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What can children do in face of climate change?

Over a pizza with other early career polar scientists at the European Geosciences Union Annual Meeting in Vienna, Rhian and I talked about how difficult it is to conduct outreach to children about climate change. We tell schoolchildren about climate change, how life will be different on a warmer planet and the humungous task we have in front of us to change and “save” ourselves. It

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, May 8th, 2007:

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This is a topic that is near and dear to me, and I feel strongly that it is usually counter-productive to overwhelm children (until they are in their early teens) with the gloom and doom of climate change, because it can lead to a well-documented phenomenon of eco-phobia. They are not for the most part developmentally (emotionally, cognitively) ready to handle the complexities of climate change, and it is far better to make sure they don’t suffer from nature-deficit disorder by getting them out and about, immersed in the wonder of nature, even if it is just observing bugs on the school grounds or charting the progress of the seasons through their classroom window.  By mid to late teens, they are much more emotionally ready to deal with these issues and understand the science and social aspects of climate change.  When I give presentations to young people I stress the wonders of the natural world, minimize the perils of global warming (though often the kids bring it up), and stress that this is a very exciting time to be alive because we get to change everything by using less and sharing more.

This is an important discussion and I’m really concerned that some efforts to “educate” young people, especially the very young, about climate change can violate the need to protect their innocence during those early, formative years.

, May 8th, 2007:

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After further reflection, I’d like to ammend my comments. So long as we keep in mind the developmental/emotional appropriateness of the information provided to young people, it’s fine to encourage them to pester their parents; the recycling movement, which was once robust, was somewhat successful due in part to young people insisting their parents recycle. (The fact that recycling is still a very energy intensive business, and that reducing and reusing is far superior is usually not part of the equation.)

The big challenge in my view is encouraging values of simplicity and sufficiency to combat the huge appeal of affluenza: buy this new _______ so you’ll be cool and appealling and comfortable. Sadly, at a very young age children are conditioned and socialized to want stuff and be good consumers.  Changing that paradigm is the real work in changing the climate.

Terry, Jul 15th, 2007:

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Way wait 10 years? We need to get the kids behind the concept of climate action as they understand it better than most adults. We are embarking on Camps for Climate Action where we will actively deal with issues around Climate Change and use of Alternative Technology to work against it.

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