Climate change and kids

person holding toddler hand

Climate change is a tricky subject, especially when we start to involve kids. How do we explain it to kids? Is there a moral implication to having kids? What kind of problems will our kids have to face? And what kid-friendly activities can we do to fight climate change?

What is climate change? The kid friendly definition.

Climate change used to be called global warming – it’s the same thing. The whole planet is getting a little hotter every year. And it’s happening so slow you can barely even notice it, but people are starting to. NASA has proven global warming and has a thorough guide for kids.

polar ice could disappear due to climate change in kids' lifetime
Polar ice is melting as a result of climate change. Photo by Valdemaras D. on

The reason the name is now climate change is because the warmer temperatures aren’t the main problems that people are noticing. But the warm temperatures are causing other problems in the climate, like

  • more frequent and worse storms
  • water shortages
  • worse flooding
  • sea level rise
  • ocean acidification
  • droughts and famines in parts of the world

Global warming is making the Earth a harder place to live for many animals, including humans, as well as plants and fungi. And the way that climate change is currently going, there is little doubt that it could cause the collapse of our society or even human extinction unless things change very quickly.

Climate anxiety in kids

If you’re an adult, think about growing up in a world that is headed for major problems. You might start to notice the climate mentioned on the news by 5 or 6 years old, and by 9 or 10 you would be learning about climate change in school. Schools have a responsibility to teach about current events, and this is one of the biggest. And as you reach your teenage years, you will start to wonder why we are still on this trajectory. Decades of scientific research have predicted major problems due to climate change. If our parents haven’t been able to fix this, how can we?

For some kids, the threat of climate change becomes a source of anxiety. And this ever-present source of bad news starts to enter every aspect of their daily life. They may see an airplane in the sky and worry about its emissions. Or a thunderstorm reminds them that the weather is more extreme thanks to climate change.

student protestors march against climate change
Student protestors tell us how kids feel about climate change Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen on

And dissatisfaction with the government is linked to climate anxiety. Kids perceive that governments are failing to act to halt climate change. This combined with anxiety can lead to strong feelings of anger, fear, and sadness.

How to handle climate anxiety

Mental health is easy to ignore, especially with the distraction of social media. And distractions have quickly become much more prevalent in our lives (e.g. the Metaverse). So escapism is also extremely prominent in our culture. But dealing with the climate crisis requires presence in the real world. For some, it may take help from a mental health professional to get to this point.

Reminder for anyone who is feeling climate anxiety: nobody knows what is going to happen. Yes, the predictions are bad. Yes, the politics are next to impossible. And no, the status quo does not want to do much about climate change. But any of that could change next year, or tomorrow. And we have no control and no way of knowing what could happen.

The only thing you can control is your intention. Do you intend to do something about climate change (such as unlawning)? You aren’t obligated to do more than you want to. And you don’t need to worry about the “best” way to fight climate change. But you should find some ways that work for you, and then go do them.

The anti-natal movement

Climate change is closely linked to the global population. The number of humans alive on the planet has been on a very sharp upward trend over the last few hundred years. This boom has been driven almost entirely by readily available energy in the form of fossil fuels. People began to use fossil fuels during the industrial revolution to grow our civilization, farms, economy, and population. But these fuels emitted carbon, and each generation continued to grow its footprint and economy along with its emissions of greenhouse gasses.

a graph showing human population by region from 1820 to 2019
The human population has skyrocketed in the last few hundred years

Now, the human population is almost 8 billion people, worldwide. And each one has a “carbon footprint.” Some argue that reducing the population is necessary to stop and reverse climate change. And the logical way to reduce the population is to choose to stop having kids.

It’s hard to argue with the logic that decreasing the population would probably decrease carbon emissions. But there are also compelling reasons to have a child, and it is a personal choice. And if you do have children, don’t feel guilty about their carbon footprint. Instead, make sure they understand their relationship with nature and what they need to know about climate change.

The future that kids face thanks to climate change

Climate change-related predictions are now common in disciplines like economics, sociology, and ecology. And few of those predictions are good. Kids today will inherit challenges ranging from the loss of coral reefs to climate refugee housing. And the implications of climate change for jobs and the economy, reliable food systems, and clean air in the future are all disturbing.

If we don’t do anything to slow the rate of climate change, out kids will inherit some of the worst case scenario outcomes. And they will need to adapt to a quickly changing world. It could become common for children to grow up facing personal difficulty like hunger, expensive housing, and water shortages.

kids walking on road in refugee camp
Climate change could force kids into refugee camps more than war soon. Photo by Ahmed akacha on

Kids should prepare for a life with the impacts of climate change, and we should help them. Preparing for natural disasters is a good way to start. Slowing climate change down is not necessarily within our control. But we can try to support local farmers, protect and restore local wildlife habitat, and insulate or flood-proof our homes. These actions help protect our homes and neighborhoods from some of the predicted effects of climate change.

Kids want to fight climate change

It seems like kids can have boundless energy. And kids love to help with problems. But kids need guidance and help to put that energy into a problem in a way that helps. Parents and teachers can play a vital role in helping kids channel aggressive feelings or anxiety into fighting climate change.

Each generation of our culture seems to become less and less connected to nature. But kids used to grow up playing in the woods. One of the benefits of unlawning is that it creates opportunities to connect with nature close to home.

girl wearing eyeglasses smelling flowers
Kids are quick to spot the benefits of being close to nature. Photo by Michael Morse on

When kids form a close connection with nature, they are able to share that with others. And they can help other kids who are interested in climate change understand how they can help in their own life.