How to talk to kids about climate change?

Mis à jour : 28 mars 2019

With the worldwide school strikes for climate and the global climate march, we are talking about climate. But do we know how to talk to kids (without scaring them!) ?



If an overwhelming majority of people say they are worried about climate change (85%, IFOP survey ) and that young people are most concerned about the climate issue (93% among 18-24 year old), what about the youngest, what about small kids?


That's why the book The Ouka World. Let’s save our climate (4-8 year old) is committed to not have the youngest excluded from this issue, even though they are the first concerned.


The alarming report of IPCC experts on the disastrous consequences of global warming, even limited to 1.5 ° C, has been widely relayed by the press (for example, the articles on October 8, 2018, of The Guardian ) or Le Monde, with its graphics). Since a year, not even a day passes without being reminded of the unprecedented climate crisis we are experiencing. Wildfires, droughts, super-storms, melting ice-caps, mega-cyclones… change is already there and we do not have much time to limit the damage.

It’s highly likely that your children, even if you’ve tried to shield them from it, are aware of what’s going on. The topic has probably been raised in school, or they’ve caught a glimpse of the news over your shoulder. Perhaps an older sibling is planning to join the worldwide school strikes for climate.


The first question you need to ask yourself is:

“Do my kids, especially the younger ones, understand climate change fully?”

Because if they don’t, it’s also highly likely that the glimpse they’ve seen is fuelling the kind of nightmares that were once reserved for monsters under the bed. Climate change has become a “big bad wolf” at our door.


The second question is:

“How can I explain the reality of what’s going on without terrifying them?”

As a regular speaker at primary schools on the topic of climate breakdown, there’s a strategy I use, based solidly on positive communication, that educates kids in under an hour, leaving them armed with knowledge and feeling empowered to head out into the world. Feel free to use it, in your home, your classroom, at the dinner table, or elsewhere.




1. TEST THE WATERS

Start by asking questions. Have they heard about climate change? What have they heard? What have they seen? How does it make them feel?

Do this to gauge whether they’ve been shielded entirely from this topic, or whether they have some basic knowledge. Asking about how it makes them feel will let you know whether it scares them or not. It will also engage your audience and get them to pay attention.


2. EXPLAIN THE INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF ALL THINGS

Do they know what an ecosystem is? Many kids know it is something to do with the natural environment, but their knowledge ends there.

(I apology before the eminent scientists that I know are in my list, if sometimes i can simplify, at least when i talk).

The basics for kids: An ecosystem is an environment made of up living things (plants, animals and organisms) interacting with each other, and interacting with their non-living environments (soil, sun, atmosphere…).

Explain the different types of ecosystems (using more question and answer fun, to keep them engaged).

There are two main types of ecosystems: terrestrial (land) and aquatic (water).

All these ecosystems interact with and rely on each other. If one is disrupted or damaged, it can have a negative impact on all the others.



3. EXPLAIN WHY CLIMATE CHANGES


But why does climate change?

Because there is too much greenhouse gas.


(At this point, I want to clarify that a 4-year-old explained to me what a wind turbine was, so yes ... they understand perfectly what you are saying)


In reality, the greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that makes it possible to have a temperature on Earth at + 15 ° instead of -18 °.


And for millions of years, the Earth's climate has varied, but in a relatively stable range. But for two centuries, humans have such an impact that the climate is destabilized and becomes increasingly hot. A little like when the body contracts a disease and reacts with a fever.

In the end, even if the greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon, if it is too strong, it modifies the climate.


… “greenhouse gas”? tell me more

Explain (with the aid of diagrams if you like) that the earth is surrounded by a layer of gases called the atmosphere.

Source image : Le Ptit Libé. Nov. 2015


The atmosphere protects Earth like a big blanket of insulation. It also

· absorbs the heat from the Sun

· keeps the temperature of the Earth steady, especially between night and day, so we don’t get too cold at night and too hot during the day.

· helps to form our weather patterns and climate.


But when we put too much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, the blanket gets too thick, and too much heat gets trapped. Temperatures start to rise. It is like when you are in the middle of summer behind a window: the heat sometimes becomes unbearable.


Where do the greenhouse gases come from?


It’s a lot of little things, and some bigger things. That’s why it is more or less easy to stop doing it. Things like:


· Extract fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), out of the ground and burning it to make energy, electricity or fuel. We use this fuel to light and heat our buildings, drive non-electric cars, fuel transport trucks and ships, fly in airplanes, and also for all kinds of products.

