Children and Climate Change

Greta Thunberg, future, children, Swedish

Greta Thunberg

Children are our future, and this is especially true with regards to climate change. They are the ones that will bear the brunt of its effects. Fortunately, some of them are well aware of this and taking action: our grandchildren will show the way, with Greta Thunberg in the lead. I took her picture from a piece in The Hill that describes some of her main activities:

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who inspired a massive youth movement to combat climate change, announced that she would be donating the proceeds from her newest book to charity.

“Some of my [speeches] have been released as a book by Penguin Random House. It’s out now,” Thunberg, 16, tweeted Monday.

“All of my earnings will go to charity. Just like the other books by me + my family.”

Thunberg, the founder of Youth Strike for Climate, began advocating for climate change policy last year by walking out of school to protest weekly outside the Swedish Parliament.

Her school strike inspired thousands of students worldwide to walk out of their classrooms and demand action on climate change from their political leaders.

“No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference,” published by Penguin Random House, is a selection of 11 of Thunberg’s speeches, according to The Guardian.

Thunberg, who has also addressed world leaders at a United Nations climate conference, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year.

“Greta Thunberg has launched a mass movement which I see as a major contribution to peace,” said Freddy André Øvstegård, a Socialist member of the Norwegian Parliament.

In February, an estimated 10,000 students skipped school for a climate protest in the United Kingdom. And in January, about 12,000 students in Belgium skipped school on multiple occasions to take part in a climate protest.

I really hope that she wins the Nobel Prize!

What else can children do? They can lead the change in perception, starting at home:

“Children can foster climate change concern among their parents”

Danielle F. Lawson, Kathryn T. Stevenson, M. Nils Peterson, Sarah J. Carrier, Renee L. Strnad & Erin Seekam

The collective action that is required to mitigate and adapt to climate change is extremely difficult to achieve, largely due to socio-ideological biases that perpetuate polarization over climate change1,2. Because climate change perceptions in children seem less susceptible to the influence of worldview or political context3, it may be possible for them to inspire adults towards higher levels of climate concern, and in turn, collective action4. Child-to-parent intergenerational learning—that is, the transfer of knowledge, attitudes or behaviours from children to parents5—may be a promising pathway to overcoming socio-ideological barriers to climate concern5. Here we present an experimental evaluation of an educational intervention designed to build climate change concern among parents indirectly through their middle school-aged children in North Carolina, USA. Parents of children in the treatment group expressed higher levels of climate change concern than parents in the control group. The effects were strongest among male parents and conservative parents, who, consistent with previous research1, displayed the lowest levels of climate concern before the intervention. Daughters appeared to be especially effective in influencing parents. Our results suggest that intergenerational learning may overcome barriers to building climate concern.

What about legal resources? Can children sue the government and their parents’ generations for destroying their future? They’ve certainly tried:

Three federal judges heard arguments Tuesday about whether young people have a constitutional right to be protected from climate change. In the lively, hourlong hearing, the judges, from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, pushed skeptically on the arguments of both sides.

Education is key. Type “teaching climate change” into the search box at the top of the page and you will find 47 entries from the over 7 years that I have been blogging here. One of these is a guest blog from Randee Zerner (April 1, 2013) about how her 4th grade kid started pushing her family to take its own steps to mitigate climate change:

My son, who is in the 4th grade, is required to participate in a science fair project. Last year, we did a composting project, were he received honorable mention. This year, his goal was to surpass that and win the chance to go to Brookhaven Labs. So naturally, we asked our friend Professor Tomkiewicz what environmental project he would suggest. The recommendation was an energy audit of our home, with ideas for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. We then asked another of my mother’s coworkers, and she suggested a study about snails. My son, being who he is, chose the more complex project.

For the next 6 weeks, the energy audit became the central activity of our home. We first had to list all of the light sources in all the rooms in the house and record the wattages for each bulb. In order to get a seven day average of our electricity usage, my son put a piece of paper on every light switch in the house. For seven days, every member of the family had to write down the time the light was turned on and off in every room. At first we had fun calling out to each other, “Did you write down the time?” As the days passed, at times, we either kept the lights on (A rare occurrence, since we are very conscious of turning off the lights when leaving a room), or did not turn them on at all. Which led to our going to the bathroom in the dark more often than not (for boys, not an easy task).  Over time, we learned that the natural light during the day was usually sufficient for most activities.

