested “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth” by sea level rise if global warming was not reversed by the year 2000. (The term Global Warming was changed to Climate Change as there was an apparent hiatus in the warming). So the U.N. at that time had given us 10 years to act. Atmospheric C02 has continued to rise yet curiously sea level rise has apparently been happening at a similar rate for at least 150 years.
Now, almost 30 years on from that UN prediction, no nations have been wiped off the face of the earth. In fact a 2018 study has found that Tuvalu, once seen as a serious risk of disappearing under water, has apparently been gaining landmass. Did the linear models of a chaotic climate system predict that happening?
Pacific Atolls are not basic islands, rather dynamic structures that apparently have an internal floating mechanism. Elsewhere coastal landmasses may also rise and fall, with geology not simply climate at play.
The UN and IPCC have set a more recent prediction of the tipping point at a similar length of time, which is ticking down as we speak.
In the last few weeks Greta Thurnburg in promotion of the recent UN General Assembly has emotionally stressed that we now only have eight and a half years left to act to meet emission reduction targets and that we need to ‘act as if the house was on fire’.
We know why ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ and ‘Chicken Licken’ parables are so important and often read to children. Not to deny the need for vigilance against danger, but to keep a sense of perspective and to not let emotion take over, as in the meme of Licken and to not call fire in a crowded theatre with The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Not to not sound an alarm if need be, but that if one sounds the alarm when there is no fire, it lessens peoples trust in the alarm and that itself can invite calamity. Maybe especially for the one that cries wolf.
So has anyone been Crying Wolf when it comes to the climate?
The whole planet lived through the potential threat of being thrust into an anthropogenic nuclear winter with the threat of cities being eviscerated by nuclear weapons. Movies were made, anxiety and tensions where high. Just like with the other wars. We still live under that threat yet the issue has all but evaporated from being a serious and pressing general concern in our media and general consciousness.
It seems to me that whilst human induced climatic change appears to some degree to be an actual or potential current, and future issue; it may not end up being what people imagine or predict. Yes it would be irresponsible to not investigate and act on the best available science, as it would be to mischaracterise the best available science.
It is said that slow and steady wins the race. The issue of climate change is all about responsible behaviour and that ball is clearly rolling.
To me, traumatising young children with worse case predictions for political and environmental campaigns, or for parents or teachers to be overly concerning them, does not seem to be particularly wise or responsible behaviour.
Maybe in some situations, some things are better left unsaid.