Maria Ojala, associate professor in psychology at Örebro University, Sweden, has been examining how young people think, feel, cope, learn, and communicate about climate change. She has explored how climate change anxiety can lead to engagement in some cases and avoidance in others. Ojala has developed a set of recommendations for how teachers and parents can help children channel their worry into meaningful action.

The nature of climate anxiety

Climate change worries people, youth included, in different ways. It threatens people and places we love. It threatens people far away and future generations, as well as nature and animals. For some it is already destroying their livelihoods, cultures, and well-being. Actually experiencing extreme weather events increases individuals’ commitment to taking action, as in the response of Indigenous people to drought (Australia), Inuit people to the loss of sea ice, Indian farmers to temperatures that destroy their crops, and Inupiat communities to flooding (NW Alaska).

How do children respond? Before adolescence, they may not have the capacity to comprehend the complexity and enormity of the problems. Ojala’s research finds that younger children are less prone to pessimism than older youth, who have greater capacity to comprehend the gravity of the situation.