Tag Archives: eco-anxiety

How Not to Teach Climate Change

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Last week I substitute-taught a Year 5 class that was learning about climate change. One of our pre-planned activities was to continue making posters about “good gases and bad gases”. I immediately noted that every student had slapped carbon dioxide (CO2) in the “bad gas” column.

I quizzed the class, and discovered that they had been taught the following line of thinking.

  1. Carbon dioxide is a harmful and poisonous gas.
  2. Nearly all daily human activity – turning on lights, jumping in a car, using an electrical device etc. – creates carbon dioxide.

They had no idea of the following:

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a natural constituent of the atmosphere… 
Carbon dioxide is by far the most important (organic compound) for the sustainability of the biosphere (the whole of life on Earth).
 
Without CO2 the life of photosynthetic organisms and animals would be impossible, given that CO2 provides the basis for the synthesis of organic compounds that provide nutrients for plants and animals.

Just think about that for a second.

Imagine you’re a naive child, and your teacher tells you that your every daily action creates poisonous gases that destroy the planet.

I was shocked, and quickly set the record straight by informing them that CO2 is actually essential for life on earth; it feeds plants, and it is a crucial ingredient in their, and in every other living creature’s, bodies. I added that scientists think it may be warming up our planet, but they’re still not 100% sure.* These facts came much to their surprise and relief. Clearly, some of these kids were among the increasing amount who suffer from eco-anxiety – a debilitating and potentially life-destroying form of neurosis.

I’ve since been investigating this issue further, and recently discovered a sickening truth. Some of those trumpeting the dangers of climate change, from the UN down, have been intentionally terrifying children in order to consolidate their message. This is abusive and irresponsible on a monumental scale. Furthermore, many other well-meaning educators (including the teacher of the above-mentioned class, who’s a lovely person) and parents have unintentionally compounded the children’s mental distress, not realising the effect that fear-mongering can have on an immature mind.

Eco-anxiety (aka climate anxiety) is a major concern because it is not something that simply disappears when a child is “old enough to know better”. As is well-understood, childhood anxiety often persists throughout life, affecting achievement in the academic and social domains. Do we really want to “educate” our children into nervous wrecks?

It seems important that climate change is taught in schools, but surely it must be taught in context. To teach it to primary school children, who are still incapable of grasping the underlying science, is pedagogically ignorant and therefore negligent. At the very least, climate change should be taught as a secondary science unit, after students have learnt basic biology, chemistry and physics. Only then do they have a chance of accurately assessing the issue, and only then can they receive a safe, healthy psychological upbringing.

*Clarification: The full extent of my short introduction to climate temperature was to mention that CO2 keeps the earth warm and always has, that scientists think our extra CO2 is ever-so-slightly warming the earth, and that it is not understood what impact this could have on the planet or on mankind.