The Young and the Not-so-Stressless
Ginny Colling was passionate about the environment before retiring from teaching college communications students. After retiring she trained with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and has presented to numerous groups about the climate crisis.
My beautiful daughter was born in 1995 — the same year the UN’s climate panel published its second report. It said our actions had the potential to change Earth’s climate “to an extent unprecedented in human history.”
That same year atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were 360 parts per million (ppm) — 10 above what is considered safe for a stable climate. For millennia, they had been below 300.
Today, the UN Secretary General is telling us we’re “on the highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.” And C02 levels have topped 420 ppm, something the planet hasn’t experienced in four million years.
Information like that can be paralyzing. But so can watching the climate-change-related floods, droughts, mega-storms and wildfires on the weather networks.
It’s no wonder a Canadian study by the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, published in early 2022, found half of students reported that climate change made them feel depressed about the future.
There’s actually a word for that feeling: eco-anxiety, defined by the American Psychological Association as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.”
When I was a kid our biggest fear was a nuclear attack. We practised hiding under our desks for protection. But today’s children have nowhere to hide from an over-heating planet. Their fear is understandable. Eco-psychologists tell us it’s important to acknowledge those feelings.
What else can we do?
- Help kids channel that fear into action. Young Greta Thunberg turned her eco-anxiety into climate action that sparked a worldwide youth movement. “Channelling anxiety into action can have a transformative effect,” according to Caroline Hickman, an eco-anxiety researcher in England. Try encouraging young people to:
-Plant a garden, or native trees. Teach kids that native plants generally have deeper roots, and that plants “inhale” excess carbon dioxide , transport it through those deep roots and store it in the soil.
-Turn off the lights, TV or computer when they leave a room. In Ontario some of our electricity still comes from burning fossil gas, so lower electricity use means less global warming pollution.
-Walk, bike or take the bus whenever possible to lower carbon dioxide emissions.
-Buy less stuff, and buy gently used things. My daughter did most of her Christmas shopping last year at thrift stores, where she found wonderful, meaningful gifts for her friends. Nothing new manufactured, no C02 gained.-Join their school’s environmental club.
- Point out the good news:
* In April 2022 the province of Quebec became the first region in the world to ban oil and gas development.
* Recently, we learned Kawartha Land Trust will receive $1.7 million over five years from the federal government’s Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund to purchase and protect even more wetlands, forests and grasslands — areas that store and capture carbon.
- Go for nature walks. Some research has found getting outside in nature (without technology) can reduce eco-anxiety.
- Write to a politician. For instance, help them write their MPP and tell them the province needs to preserve wetlands and forests, not build on them as Bill 23 proposed last fall.
We need to show our kids the many things we can do to lift our foot off the accelerator and take the off-ramp from that highway to climate hell.