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Fear of climate change is harming children

19 May

[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.

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7 Comments

Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

7 responses to “Fear of climate change is harming children

  1. John Shade

    May 19, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Thank you for a valuable, thoughtful article. I think there is a basic adult responsibility to protect children and other vulnerable groups from scaremongering, and that this feature is missing in many climate activists. Perhaps displaced by their egos, or their need for funding, or their being simply scared out of their minds. But by what? Nothing at all unusual has been happening to temperatures, temperature trends, hurricanes, floods, droughts, ice fluctuations, etc etc , in recend decades. So it is down to computer models and facile reasoning about CO2 as a greenhouse gas in some average atmosphere simple enough for geographers and journalists. The real scientists on the other hand are watching a complex, very dynamic system in which the primary activity in the troposphere is essentially cooling of the tropics by heat transfer to the poles, an activity that CO2 could well be helping with to a tiny extent. Otherwise it is a plant food whose further addition to the atmosphere would be good for plants and next to unobservable for climate. That’s the scientific story based on observations. Meanwhile, back in the computers, catastrophes are being programmed in …

     
  2. Robert

    May 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Perhaps we could start by protecting children from the anxiety-provoking lies spread by denialists:

    * That there is a vast conspiracy by scientists to lie in order to gain money and/or power.
    * That any effort to reduce global warming will destroy the global economy, and millions will die of starvation.
    * That the science of climate change is a cynical plot by “progressives” and “statists” to destroy their freedom.

    I think deniers know, deep down, that these conspiracy theories and doomsday fantasies are nonsense, simply a way to put words to the incoherent hatred they have for those that don’t share their right-wing ideology. But who will protect the children?

     
  3. Sam

    May 20, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    “I think deniers know, deep down, that these conspiracy theories and doomsday fantasies are nonsense, simply a way to put words to the incoherent hatred they have for those that don’t share their right-wing ideology.”

    Wow. I’m unsure why this you even make this comment on this site. I’m not right-wing, at all. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories or doomsday fantasies.

    You don’t believe that these children have been fed doomsday fantasies already? They think the planet won’t EXIST because of climate change!

    I’m never said there is some gigantic conspiracy, or some nefarious plot. Do other people believe that? Probably, just like a lot of environmentalists believed in the floating trash island or the sixth great extinction.

    People who oppose government action on climate change do it for different reasons, just like people who support action on climate change. Making two groups and then labeling them is pointless, and shows no nuance whatsoever.

    Do you claim that children have not been mislead over the planet’s future? If so, does this harm them?

     
  4. JustMEinT

    June 29, 2011 at 5:02 am

    Just a general conversation with young kids, about (so called) Climate Change, will reveal that they are being fed much disinformation – be it via the media, the school curriculum or even from their parents and close relatives.
    It seemed to me that much of the ‘knowlege’ espoused from these children’s mouths was very biased towards the THEORY of Carbon Based Man Made Climate Change (CAGW). Please remember a theory is still unproven.

    My Husband remembers that in 1943 – while in the 4th grade at school, in his weekly reader, it taught that within ten years America would have used up all of its oil reserves…. never happened yet the kids were fed that information!

    Reading my news online I came across the following, which I believe backs up what I was thinking/experiencing. Get the children young enough, teach them what you want them to know and believe, therefore indoctrinating them, and you have the whole future society doing your bidding (perhaps?). For complete story follow the link

    http://justmeint.wordpress.com:80/2011/06/29/are-we-polluting-our-childrens-minds/

     
  5. Morten

    October 17, 2011 at 1:12 am

    Honestly….
    I was researching for a study into teenagers perception of global warming trying to find a good resource, but this is just…crazy.

    You quoted the Washington Post article and commented: “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.”

    When really: “After 8-year-old Mollie Passacantando, daughter of Greenpeace USA’s executive director, read a story about polar bears in class this year, the Fairfax County youngster and her friends spent recess marching around the playground with signs reading, “Stop global warming. Save the polar bears.” A classmate taunted, “You can march all you want, but you’re not going to save a single polar bear.”
    That riled Mollie up. With her father, John Passacantando, she started a blog to get the polar bear put on the endangered species list.” – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/15/AR2007041501164_2.html (your own source)

    “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”
    Your contradicting yourself! and look at the horn of Africa, massive droughts, massive famine, floods in Pakistan and Indonesia… All of this is a reality, and its happening now…

    “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.”
    Whaaaaaaaaaaat. I’m a 17 year old doing environmental studies. For me, and the rest of my class, a knowledge of the environment, the damage we are doing to it and the eventual results if we do nothing, is knowledge that we have a chance to shape a better future.

