Climate and Environmental Literacy
Climate Education Could Save Our Kids
October 12, 2023
In today’s world, the urgency to integrate climate education into every school’s curriculum has never been more apparent. This initiative is not just about education; it’s about safeguarding our children’s well-being. Witnessing the climate crisis unfold firsthand, in all its severity, has a profound impact on their mental and physical health.
Unsurprisingly witnessing the destruction of homes, livelihoods, and entire communities amplifies feelings of hopelessness and despair — and now it even has a clinical definition — it’s called climate depression.
Climate depression is a specific form of mental health distress characterized by profound psychological tension and emotional anguish stemming from the awareness of climate and ecological destruction, compounded by a perceived lack of meaningful action from world leaders. It is exacerbated by the escalating impacts of global heating, with symptoms including fear, sadness, anxiety about the future, and a sense of helplessness, particularly prevalent among young people.
In addressing climate depression, it becomes imperative to provide a platform for open dialogue and education, particularly within the classroom setting. This not only imparts essential knowledge about the changing world we inhabit, but also empowers the younger generation to comprehend the broader implications of climate change, from its scientific underpinnings to its societal, health, and justice dimensions.
Currently, an estimated 850 million children — 1 in 3 worldwide — are directly impacted by climate change. These young individuals, like all of us, grapple with the climate crisis on a daily basis, yet experience its effects at a significantly higher rate than adults.
Their very real distress is a valid reaction to the changing environment. And, not surprisingly, these effects are seen the most amongst vulnerable groups experiencing climate change firsthand. While a degree of anxiety can sometimes serve as a catalyst for action and even spark change, if you have no way to incite that change or find solutions, it is only going to exacerbate your sense of helplessness.
Mounting evidence suggests pollution, a significant driver of climate change, can potentially harm the human brain in ways extending beyond the realm of anxiety and even impact IQ levels. Children exposed to higher levels of black carbon scored worse on tests for memory and both verbal and nonverbal IQ.
Another study looked at two groups of children from two cities in Mexico. They found children in Mexico City, which was the more polluted of the two areas being studied, scored lower on tests of memory, cognition, and intelligence compared to the children in the less polluted city of Polotitlán.
Google searches for “climate anxiety” have soared 565 percent over the past 12 months, proving people are researching what they are feeling and they need both validation and education about these feelings. It means the effects of climate change can no longer be ignored because it is impossible to not see it playing out on a daily basis. With a relentless barrage of natural disasters dominating our news cycles across the world — unusual storms, massive wildfires, unseasonal floods — are not only ravaging our environment but also leaving scars on our collective psyche too.
The climate crisis is evolving into a comprehensive challenge facing us all, affecting every facet of human experience. Addressing this crisis will be a gradual process, but by integrating climate education into every school, we can help young people cope with it by nurturing hope, resilience, and optimism, countering climate-related anxiety and fear. Furthermore, climate education will prompt proactive measures, yielding solutions to the crisis we have created and provide essential aid to those on the front lines.