My son used a Kill-A-Watt meter provided by Professor Tomkiewicz. We connected this device to our refrigerator, garage refrigerator, deep chest freezer, microwave, toaster, computer, TV/cable box, apple device charger, and telephone. We were unable to do this with the dishwasher, oven, washer and dryer, so we took the information from those appliances and asked our energy guru to help figure the kWh of these appliances.

Then the real fun began, and we did all of the math problems and converted the watts into kW and then into kWh (After figuring out the average time the lights were on). After many emails back and forth with Professor Tomkiewicz to make sure our formulas were right, we then figured out the sum of the kWh for both lights and appliances. At this point, we were calling our guru to check our work (Wondering if maybe, at this point, he regretted helping out?). We then compared our final sum of kWh usage to our electrical bill. The emails were going back and forth at a rapid pace – we were trying to show all of our work and to double-check everything. We were so proud of everything… and then our guru dropped the bomb: “Where is the carbon footprint?” At which point, my son and I looked at each other and said, “How do we figure that out?” As usual, we were then given yet another formula (I’m so happy my son loves math). My son then typed up some suggestions for us to do as a family to decrease our energy use.

The board was finally put together and handed in; we celebrated by leaving on some lights for a little while, (Shh, don’t tell anyone). Tuesday night, we went to school to see the board presented along with 100 others.  Of course, we thought ours was the best, but we had to admit there were some other great projects. The teacher told my husband and me that she recommended our son’s project for honorable mention; been there, done that – hoping for more! We will find out tomorrow.

Meanwhile, of course, for those children who don’t yet know about the problem, the more traditional flow of information remains. Parents and teachers can (and should) explain climate change to youngsters. In doing so, they might even be able to process their own beliefs and concerns.

Psychologists say the way parents and teachers talk about climate change with children has an effect on their young psyches.

“A lot of people, when they talk to kids, are processing their own anxiety and fears,” said John Fraser, a psychologist and chief executive of New Knowledge, a social science think tank that studies health and the environment. “Do you think kids won’t be scared, too? As a culture, we haven’t developed good tools to talk about these things.”

Janet K. Swim, a professor of psychology at Penn State University, said she emphasized several steps for parents (and teachers, for that matter) to take when talking about climate change with youngsters.

“You should start off with something positive, like, ‘We like the planet,’” she said. This should be followed with taking children outside to appreciate nature. For city dwellers, this is as simple as going to a park. Families in more rural areas can hike.

“The goal is for them to appreciate the beauty of nature,” Dr. Swim said. “They should be thinking about what is good in the environment.”

This serves a purpose: connecting children to a world larger than their own.

“There is this thinking that young kids will understand what we are talking about,” Dr. Fraser said. “But summer and fall are new. They are only beginning to understand the seasons. Nature, to them, is a tree.”

This interplay between generations is even taking place before conception: some people are refusing to have kids at all because of climate change. Personal experience from teaching has shown that the students who have expressed this sentiment have been exclusively female. Why? I will return to this issue in a future blog, where I will revisit my discussion of major global changes in fertility rates all over the planet.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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2 Responses to Children and Climate Change

  1. Victoria Pope says:

    In my high school there were environmental science classes but many still seem disinterested in the topic because it was not a required course to graduate. It was more of an elective credit just to fill the schedule, the course ghosted over various aspects of climate change. With the course being an elective credit many students did not care for the class. This raises the question, if courses teaching about climate change would be a required class to graduate would students be more interested and educated on the topic?
    How would the implementation of this course change the ways schools impact their environment and the communities of people they educate?

  2. Joseph Catanzaro says:

    I believe one of the big issues regarding the lack of Climate Change awareness is due to our school systems not have a required environmental course. My high school only had AP Environmental Studies which was given to a select number of students who had exceptional grades. This leaves many students who may not perform as well in the dark about the issues of Climate Change. Matter of fact this class was recently added to the school and it can be assumed that many previous generations did not have this class available. Therefore the lack of education in many previous generations leads to a lack of concern of the well being of our planet. This leaves the children of today to stand up against environmental issues by being educated on the issue not only socially but also politically.

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