[Note: I take quite some time to get to the subject of climate change. Please bear with me, I think it is important to lay the proper foundations first.]
Children are impressionable. They don’t have much previous experience or knowledge stored away in their little brains, so they aren’t able to judge the accuracy of factual information very easily.
This isn’t a knock against children. In fact, it is one of the delightful things about them. I have two young girls, and watching them learn about the world around them is incredibly fascinating. They don’t have preconceptions about how things work. They simply don’t know yet.
This “blank slate” is necessary for an individual’s development. Animals are born knowing more or less what they need to know for their entire lives. Babies aren’t. They must learn an incredible amount of information about the world around them. This is good, because it allows all individuals to tailor their knowledge to their various environments. A child born in Japan doesn’t get the same information as an American child, which is good because they will not end up living the same life. Indeed, this distinction goes far beyond national borders and is different for every family, and every single child. No two lives are the same, and a child’s incredible ability to learn from their environment ensures that they will get the specific information they need to live their own life. (As an aside, this fact has serious implications for the way our current educational system is set up.)
While being impressionable is desirable and unavoidable for children, it also carries great risk. There are two possible ways a child’s impressionability can lead to their belief in false information:
1. Children can interpret their perceptions about the world around them in the wrong way.
2. Children can be given false information directly by adults or other children.
In the first example, a child might notice their parents always bringing an umbrella on days when it rains outside. They could falsely conclude that umbrellas cause rain. While these types of mistakes are common, they are usually corrected by later observations or by an adult’s explanation.
In the second example, a parent might tell their child that the world is flat. You and I know the world isn’t flat, but on what basis would the child object? They don’t know anything about the sun’s origins or composition, about gravity or the earth’s rotation, they probably haven’t even seen a picture of the earth from space. They will accept the earth’s flatness without question.
The insidious part of learning false information from others is that it is not based on observation. When an erroneous belief is founded in observation, it is likely that later observations will correct the belief. After all, the initial belief was based in observation, and they came to the conclusion by themselves.
This correction is less likely to happen when the false belief is founded in someone else’s word. If they later observe something which contradicts such a belief, they don’t have the original observation to compare against. How can they know which what to believe? Well, they can ask the source. But if that source also has false information (or is downright deceptive) the child will not learn the truth.
I’m not claiming that all learning must be based on observation. That wouldn’t be possible. My point is that adults must be very careful how they teach children. If they are allowed to observe the world and draw their own (possibly false) conclusions, they will be in much better shape then if they were simply told all those conclusions first. Of course it cannot be one or the other, but I think adults must attempt to tip the scales towards observation.
What is the harm in simply telling them the correct conclusions first? It undermines their ability to make the link between their observations and how the world works. Perhaps even more importantly, it undermines their ability to correct their own false interpretations of their observations.
Here is an example. A girl is sitting in the back of a car in early summer on a sunny but cool day. The car doesn’t have AC, and she is very hot. She wonders why the car is so hot. She remembers that when she was sick last week, Mommy would feel her forehead and proclaim that she felt hot. Therefore, she concludes that the car is sick.
Later in the summer, during a very hot and sunny day, she notices that when she is in the sunshine she feels hot, and it feels cooler in the shade. She gets into the car again, but this time it dawns on her: the car isn’t sick, the sun it making the car hot! Being a smart girl, she promptly advises her Mother to park in the shade next time.
Now if she had simply asked her Mother earlier, she would have learned that the sun warms the car. But this would only contradict her earlier belief of the car’s sickness based on Mommy’s word alone. When she later observes the warming and cooling of the sun, she won’t even attempt to make the link to the car being hot; she already knows that. The burden of learning new information went from herself to her Mother.
This brings me to climate change. Children are not experiencing climate change (they simply haven’t lived long enough). They cannot observe it happening, especially in America where there has been very little change in temperature at all. Since they cannot observe it, everything they know about it comes from being told about it.
