What can we do about eco-anxiety?

The threat of global warming can be scary - especially for children. A young activist explores eco-anxiety.
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Created by Meg

Published on Jan 30, 2020
Climate change protest

In 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told us we had 12 years left to prevent global warming beyond 1.5C.

That same year, Greta Thunberg sat down for her first school strike, sparking a global movement of millions of young activists.

In 12 years, scientists warned, we would reach a tipping point - irreversible climate change would ensue, causing a feedback loop with catastrophic consequences.

In 12 years, the youth strikers warned, they would be reaching their twenties and thirties in an unrecognisable landscape of forest fires, pollution-related ill health, and global resource-insecurity. I am one of the young climate activists trying to prevent this reality of environmental disaster through protest, individual action, and education.

According to an NUS survey, only 4% of students feel they know a lot about climate change. I am lucky to be in that 4%. What wasn’t taught to me by my botanist and ecologist parents; David Attenborough documentaries; cli-fi books; and social media, I learnt by studying geography at A-level.

Let’s be honest - it’s a complicated subject. I have an understanding of the intricacies of climate change only because I chose to study geography. But it's important: understanding the difference between ‘enhanced’ global warming (the problems we’ve caused) and Milankovitch cycles (natural fluctuations) helps you to challenge the deniers. A climate education is the difference between a generation of young people who are actively working to prevent increased natural disasters, and a generation who suffer as a result of them.

Some people say that climate education will lead to eco-anxiety. Eco-anxiety is definitely on the rise - but it’s not the real evil. Eco-anxiety is merely a symptom of bigger issues: the helplessness felt by young people when confronted with a future defined by environmental chaos. I would argue that in concealing scientific reality to protect young people, teachers, parents and politicians are actively doing us a disservice. We remain unprepared for (and frightened of) the future that climate change has in store for us.

Information surrounding climate change is only available if you choose the right subjects. Not everyone takes geography beyond year nine - at my school, you could drop it at 14. Even then, geography is not solely focused on environmentalism. But I believe that my two years of study have given me a more accurate understanding of climate change than most major politicians have.

It’s shocking. Just two years of education outweighs our leaders’ understanding of climate change - and that demonstrates just how under-prepared, misinformed and short-sighted our government and society are. Boris Johnson’s environmental policy falls so far short of the radical action required by the Paris Agreement, Greenpeace called it a ‘flop’.

This is the government that decides our curriculum. Climate change barely features in our education system, despite the fact that it is perhaps the most urgent crisis the world has ever faced. 75% of teachers feel they haven’t received adequate training to educate students about it.

How can the next generation be prepared for the future if students and teachers aren't aware of the severity and proximity of the climate crisis to their own lives? How can the next generation of conservationists be galvanised into action? How can the next generation of business owners be taught to prioritise a carbon budget, not just a fiscal budget?

I believe the answer lies in the demands of Teach The Future and other youth groups who are campaigning to make climate and environmental science an integral part of the curriculum. Just as interpersonal relationships and life skills are taught weekly via PSRE/PSHE, climate science needs to be taught through standardised lessons, trips, and visits. This would include lessons on individual action - such as techniques for sustainable living - as well as global sustainable development and cooperation, to ensure climate change is treated as a global issue.

This will be necessary if we are to prepare students for our global future and the challenges we will all face. The science is clear and can be made accessible. Climate change is not optional and learning about it shouldn't be optional either. We must prepare for the realities of climate change - and we must begin by teaching the future.

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