Stop telling children that climate change will destroy their world – Reuters

My 5-year-old daughter is now old enough to read a lot of children’s books and magazines, and it has given me a whole new perspective on the rhetorical wars about how we talk about climate change, conservation, and the future of the planet.

As I have written before, climate change will be bad, and it will prevent humanity from thriving as much as we should in this century. This is likely to lead to mass migration, displacement and extinction of many species.

What it will not do, however, is make the Earth uninhabitable, or even mean that our children live in a poorer world than the one we grew up in. As many climatologists have told usthe world is a better place to live – especially for people in low – income countries – than it has ever been, and climate change will not make it as bad as it was even in the 1950s.

“I unequivocally reject, scientifically and personally, the idea that children are somehow doomed to an unhappy life,” Columbia climatologist Kate Marvel told Ezra Klein in her column this week about overcoming climate change.

Writing for adults does not always do the best job of finding a balance, although not everyone agrees on what that particular balance is. books like The uninhabitable earth: life after global warmingin my opinion, does a fair job of portraying some extreme scenarios that are certainly worth considering, but they still do not relate to an uninhabitable Earth, or even an Earth that would be a terrible place to live.

Yes, some things will be worse, but thanks to progress on many fronts in the fight against extreme poverty and disease, as well as general economic growth, our children’s lives will be better than our parents’.

This issue is important because there is a fierce debate among activists about whether more pessimistic messages give people the energy to fight climate change or make them despair, conclude that the world is doomed, and disconnect. But the message to adults is positively nuanced and optimistic in relation to the presentation of climate change and other environmental challenges conveyed to children.

What we tell our children about climate change

As a parent, I believe it is important to empower children and send the message that the world will be in their hands, that they will have the power to solve the most pressing issues, and that many people are already working on these issues. who want children to learn, grow and join us. The fight against climate change is part of it, and it is important and valid, but not because there will not be a world that children can live in when they grow up.

Unfortunately, this last message is the most dominant in Our house burns: Greta Thunberg’s prayer to save the planeta beautifully illustrated picture book aimed at ages 3-8.

“There may not be a world left to live in when she grows up. What good is a school without a future? one page describes Thunberg as thinking. Even in preparation for Thunberg’s emergence as an activist, I’m not thrilled with this message. Some children may hear this and be inspired to speak in front of the UN, but most children will hear this and be scared and helpless.

This pessimistic message seems to be penetrating young people. A 2021 study funded by the campaign and research group Avaaz examined 10,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25 and found that more than half believed that humanity was “doomed” due to climate change.

Horacio Villalobos / Corbis via Getty Images

“You see children say things like, ‘The world will burn, we’re all dead in 20 years,’ and that’s pretty unlikely,” said Susan Clayton, a conservationist who studies climate change’s impact on mental health. told National Geographic in an article on children and climate anxiety.

Clayton has some great tips on what to do with a climate anxiety child. But it is worth dwelling on his quote. Why do we see children say that? Because the books, the stories, and the protest messages directed at them tell them so! There is pessimism in the water around climate change, and children often take this pessimism much more literally than adults.


Rodger Bosch / AFP via Getty Images

In some cases, it feels as if adults are taking our own frustration over climate policy inaction on the children – and doing so by telling them things that are not true and that they do not have. not perspective or context to be taken into account. a grain of salt.

The issue also permeates advice on what children can do about climate change.

I imagine that the tendency to advise children on climate change to encourage them to defy their adults, to recycle, cycle, and participate in demonstrations stems from a well-meaning urge to give them advice that they can use right now. But I’m afraid it’s going to frustrate them, and it’s basically not being very honest about how they can tackle climate change.

Children who throw themselves wholeheartedly into these problems throughout their childhood, but who are not Greta Thunberg themselves, are unlikely to get anywhere, nor will they be able to get anywhere at all.

The best way for a 7-year-old to improve the world is probably not to beg adults. It is by learning more and developing new skills that she can directly tackle issues such as climate change as she gets older.

Create a better future

When our daughter asks about environmental issues, I like to tell her that a few generations ago there were smallpox, but some children studied hard and became adults who struggled to eradicate them. I tell him there was leaded gasoline, but we found out it was bad and phased it out. I tell her that today there are climate changes and that the solution to them will require new inventions and new ideas – and she can invent them.

I explain that if we had better batteries, we could use solar energy for more of our electricity grids, so maybe she could learn how to invent better batteries. I explain that if we could grow beef without cows, they would not emit methane gas, so maybe she’s the one who needs to figure out how to make it profitable.

But I have yet to find a children’s book that presents the climate crisis in this way: as a challenge, but one as many that humanity has overcome and that our children can overcome by learning about the world and by inventing new solutions. If you know one, I’m looking for recommendations; if you do not know, I invite you to think about where this gap in our messages to children leaves them.

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