There’s nothing inherently wrong about that. After all, teaching history allows for very few observations to be made. But there is a fundamental difference in the teaching of history and the teaching of climate change. The teaching of history does not make claims about the future of the human race, and it does not demand that certain actions be taken.
When children are taught about climate change, it is to provoke action. The future of the planet is already certain, unless action is taken. The earth will warm significantly and have a devastating impact on mankind. Unless we act now. Don’t believe this is what’s being taught? Take a look at the following quote from children:
Our future is in jeopardy, and our Earth won’t even be worth inheriting because of the decisions that the leaders of our country are making. – 10 year old
I became an activist four years ago, when I was 12, after seeing Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” and getting into a heated argument with my best friend about it…..I believe that if we want to reverse global warming before it’s too late, it will take a revolution. A revolution that that has to change the mindset of every person on this planet, so that we value nature and the future of our generation more than profits and power. – 16 year old
I don’t like global warming, because it kills animals, and I like animals….I worry about it, because I don’t want to die. – 9 year old
These children aren’t anomalies. According to one survey:
This report presents the findings of a telephone survey conducted among a national sample of 500 PRE-TEENS comprising 250 males and 250 females 6 to 11 years of age, living in private households in the continental United States,” says the press release. The survey “finds that one out of three children ages 6–11 years old fear that the planet won’t exist when they grow up and more than half (56%) believe that the Earth will not be as good a place to live.
Or this survey:
A United Kingdom survey, by the Somerfield supermarket chain, of 1,150 youngsters age 7 to 11 found that half felt anxious about global warming — and many were losing sleep over it, convinced that animal species will soon die out and that they, themselves, will be victims of global warming.
As I said before, this isn’t based on children’s observations. It is entirely based on the word of parents, teachers, and folks like Al Gore.
This fear of climate change harms children. When a person loses a sense of control over his life, he is far more likely to become depressed and develop other personality disorders. These poor children have been told that the world is being irrevocably damaged, and since they have no reason to challenge it, they readily accept it. This leads to, at best, a general sense of anxiety and uncertainty about the future, and at worst an outright fear of death. Look at what the children are saying! They fear death, they say the planet will be uninhabitable, they say the planet won’t even exist, they worry about species extinction, they essentially believe that the human race is doomed to die.
What a terrible way to grow up! How incredibly perverted their entire perception of the world must be. We are raising a generation that believes mankind is rapidly committing suicide.
Since their belief in climate change isn’t founded in observation, it will not likely be altered by observation. This is sad because without being taught this fear a child would not naturally develop it. So why are we doing it?
Adults who believe in climate change automatically go to the scariest worst case scenarios in order to convince others there is a problem. Massive sea level increases, massive temperature increases, floods, hurricanes, famine – you name it, climate change will cause it or make it 100 times worse. I think that they know, deep down, it is unlikely these things will really happen. Maybe a few will, and certainly the planet will be worse off, but they don’t believe the planet will literally be uninhabitable in only one generation. However, they justify using these scenarios because without them, no one will listen and no one will take action.
The adults who hear this might also get scared, and wish to take action, but they also know, deep down, it is unlikely that all of those disasters will happen or that the planet will no longer exist in a few years. Adults understand this through experience. They have seen claims about other things before, they know how exaggeration works even if they believe in the core of the claim. They know no one can predict the future exactly.
Children don’t have experience! They genuinely and honestly believe every catastrophic claim and every dire scenario. They don’t know people can’t predict the future. Certain climate doom awaits them.
Adults who preach climate catastrophe need to examine their impact on children. When they make sweeping claims about our future with absolute certainty, they should stop and think “what are the implications of a child accepting this claim unreservedly?”.
I respect everyone’s right to express their beliefs, and to try and get support from others to change society. I don’t want to see millions of children frightened for their futures. Our parents and grandparents lived in a slightly cooler world than we do, and our children are likely to live in a slightly hotter world. There may be some negative impacts of that, there may be benefits. We don’t know. Let’s let our kids grow up and decide for themselves if their lives are worth living, and if our planet is worth inheriting.