Children are increasingly confronted with climate change. Here are their tips: NPR
Climate change didn’t seem urgent to Gabriel Nagel as a child. In a seventh grade, he saw the graph showing rising global carbon emissions, but it seemed abstract.
Then in 2017, a wildfire burned just blocks from his home in Boulder, Colorado.
“That’s when I realized that climate change was not something in the future,” Nagel said. “It’s something we’re dealing with right now, and whoever you are, you’re going to be impacted.”
Children around the world are increasingly facing the impacts of climate change, from losing their homes in disasters to having recess canceled due to extreme heat waves. Climate anxiety is on the rise, as a younger generation faces the legacy of a much warmer world.
“Many young people experience grief, frustration, anxiety and elements of betrayal by adults and other generations,” says Dr. Kelsey Hudson, a clinical psychologist specializing in climate change.
By dealing with these feelings, many young people find ways to find meaning and purpose. Here are some of their tips.
1. Tell a friend what’s going on
Nagel and his family were evacuated during the fire from Boulder, Colorado, but luckily his home emerged unscathed. After that, he started noticing how wildfires seemed to happen more often in the West, especially with the long drought.
“I know other people through not just this fire, but other fires across Colorado who have lost their homes,” he says.
Nagel started learning more about climate change and started taking action in his daily life, like riding more bikes and eating less meat. But it was joining her Denver high school’s sustainability club that made the biggest difference. There he met other students who were working to help their community, such as planting trees and encouraging his school to start composting.
He also joined another student group, DPS Students for Climate Action. Over the course of nearly two years, the group pushed Denver Public Schools to adopt its first climate policy, adopting district-wide goals for reducing emissions and using clean energy.
“Being around people who are equally passionate and have the same optimism about the future can be really uplifting and motivating,” he says.
When he feels upset about the future of the planet, he meets a friend, Mariah Rosensweig, whom he met through the sustainability club. They go for walks and hikes together, blowing off whatever comes into their heads.
“Sometimes I feel like what I’m doing will never be enough,” says Nagel. “And some of that is true. Like one person won’t be able to change the fate of this planet, of climate change. But I think at the same time, I also have hope that by working together, we can really solve this crisis.”
2. Get out into nature
As a child, Rosensweig’s deep love for nature grew out of being outdoors all the time.
“I was always one of the few girls who was dirtier than all the boys,” Rosensweig says. “My grandfather nicknamed me the ‘tree panther’, because I would always be in a tree and he wouldn’t know where I was.”
In high school, she became a beekeeper. For her, working on climate change is about reminding people of their connection to the natural world. But seeing the damage done to the natural world can be disheartening.
“Now the conversation is not: what can we do to prevent climate change?” she says. “It’s: how are we going to live with this? As I’m still so young, hearing this change is frustrating because it’s like – we’ve known this for so long.”
When she feels this way, Rosensweig says it’s simple: get out.
“I’m going to sit on the floor and really connect with my senses, especially my breath,” she says. “It will make you more aware of the world around you. And the more aware you are of it, the more you will care about it. The more you care about it, the more likely you are to do something about it.”
3. Join people doing something in your community
When 15-year-old Tanish Doshi first moved to Tuscon, Arizona, the extreme heat came as a shock, especially as rising summer temperatures hit records year after year.
“It’s like your skin is on fire,” he says. “A lot of people have access to safe places to stay, air conditioning, water, stuff like that. When you look at our homeless populations and different people, they don’t have that access most of the time here. in southern Arizona. So the heat is really, really bad.”
When climate change seems daunting, Doshi’s advice is to find someone who cares and ask how to help your community.
When Habitat for Humanity’s Tucson office was flooded by heavy monsoon rains, Doshi rallied his friends to do something about it. They designed a flood control system around the building, installing drainage pipes, holding ponds and redirecting water to soaking up areas with plants. About 20 people helped with the construction, including his nine-year-old brother.
“For me, advocacy and action has alleviated some of my climate anxiety because it shows me that success is possible, right?” he says. “If a group of teenagers here in Tucson can have that success, and if teenagers across the country have similar success, it can really drive reform on a national level.”
Helping out in your community doesn’t have to be a big project, say psychologists like Hudson. It can be as simple as planting a pollinator-friendly flower. The key is to find meaning in action and create social connections in the process.
“We can reflect on: what does it look like for young people to find meaning and purpose in this crisis?” Hudson said. “Connect to other like-minded people and build agency by connecting to climate engagement or action.”
4. Don’t be too intimidated to speak up
When Sabal Dangi was 11, he took a trip to Nepal where his family originated. He saw how vulnerable people are to climate impacts, like warmer temperatures that make water supplies less reliable.
“We would see how climate change really affects them at those high altitudes,” he says. “They’re using all their water from melting glaciers and the Himalayas. And now they’re really trying to adapt and conserve.”
Dangi was focusing on something that resonates with many young people: the global inequality of climate change. Extreme storms, floods and droughts can be more devastating in low-income countries where people have few safety nets.
“Last year, my climate anxiety really started to peak,” he says. “It was just the feeling of not being able to do something.”
Dangi, now 16, wasn’t sure he knew enough about climate change to get involved. But after participating in a few climate protests, he started a Fridays for Future chapter where he lives in Fresno, California. The youth-led movement has chapters around the world leading climate strikes, where students walk out of school or demonstrate after school.
In the beginning, it was just Dangi and a few friends, but the group grew as it continued. Talking and engaging people on climate issues has helped him feel more positive.
“You don’t have to have a fancy degree or anything to really talk about the planet,” Dangi says. “The world is everybody’s home. It’s everybody’s future. And that’s something everybody can really stand up for and talk about.”