Gao ’24: The power of environmental education to turn climate anxiety into climate action


Stressed by an impending environmental disaster? You are not alone and best of all, this stress can be productive. Psychologists suggest that eco-anxiety – a lingering feeling of fear, guilt, and helplessness in the face of the current climate situation – can be used to become the first step by encouraging action in the face of the climate crisis.

In recent years, psychologists have reported a worrying increase in the number of patients struggling with eco-anxiety. In 2020, more than half of Americans said they were “somewhat or extremely anxious” about the impacts of climate change, according to an American Psychiatric Association. survey. In particular, young people represent a high percentage of those who suffer from eco-anxiety. Nearly 60% of young people in ten countries have expressed extreme concern over climate change, according to a University of Bath investigation, who found that they saw “no future, that humanity is doomed and that governments are not responding adequately”. While this eco-anxiety among youth is concerning, it can also be a catalyst for powerful youth climate action.

But turning that anxiety into action is only possible when students are sufficiently prepared to engage in informed discussions on the topic and have the space to do so. In other words, they need environmental education. However, American schools as a whole are currently not doing enough to tackle climate change. a NPR / Ipsos survey shows that 86% of teachers agreed that climate change should be taught in schools. In practice, however, over 55% of teachers surveyed did not cover climate change. A investigation by the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association has shown that while many teachers in RI think environmental education is important, they don’t feel equipped to teach it.

Nationally, few states have integrated environmental education into their public school curricula. Only California and New York have bills that specifically address the importance of environmental education, for example. In the state of the ocean, the Climate Literacy Act, which aims to support climate change education in Rhode Island K-12 schools, was introduced as identical bills in the House and Senate in February, but deceased in both bedrooms.

While the American education system fails to implement environmental education, the eco-anxiety of young people persists. This “extreme worry” occupies the minds of young people as they shop, scroll through their phones and lie down to sleep. At least I know it’s for me. This energy can be directed towards creating effective environmental action – like pushing their school and community to reduce waste, or volunteering in local climate action groups – instead of just leading to downward spirals and to catastrophic rolls.

Environmental education can help students develop a toolkit for dealing with their eco-anxiety and turning it into informed action. Not only will students learn to apply problem solving and critical thinking to environmental problems and their causes, but they will also address their shame and guilt – both of which are important components of eco-anxiety – by learning about the systemic operations that are propelling climate change. For example, students can discuss how companies place environmental responsibility on consumers by popularizing phrases such as “personal carbon footprint. ”

Converting these negative emotions into positive change not only helps individuals get through the process, but also helps solve an urgent global problem. . Recognize and understand the drivers of climate change, such as international mega-companies like Shell or British Petroleum, can alleviate individual student guilt and encourage a healthy and empowering sense of responsibility for effecting change. By neglecting environmental education, schools are missing an opportunity to help students better understand their role in climate change and deal with their own negative feelings.

Some students in UK are case studies of turning a negative emotional response into effective action – after battling eco-anxiety without any guidance, they started animation of workshops with Forces of Nature, an NGO run by young people which aims precisely to facilitate this conversion. These workshops help students recognize their anxiety and facilitate discussions that lead them to see the power of their collective emotions. According to the students who attended these workshops, they feel “a renewed sense of power to create change”. Environmental education, as part of public school curricula, would have a similar effect to these workshops, but would motivate a much larger audience with an even deeper approach.

It will be a long time before environmental education is integrated into the curricula of all public school systems. But policymakers and educators must place it higher on the agenda, as climate change and overwhelming student anxiety cannot wait.

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