By Pamela Crabtree
Children, including teenagers under the age of sixteen, are more vulnerable than the general population to the health impacts of climate change. According to the US EPA at Climate Change and Children’s Health | US EPA:
- Children’s bodies are developing physically, which can make them more vulnerable to climate-related hazards like heat and poor air quality. They also breathe at a faster rate, increasing their exposure to dangerous air pollutants.
- Children tend to spend more time outdoors than adults, increasing their exposure to heat and cold, rain and snow, outdoor allergens, and insect bites.
- Children drink more water than adults per pound of body weight. They swallow about twice as much water as adults while swimming. This can increase their exposure to certain contaminants in recreational waters and the risk of developing gastrointestinal or other illnesses.
But do kids consider climate change to be a threat? Summer, 11, a fifth grader at St. Benedict’s Catholic School who spends a lot of time on social media, said, “I really don’t hear stuff like, ‘Am I going to die?’ or ‘Is this world going to end?’ I worry more about hurricanes than climate change.” However, Summer does hear and read that children need to do their part “to save the earth.”
Izabella, 16, a ninth grader at Springfield Local High School is much more concerned about school shootings than climate change. However, she is aware of climate change, and said, “We need to save the environment by not throwing trash in our seas and oceans.”
Owen, 14, an eighth grader at St. Benedicts Catholic School concurs with Summer and Izabella, saying he doesn’t fear climate change “one bit, but I fear asteroids, meteors, and super volcanoes like the one at Yellowstone National Park.”
Grant, 12, a sixth grader at McCord Junior High School said that climate change and global warming scare him “because we can’t stop it.” Grant also noted that he is concerned with the “melting of the polar ice caps, and some fish or animals can’t survive with the temperatures we are having.”
There is evidence that a high percentage of children do experience eco-anxiety in reaction to climate change. The National Institutes of Health at Eco-anxiety in children: A scoping review of the mental health impacts of the awareness of climate change – PubMed (nih.gov) lists ways to help children cope with this relatively new malady called eco-anxiety. These include:
- Talk About It
- Take Action as a Family
- Appreciate Nature Together
In spite of all the negative comments in the news and social media regarding climate change, Summer, Izabella and Owen are convinced there are much bigger concerns than climate change. Summer said, “I would let nature take its course because you need nature to do its thing.” Owen fears “violence in our society much more than climate change.” And Izabella was quick to say she is “pro-gasoline-powered vehicles because electric vehicles cause fires.” Also, after asking over half-a-dozen Gen Z’ers if climate change was their top personal concern, they all replied “No.”
However, Grant is among the majority of Gen Z’ers who fear climate change. He is pro-renewable energy and says, “We need more reusable resources like wind and the sun and we need to stop chopping down trees.” And according to Pewresearch.org, there are fears among 67 percent of American Gen Z’ers regarding climate change which may be causing them eco-anxiety.