Climate Mental Health
Encourage and Take Action
There are various ways in which we can channel youth's grief and anxiety associated with climate change, for example by encouraging action, promoting social connection, supporting collective problem-solving, and nurturing a sense of personal agency. Taking solution-oriented action and building community also builds self-esteem and leadership skills. Research suggests that too much awareness of environmental tragedies (e.g., too much exposure to news), especially for younger learners, can discourage environmental behavior. David Sobel argues that instead of starting with the impacts of climate change, first help young children understand that their behaviors make a difference. This sense of responsibility will lead to a curiosity about why their behaviors make a difference, which can then lead into conversations about climate change impacts.
These guidelines outline developmentally appropriate climate action at each age level:
- Preschoolers: Emphasize actions that help kids fall in love with the natural environment, such as caring for individual animals, plants, gardens, etc.
- Elementary-aged: Focus on responsibility, and how actions and solutions can make a difference. Explain the science simply, avoid messages of doom and gloom, and utilize students' natural problem-solving abilities to find solutions. Emphasize how adults are trying to solve the problem. Discuss the power of individual action.
- Tweens and Teens: Support students in leading and taking climate action. Encourage action with others. Incorporate climate justice and advocacy. Find ways to say "yes" to teens. Encourage questions. Utilize teens' strengths in expressing concerns and developing solutions.
As you work with youth to identify action, the Pachamama framework of four levels of action may help your students to think about different actions:
- Individual, results in lifestyle change, like biking to school instead of driving.
- Close Circle- action with close friends and family- leads to values change, like planting more trees in a schoolyard or at home.
- Community and local level action results in community change, like working with other community members to plant a community food garden.
- Action that impacts policy at state/national/global levels leads to systems change, like joining an advocacy group.
Individuals can select their level of impact based on their own interests, needs and constraints. Collective action can be especially helpful as it creates community that supports youth resiliency and leverages our relationships to inspire additional action.
Local, place-based, and focus on solving one small part of the climate crisis instead of the whole thing
- 18 Simple Things You Can Do to About Climate Change includes a variety of small, individual, personally relevant actions.
- ClimeTime offers examples of the many ways in which climate science and the focus on local phenomena-based learning can engage both teachers and students.
- The Green Schools Alliance provides programs, tools, and resources to fast-track sustainable solutions in schools.
- There are many resources in the CLEAN collection that promote climate action:
- In Drought: Identifying Impacts and Evaluating Solutions students learn about impacts of drought on communities facing serious water shortages and research and evaluate potential solutions.
- The Climate Resilience Toolkit helps users identify and respond to climate-related challenges that they and their communities face.
- Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation is a short video about actions that humans can take to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts.
- Young Voices for the Planet includes a variety of examples of actions that youth have taken to make a difference.
Student-guided, personally relevant, and nurture personal agency
Student-relevant activities in CLEAN include:
- The Hazard Education, Awareness, and Resilience Task Force (HEART Force) curriculum engages students in developing, sharing, and implementing their own community resilience projects.
- Mapping a Personal Story of Environmental Change has students draw a map of their local environment and annotate it with environmental changes they have observed.
- The Lifestyle Project has students track their consumptive behaviors and then learn that making small changes to their lifestyle isn't difficult to reduce their personal impact on the environment.
Foster care and empathy for nature through play and exploration
Websites that have resources for nature-based exploration:
- Natural Start Alliance offers a guide for adults on how to engage children in nature.
- Soul Fire Farm's curriculum is based on research that shows that young people make healthy choices when they love their community and natural world and when they see that their own positive action makes a difference.
- Indigenous STEAM has a variety of curricula guiding youth in exploration of water, food, plants, and animals.
- Learning in Places offers place-based short activities appropriate for parents to do with children AND that are appropriate for the classroom.
Support collective problem-solving
Organizations and websites that provide ideas for collective action and ways to get involved:
- Youth Climate Program- The Wild Center works to convene, engage, connect and empower young people around the world to take action on climate change.
- Climate Generation provides resources around collective action for teachers and students and plenty of ways to get involved.
- Project Drawdown is the world's leading collection for climate solutions.
- National Wildlife Federation Cool Schools encourages students to take a systems-thinking approach to engage in evidence-based science investigations in efforts to reduce their overall carbon footprint.
- The ACE Youth Action Network is an active community of more than half a million youth advocates in all 50 states. ACE sends out action alerts every week with ways that you can advocate for climate justice and a fair democracy, and provides a place for youth to register to vote.
Take action to influence policy
Opportunities for youth to join movements that affect policy:
- Climate Generation provides a toolkit for educators to engage youth with the Conference of the Parties.
- Extinction Rebellion is an international and politically non-partisan movement that uses youth action to persuade governments to act justly regarding climate change.
- Fridays for Future is an advocacy organization created by Greta Thunberg that allows people to register protests against policies and businesses that are detrimental to climate change.
- YOUNGO is the official youth constituency of the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change.
- Citizen's Climate Lobby is a grassroots nonpartisan organization that has many opportunities for volunteers to strengthen frontline community voices and build momentum in congress around climate action.
Be aware of intersectionality when implementing climate action
Examples of work being done at the intersection of the environment and social justice:
- Our Climate trains youth from communities affected by climate change to participate in advocacy, centering those impacted most by climate change to achieve systemic change.
- Gather is a movie about the growing movement amongst Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political, and cultural identities through food sovereignty.
- C40 Cities has published a report that outlines case studies, policies, and engagement processes that take inclusive and equitable climate action.