We’re Failing to Prepare Our Children for the Climate Fight

As a childless 25-year-old, I look back on my own climate education and feel as though I‘m straddling two climate generations: those older than me, for whom disastrous change has (incorrectly) felt like a foregone conclusion, and the kids younger than me, for whom any change is (rightly) treated as meaningful progress. On September 20, 2019, for example, at the climate strike in New York City, I watched Jaden Smith and Willow perform and various speakers, including Greta Thunberg, take the stage. At some point, someone—I don‘t remember who—spoke about how we, the crowd, would keep fighting no matter what, because 1.5 Celsius was better than two, but two was better than 2.5, and 2.5 was better than three. It was an obvious scientific fact, and yet as someone raised to think of even two degrees of warming as almost unthinkably catastrophic, I‘d never felt it. But the teenagers around me, in their bucket hats and tank tops, nodded knowingly—they’d believed it all along. They’d come of age knowing the world is probably going to overshoot 1.5 degrees of warming—maybe even two. And they have every reason to fight for every fraction of a degree.

To me, this moment revealed an important truth about what climate education really requires. Supporting kids as they face an endangered world requires adults to relocate their own optimism and reengage in the fight. “I‘ve seen a lot of these articles on ‘how to help your kid with eco-anxiety,‘ as if the parent isn‘t also in the world,” Wray tells me. But children and their caretakers feed off each other‘s emotions, and children rely on their caretakers to help them process complex feelings. When it comes to parenting, teaching, or otherwise supporting a child, “A key part of doing this well is doing your own inner work and investigation,” Wray says. What black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking are you employing? Where is fatalism about the future holding you back? What more can you be doing to build community?

These questions may, at times, be painful to ask. But Wray is confident they can help everyone work toward a better future. parenting “With purpose and really committing to the joy of it—rather than fearing what may come—has an effect on your orientation toward what life is made of,” Wray tells me. If it takes a village to raise a child, then holistic, heartfelt climate education can and should change the village itself.

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