Climate Conversations

After the intensity of COVID-19, all countries have been hard at work to ‘build back better’.

Since this global crisis, the education sector has been afforded an opportunity to reinvent itself. School disruptions, the likes of which had never been seen before, exposed the intrinsic inequalities within our education systems. In particular, the recent global pandemic brought to light the inequalities with regard to gender and wealth.

School disruptions and inequality among schools in terms of resources, both human and physical, are but a fraction of what is to come. This is because extreme weather conditions and events are becoming a more regular occurrence within the context of climate collapse and ecological breakdown.

A new way of engaging and educating children, youth and adults about climate solutions is emerging. This phenomenon is what is becoming known as the ‘new green learning agenda’. This method of instruction is based on decades of research into how children learn. Furthermore, it aids in the development of pivotal academic content as well as the activation of climate action.

This ‘new green learning agenda’ requires parents and teachers to work in partnership with each other, as the various aspects of climate change are felt clearly at home as well as at school.

Keep the science simple

A great point of departure for climate conversations with a child is to find ways to link climate change to their daily lives. As climate change permeates so many aspects of our lives, we need to start with the more familiar, more relatable aspects of our daily lives.

For example, you could share with your child the fact that humans burn fossil fuels (oil and coal) to illuminate homes, run cars and fly planes. Aviation emissions are a significant contributor to climate change. Fossil fuel is released when airplanes burn fossil fuel. Not only does this release carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, it also has damaging, warming non-CO2 effects due to nitrogen oxides, cloud formation and vapour trails that are triggered by the altitude at which aircraft operate.

This is what contributes to greenhouse gasses that are released into the atmosphere and wrap around the earth like a bubble, making the climate hotter. When the planet gets hotter than it is meant to be, then we have changes in the weather – more storms and more floods.

As a result of the planet getting warmer, sea levels are rising and the polar ice-caps are melting. This is a very serious problem because polar animals need the ice to survive. Warming seas and sea ice loss mean massive changes for animals across the polar food web. Food sources are disappearing for some of these animals, others are losing their habitats and the patterns of almost all of their lives are being disturbed.

Visual representations of the planet help make the issue more tangible. There are useful resources at Climatevisuals to help you explore the earth with children. The images and resources on this site have been compiled by a team of social scientists and communications specialists who place people at the centre of tackling climate change and who are passionate about building a strong social mandate for climate action.

The images represent every topic from climate impacts to climate solutions. An example of climate impact would be the changes in climate and weather patterns that can put lives at risk. Heat is one of the most dangerous weather phenomena. Hurricanes are getting stronger and more lethal as ocean temperatures rise. Dry conditions lead to wildfires, which bring many health risks.

Climate solutions are best described as actions that increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions in wetlands and landscapes across the globe. Natural climate solutions include conservation, restoration and improved land management practices that encourage and support the aforementioned points.

Preparing materials for climate conversations

Having Climate Conversations

Young people’s daily decision-making and behaviour can be positively impacted when they develop a strong personal connection to climate solutions. This could in fact lead to an awareness that sees them reducing their overall lifetime carbon footprint.

Generation Alpha, the generation of children born from the year 2010 onwards (and often the younger siblings of Generation Z) will face a myriad of issues. Some of these issues include:

  • building climate resilience for communities and businesses,
  • maintaining supplies of clean water and food,
  • generating adequate clean energy, and
  • solving the problems of global environmental change that confront society today and in their future.

The responsibility of climate education however is a mammoth one. This arm of education is best tackled as a partnership between home and school. Parents are in a prime position to have ongoing conversations with children about climate change.

Young people taking action

When parents and teachers share with children what other young people around the world are doing to tackle climate change, the knock on effect of that conversation is that their children begin to identify with those youth climate activists. It empowers them to take action and it also gives the children a sense of hope and, to a degree, control. The sense of control arises when children feel that they, alongside millions of other young people, are taking action to improve the environment.

Each year around 34 million students are collaborating across continents to take regular action through the Climate Action Project. Within this forum, teachers, environmental project leaders, project developers and mentors that guide them, have access to a global community of like-minded professionals and a free, quality assured curriculum that remains at the cutting edge of development in the field.

When engaging children about climate change, it is important that the conversation is honest and hopeful while still being cognisant of the reality and scale of the issue. Some ideas for chatting to children about climate change are:

1. Listen

Conversations can start by finding out what a child already knows about climate change. This helps you decide how much emotional support to provide as you navigate the topic and it provides you with the ideal opportunity to listen to their hopes and fears for the world, for the planet. Acknowledge their fears and concerns and remind them that they can always chat to you about anything.

2. Connect with nature

Spending time out in nature encourages children to respect, enjoy and appreciate nature. Inequity over many years in many countries has influenced the distribution and design of green spaces. In many countries (such as the United States), organisations such as Cities Connecting Children to Nature support municipalities in shifting planning, policies andprogrammes to connect children to the benefits of nature more equitably and more often.

Time spent outside has multiple benefits, in that it requires you and the children in your care child to slow down, relax and develop a curiosity about the natural world. Planting seeds and nurturing the plants that grow is another ‘easy’ way of engaging with nature and with your child. This could later lead to a conversation about, for example, food security.

Hope despite climate change

Finally, find hope

Climate stressors are best described as conditions, events, or trends related to the variability in the climate and change that can exacerbate hazards. One way of helping young children to cope with a stressor like climate change is to use what is known as ‘meaning-focused’ coping.

This involves reordering one’s priorities when adversity hits. This strategy is also meant to assist people to infuse ordinary events with positive meaning. Within the context of the climate crisis, Maria Ojala has done impressive work looking at the ways in which meaning focused coping links to the ways in which we educate children about the environment.

Casey Kirchoff used meaning-focused coping to deal with the grief of losing her five-acre property in Australia’s last record-breaking bushfires. Just after the blaze, Kirchhoff got the idea to start documenting any signs of life that were beginning to re-grow.

As younger climate activists, such as Nyombi Morris from Uganda, Licypriya Kangujam from India, Lesein Mutunkei from Kenya and so many others, step up and out, parents and teachers must both partner with them and encourage their leadership.

Hope is best seen not as a single landing place or destination. Rather it is a place of finding facts, taking action, finding and offering comfort and reaching out to others when climate fatigue sets in. This means that everyone needs to contribute to the factors that provide us with hope. We must all take constant steps towards making a positive difference. Sometimes that action involves reading up on a climate related phenomenon, sometimes it involves engaging in recycling or ethical consumerism.