· Cut forests and damage forests and oceans, that are able to absorb and stock some of the greenhouse gas in wood and waters, for examples.

· Introduce harmful chemicals that affect plants and animals, and increase the damage.


All these activities, over time, have caused the earth’s systems to get out of balance and overheat.


One of the result is called…


(big pause for effect here, to see if anyone jumps in…)


… “climate change”!


What does climate change mean?

· Weather is hotter, and all seasons are changing.

· Disasters: longer droughts, intense rain periods and floods.

· The sea warms up and its level rises. This affects fish and other animals, threatens coastal towns, and some small islands may even disappear.

· The ocean becomes too acidic.

· All of this can make some places difficult to live in, for both people and animals. Some animals and people have to move to different parts of the world to find new “refuge”. We call them “climate refugees”.



4. REASSURE THEM

At this stage, you might look around and see kids open-mouthed and staring.

They’re processing. Their minds are whirring. They’re starting to think about the world they know, and the fact that it is in peril. They’re thinking about their family car and wondering if it’s bad. Some already know it. They’re wondering what it will mean for them. Whether they will experience floods and droughts and wildfires. It’s a lot to take in. And if you end your talk there, you’d be doing more damage than good.


And so, here, you must reassure them. Tell them that you know it sounds bad.


BUT… there is good news! Do they want to hear it?


Everybody is taking action, young people are demonstrating, citizens are involved, companies are changing their practices, workers use their car less, scientists are giving advice, the States are signing agreements to work together ...


With ramped up enthusiasm: “Isn’t that great news?!”


Kids visibly brighten at this point. Some even cheer.


Tell them that there are two types of things we can do:

· things we can do ourselves. (You can talk about that later on, so that they can start helping nature with no more delay.)

· and things we can tell businesses and governments to do. (Do not hesitate to discuss that too – they are always full of ideas.)


5. ENGAGE THEM POSITIVELY

To engage them, I introduce them to a wonderful world.

I ask them "Do you know the OUKAS"? They are intrigued and let me continue ...

Image all rights reserved. ©Ouka & Co. Stora-Calté. Illus.: Fisson. 


The OUKA are nice characters living in pretty flower-shaped houses on a planet where they do not lack anything. In the OUKA WORLD, the inhabitants live in perfect harmony. They are magical and optimistic creatures, who are very disconcerted on their first trip to Earth. Indeed, humans are damaging their planet which is deteriorating visibly.


The OUKAS are always very happy and playful. Their goal is that humans live, as on their magic planet, in perfect harmony. They return to the Earth so that everyone pays attention to the planet.


I then read them the entire story (www.ouka.fr) that I use as a pedagogic tool, fun and entertaining, but also as a nice fairy tale at evening time.


In the end, I tell them that they too can make up their own story if you wish. The key point of this part is to engage them positively.


Thinking positively means helping them to learn more and think that they, too, can do something.

Children are always compassionate when things are explained to them and especially when it is about nature.


6. ASK THEM TO DRAW THEIR IDEAL WORLD


Once again, I refer to my book here, which explains to children what is polluting the planet and what bothers the OUKAS.


Ask them to imagine the beautiful and healthy world we’d be living in if every person on the planet was reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.


Tell them about the power of communication. They now have the tools to tell other people what they know. If they can convince other people (like their parents and grandparents) to change their ways, they’re multiplying the effects of their actions many times over.


This idea leaves them all with hope and something to work towards. In general, you do not even need to suggest it.


Ask them who is ready to be a OUKA, a World Saving Hero.


                                       Image all rights reserved. OUKA à l’école Raitama, Tahiti. 2016.


7. LEAD BY EXAMPLE


This final step, perhaps the most important, happens outside the classroom. It happens at home, in the grocery store, online, at work, and out in the wider world. It’s the part where we put our money where our mouths are, walk the talk, and lead by example.


Actions always speak louder than words, especially when impressionable young eyes are watching.


Carole Stora-Calté is the author of climate change kids’ book THE OUKA WORLD LET’S SAVE OUR CLIMATE (www.ouka.fr)


After many adventures (see article on medium),the new edition of THE OUKA WORLD, Unesco labelled, will be very soon available.


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© 2019 by Carole Stora-Calté

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