Friends of the Earth recently commissioned an independent “Report Card” regarding progress on commitments given in the Programme for Government about environmental issues.
here were mixed results in terms of that performance, but listening to commentary this week brought home to me that issues relating to the environment are not going away any time soon.
We hear regularly about the damage we are doing to the environment and the consequences in terms of extreme weather events and how that damage may be irreparable.
We hear too about terms like eco-anxiety, which have been adopted by organisations like the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to describe “a chronic fear of environmental doom”.
Then I got a query into my radio slot the other day about a family’s concern for their children’s anxiety regarding the environment.
Children and young people are at as much risk as adults of developing anxieties about the environment and things like climate change. It can be easy to dismiss their anxieties or brush them off as minor and inconsequential.
That may be more the case if we don’t share their environmental concern or if we are worried that assuaging their fears may require too much change to how we operate as a family.
If a child is worried about the environment or about climate change, we do have to listen, empathise and acknowledge their fear. There is enough evidence available to us and to them to know that fears about the environment are rational. Climate change is a real thing.
We are doing substantial damage to the Earth. It makes sense to be worried about the impact of that damage.
Unlike with other anxieties, though, it may feel like we can’t do anything that will significantly affect these global environmental issues, since they are wide-ranging and most require governmental and large industry action to effect positive change.
When a child is anxious about something over which they have some control, it is often easier to help them manage that anxiety, since they can experience their own ability to do something positive or to cope with the feared circumstance.
To help children to cope with their environmental fears, it is good to be able to bring their awareness back to their personal capacity to do things differently, since that may be all they can actively do to make a positive difference right now.
Alleviating their fears may be helped by you listening carefully enough and then realising you need to do things differently as a family. Small changes you make will show your child that you hear them and respect their perspective enough to take action alongside them.
Some of the things you could think about doing differently include: reducing the number of car journeys you make; walk or cycle with your children to school or training; stop spraying weed killer on your driveway; do more recycling, or make choices about products that use less packaging.
You could also minimise your food waste, conserve more water or use products for washing the ware or the clothes that do less damage to the environment.
Or avoid single-use plastic items, grow some food in your garden or buy more organically produced food.
Giving children a stronger sense of their personal power to effect change in your home or your immediate local environment may reduce their sense of powerlessness about climate change.
Being in nature too, especially when children can see it still flourishing and can be reassured by its beauty, is another positive step to take when they worry about environmental damage.
You may also want to encourage them to become more active with organisations such as Friends of the Earth.
Again, having a sense of activism at a broader national or international level may bolster their sense of personal power to make change, reducing their fears the environment is going to be destroyed despite them. All change has to start somewhere.
We have to help children manage or regulate anxiety so they can acknowledge the fear and still progress in spite of it. That is all the more true for eco-anxieties, since it is one of those feared circumstances we can’t just instantly fix or remove and one which they must learn to live with.
Taking their fears seriously and making small but significant changes to your family’s eco-credentials may not only improve your family’s personal environmental “Report Card”, but may also reduce the worries your children have about the environment.