Sensitively Teaching the Young About Climate Crisis

May/14/2021 / by Radhika Iyengar

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When four-year-old Billy Bond was taking a stroll with his father across the sprawling lush farmlands in Cornwall, England, something worrying caught his eye. “We came across a patch of woodland that a farmer had cleared to make way for agricultural storage,” recalls his father, Dominic. Billy appeared visibly upset. He turned to his father and asked, “Daddy, doesn’t the farmer understand that we need those trees to breathe out, so that we can breathe in?”

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Keya Lamba, co-founder of Earth Warriors

Our planet is witnessing a climate crisis of catastrophic proportions. A report in the Frontiers in Conservation Science predicts that the world will face a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals,” if focused interventions are not taken. The urgency is palpable. Apocalyptic storms, the alarming rise in sea levels and raging wildfires in the recent past are crucial warnings that convey that our home is falling apart — and, it’s up to us to fix it. While a global climate revolution is underway, it is yet to gain the substantial momentum required to bring about the mammoth changes we need to reverse some of the most damaging scars. 

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Shweta Bahri, co-founder of Earth Warriors

Educating the young about climate emergency therefore, is vital. They are the ones who will face its most worrying consequences in the future. If schools resolve to teach children about respecting the environment, chances of them becoming more receptive to the task at hand and helping in solution building, are greater. In fact, school-going children have resolutely stood at the forefront of worldwide climate protests with young activists like Greta Thunberg and 9-year-old Licypriya Kangujam leading the way.

Recently, Earth Warriors, which is an early-childhood environmental curriculum provider, conducted a study which observed that most countries had failed to provide satisfactory climate-and-environment focused training to the young. “Only one country in the world has climate change as part of its national curriculum despite the fact that the world is facing an environmental crisis,” say Earth Warriors’ founders Keya Lamba and Shweta Bahri. “Children will face an environmental crisis throughout their lifetimes. A research done by The Lancet shows that building sustainable habits from a young age is therefore, necessary for becoming citizens who are conscious about planetary health and stewardship in adulthood. They need to be taught about Earth’s biggest challenges, so they are equipped with the tools they need to protect our planet.”

On the flip side, however, there have been reports indicating that certain children have begun experiencing high-levels of anxiety and hopelessness after learning about the planet’s sorry state. Fearful about the unstable world they have inherited, many are having panic attacks or are depressed. Parents, mental health professionals and educators have wondered how to mitigate such stressors, while still responsibly teaching pupils about the climate crisis and adopting an environment-friendly, sustainable lifestyle.  

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Graphic highlighting excess CO2 emissions relative to 2030 targets (image courtesy of Earth Warriors)

Earth Warriors, for instance, offer play-based solutions to help children aged 3-7 years learn about such topics by engaging them in fun, experiential tasks. “The fact is that 90% of brain development happens before 5 years of age (Harvard Center on the Developing Child) and research shows that learning through play is critical for children’s skill development for the future (The LEGO foundation). At this age, we focus on children building a bond with and love for nature, and understand that Earth is home to many creatures and needs to be cared for,” explain Lamba and Bahri.

Billy, who virtually participated in Earth Warriors’ international pilot program received an activity every week via email, which encouraged him to be more appreciative of nature. From going on a wildlife spotting walk with his family to using a pair of binoculars made from recycled toilet rolls, from building wind chimes and making bird feeders—little Billy is consciously working hard towards making a larger impact.

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Graphic depicting how countries are educating kids on climate change (image courtesy of Earth Warriors)

Another section in Earth Warriors’ study found that high-income nations like Norway which ranked first on Child Flourishing Index (CFI), stood 156th on the sustainability chart. “Many developed countries which rank highly in terms of child flourishing are actually producing more carbon emissions than less developed countries,” note Lamba and Bahri. “At the moment, CFI is focused on child wellbeing without taking into account any sustainability indicators. However, we believe countries need to make sure children have a sustainable future and that sustainability should be part of the CFI going forward.”

At the same time, progressive efforts are required to extend conversations around environment conservation and climate solutions into classrooms. Billy’s father, Dominic feels that if climate change was introduced as a subject in schools’ curriculum 30 years ago, perhaps the world would have been in a better shape today. “We might have been able to take action sooner and avert some of the issues our global society now faces,” he says. “Climate is the most pressing issue facing our world right now. Our children need to understand what choices and behaviors they can individually adopt, as well as how they can hold the adults to account to reverse climate breakdown. These are really scary topics for all of us and need to be handled in a sensitive way to help children understand what is going wrong and how we can mitigate it.”

This story appears in the May issue of SEEMA Magazine, check it out here

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