Is Climate Change Damaging Our Kids?
On my recent trip to Edinburgh I was lucky enough to visit the National Museum of Scotland; they had a number of exhibits on everything from astronomy to zoology, colonial history to ancient cultures - but what really caught my eye was the gift shop, though not for the consumeristic reasons you might expect.
While browsing the various knick-knacks and souvenirs on sale for extortionate prices I came across the children’s book section, where the principal texts on display were all to do with the planet and climate change; A Planet Full of Plastic, 100 Things To Know About Planet Earth, and Little Book for Big Changes were just the three I took photos of, but there were plenty more to choose from. All of this got me thinking about a broader question – are we unnecessarily placing an environmental burden on children? When I was younger, while climate change was a prevalent issue, it wasn’t at the forefront of everyday rhetoric like it is today. I don’t remember reading any books that highlighted the impending climate disaster, much less ones that gave me advice about how to ‘make the world a better place’.
It seems that climate action is no longer the solely the concern of adult politicians and activists, something that 16-year-old Greta Thunberg can attest to, as she was just 15 when she began striking outside Swedish Parliament in a bid for stronger climate policies. At the UN climate change summit which took place in September this year, Greta gave an impassioned speech where she claimed that her childhood had been ‘stolen’ by the ‘empty words’ of world leaders. ‘I shouldn’t be up here,’ she said, ‘I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean.’ What’s worse is she isn’t the only child who has had her childhood stolen by the climate disaster; Lesein Mutenkei is a 15 year old activist from Kenya who encouraged his school and football team to take on more environmental policies; Aditya Mukarji from India started his work when he was just 13, by going round local cafes and restaurants and campaigning for them to swap plastic straws for more eco-friendly alternatives; every Friday since she was 11-years-old Lilly Platt from the Netherlands has been taking the day off school to strike for climate change.
While some children are now spending their youth campaigning, many others are riddled with so-called ‘eco-anxiety’, as parents are being warned against ‘terrifying’ their kids with talk of the climate disaster. A press release from the University of Bath reported in September about the rising number of parents, teachers, and doctors appealing for help from higher education authorities about how to properly deal with environment-induced anxiety. Are books like the ones I saw in the National Museum only furthering this fear and ending childhoods prematurely? What’s even more worrying is these books appear to be aimed at a very young audience, something than can be inferred from their colourful illustrations and simplistic language style, meaning one has to ask at what age do we draw the line when talk of the climate disaster becomes unacceptable?
Childhood is a relatively new concept, beginning with the Victorians who were the first to really emphasize the importance and sanctity of the child, while before then they were simply seen as mini adults; but if these trends are anything to go by the history of childhood could be a very short one. While it is important that everyone understands the threat of the climate emergency, placing the burden on young children can be extremely damaging. Books like the ones I saw are especially worrying because, while they frame the climate emergency as something that can be solved, for example saying, ‘how you can help’, they still ultimately place an unnecessary emphasis on children who ten years ago would have only had to worry about where to hide in a game of hide and seek or who was ‘it’ in tig.
Image by: Streetsblog Denver