    To quote your own source:

    “This message about global warming is so powerful,” Bronstein says. “It gives me hope for the human race because people are responsive to it.” He also encourages anxiety about the planet’s future, comparing enviro-fears to “any suffering in your life: The first step is denial, and then there’s a sense of doom, and then you have to get up and shake it off and change something.”

    Which is exactly what happened when 9-year-old Alyssa Luz-Ricca’s mother returned from a business trip to Costa Rica with a T-shirt of a colorful frog and the words “Extinction is forever.” Alyssa looked at the T-shirt and, she says, “I cried.”

     
  6. Sam

    October 21, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Morten, thank you for joining the discussion.

    I’m afraid I don’t understand why you think this is crazy. Your examples given are exactly what my article was discussing.

    You discuss the polar bears. That 8-year old girl is only acting based on information she received from adults, not on observation. Observation shows polar bears have increased in numbers for decades. Why does acting on information given to her negate my claim?

    Your contradicting yourself! and look at the horn of Africa, massive droughts, massive famine, floods in Pakistan and Indonesia… All of this is a reality, and its happening now…

    You are = You’re.

    My claim was that children, such as yourself, are being taught that these occurrences are caused by climate change, which is untrue. All of those items mentioned are routine events (have happened regularly in the past) with no scientific data to show they are caused or even made more severe by climate change. If you don’t believe this, I urge you to present me with evidence that climate change has already been shown (not projected) to cause these events. Since they have occurred with regularity in the past the burden is on those who claim “it’s different now!” to prove it with evidence, not assertions.

    Whaaaaaaaaaaat. I’m a 17 year old doing environmental studies. For me, and the rest of my class, a knowledge of the environment, the damage we are doing to it and the eventual results if we do nothing, is knowledge that we have a chance to shape a better future.

    What constitutes a knowledge of the environment, and what are you being taught we are doing to it? I am claiming that inaccurate or misleading data about climate change is harming children, and based on the few claims you have made earlier I would argue you are an example of this. You have been told (I’m guessing) we are “harming the environment” by emitting CO2, which is untrue. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the reason you are being presented with this information is so that you take action. That already shows you are being mistreated, because that isn’t what education is about. You aren’t being taught how to think, you are being taught what to think.

    Your ending quote really brought it home, showing that “He also encourages anxiety about the planet’s future” and that the 9 year old starting crying over a frog. This is my point: children are having harmful and unnecessary anxiety over climate change, which is all based on the claims of adults, many uninformed themselves.

     
  7. J.Doherty

    January 23, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Excellent work, excellent article !
    Let me write a few comments on legal and social context.

    While the Earth has always endured natural climate change variability, we are now facing the possibility of irreversible climate change in the near future. The increase of greenhouse gases in the Earth?s atmosphere from industrial processes has enhanced the natural greenhouse effect. This in turn has accentuated the greenhouse ?trap? effect, causing greenhouse gases to form a blanket around the Earth, inhibiting the sun?s heat from leaving the outer atmosphere. This increase of greenhouse gases is causing an additional warming of the Earth?s surface and atmosphere. A direct consequence of this is sea-level rise expansion, which is primarily due to the thermal expansion of oceans (water expands when heated), inducing the melting of ice sheets as global surface temperature increases.

    Forecasts for climate change by the 2,000 scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) project a rise in the global average surface temperature by 1.4 to 5.8°C from 1990 to 2100. This will result in a global mean sea level rise by an average of 5 mm per year over the next 100 years. Consequently, human-induced climate change will have ?deleterious effects? on ecosystems, socio-economic systems and human welfare.At the moment, especially high risks associated with the rise of the oceans are having a particular impact on the two archipelagic states of Western Polynesia: Tuvalu and Kiribati. According to UN forecasts, they may be completely inundated by the rising waters of the Pacific by 2050.According to the vast majority of scientific investigations, warming waters and the melting of polar and high-elevation ice worldwide will steadily raise sea levels. This will likely drive people off islands first by spoiling the fresh groundwater, which will kill most land plants and leave no potable water for humans and their livestock.

    Low-lying island states like Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives are the most prominent nations threatened in this way.“The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from Geneva. The best solution is continue to recognize deterritorialized states as a normal states in public international law. The case of Kiribati and other small island states is a particularly clear call to action for more secure countries to respond to the situations facing these ‘most vulnerable nations’, as climate change increasingly impacts upon their lives.

     

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