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Coping with climate change: Advice for kids — from kids

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Today, we're launching a comic book for kids, and it's all about climate change. It can be a lot to take in, and many kids are feeling the weight of inheriting a hotter planet. So we created a guide to help them. It focuses on a student grappling with that issue - 17-year-old Gabriel Nagel of Denver, Colo. He first remembers learning about climate change in class as a seventh grader.

GABRIEL NAGEL: I don't think it really clicked. Like, I saw the numbers increasing on a graph, but I didn't really see how much of a crisis it really was. It wasn't actually until the Boulder Sunshine Valley Canyon Fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The fire continues to burn west of Boulder, the Sunshine Canyon area. It's called the Sunshine Fire.

NAGEL: I went to my dad upstairs and told him that, like, I think something's wrong. Like - and then we looked outside, and it was this giant blaze coming over the ridge, right towards us.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: More than a thousand homes were evacuated before the sun came up this morning.

NAGEL: I mean, we just ended up evacuating with everyone else and just getting out of there for the day. Luckily, when we returned, everything was fine. And that was a moment when it kind of clicked for me that climate change isn't something of the future. It's something that we're dealing with right now. And no matter who you are, you're going to be impacted. After that fire, I kind of had an internal feeling that I needed to do something. So I started taking personal actions, like bike and public transport and eat less meat. But then I started getting involved with our sustainability club at East High School. That's where I met Mariah.

MARIAH ROSENZWEIG: So my name is Mariah Rosenzweig. I am 18 years old. I had grown up just always being outside. I was always one of the few girls that would, like, be dirtier than all the boys. I think climate advocacy is more than just policy. But, for me, it's really getting people to understand how integrated we are with the natural world, and we're not separate from it.

NAGEL: We tend to talk about this climate change stuff a lot, and we'll spend time going to hikes and kind of just enjoying what we have around us while it's there.

ROSENZWEIG: I went to a sustainability club meeting, and one of the presidents was like, hey, we have this other group called DPS Students for Climate Action. And I was immediately like, oh, this is something I want to be a part of.

NAGEL: So we started off - and we realized DPS, which is essentially the largest school district in Colorado, they lacked any sort of climate action policy. And then we came up with this whole resolution where we outlined goals.

ROSENZWEIG: One of the goals is 90% reduction in greenhouse gases from 2010 levels. You know, we would meet every single week, and a lot of that was presenting at public comments.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And our first topic this evening is sustainability resolution presented by the...

ROSENZWEIG: So a lot of times, we'd put so much heart and so much passion into it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NAGEL: Our first primary goal is for the district to strive to a hundred percent clean energy by...

ROSENZWEIG: And then the board is like, thank you. Next.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thank you so much. You can...

ROSENZWEIG: And it was like, oh, how much longer are we going to keep doing this?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Once again, we have with us two special guests, the sustainability student group.

NAGEL: From start to finish, the process took almost two years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Director Anderson.

AUON'TAI M ANDERSON: Aye.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Director Baldermann.

SCOTT BALDERMANN: Aye.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Director Esserman.

SCOTT ESSERMAN: Aye.

ROSENZWEIG: The policy was passed unanimously, and it was really amazing.

(APPLAUSE)

NAGEL: I know on a personal level, it sometimes feels like what I'm doing will never be enough. And part of that is true. Like, one person isn't going to be able to change the fate of this planet, of climate change.

ROSENZWEIG: I realize that now the conversation isn't, what can we do to prevent climate change? It's, how are we going to live with it? As I'm still so young, to hear that shift is frustrating because it's like, we've known about this for so long.

NAGEL: Climate change can be incredibly overwhelming at times, and that's totally OK. It's OK to feel anxious about your future because it is a real threat. But also don't let that stop you from trying to make a change and instead kind of use that as motivation to make the change that we need.

FADEL: That was Gabriel Nagel and Mariah Rosenzweig, both students at East High School in Denver, Colo. And joining me now for more on how kids are processing climate change is Lauren Sommer from NPR's Climate Desk.

So we just heard from these two students feeling like not enough is being done. How common are these feelings?

LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: Yeah, in general, you know, if you look at young adults, they're more likely to care about climate change. And that's true no matter what political party they belong to. And when it comes to younger school-age kids, you know, some are experiencing this climate anxiety that we heard. It's something that Dr. Kelsey Hudson, who is a clinical psychologist who specializes in climate change, she's seeing that in her patients.

KELSEY HUDSON: Many young people are experiencing grief and frustration and anxiety and elements of kind of betrayal by adults and other generations.

SOMMER: And for some kids, this is kind of layering on top of the isolation and stress they may have experienced during the pandemic.

FADEL: Wow. I think it is kind of hard to hear that they feel betrayed by us, by our generation and other generations. So if you're a parent or a caregiver or even a kid feeling these emotions, what's a good way to address it?

SOMMER: Yeah, so Hudson says the first thing is to make some space to talk about it. If you're a caregiver, ask what a kid knows about climate change and how it makes them feel. Listen. You know, acknowledge their feelings and validate that it's a big, difficult thing to think about. And avoid the urge to say that everything is going to be OK.

FADEL: Yeah, but I can see how a caregiver might want to just tell their kid, don't worry. Everything is going to be OK. What's wrong with that?

SOMMER: It's kind of a Band-Aid. It's not a solution. And it's a global change that will affect billions of people, and young people know that.

FADEL: Yeah.

SOMMER: So the next step after kind of just talking about it and validating feelings is to find something meaningful, Hudson says.

HUDSON: We can think about, what does it look like for young people or one young person to find a sense of meaning and purpose in this crisis, to maybe connect with like-minded others and build some agency through connecting with climate engagement or action?

SOMMER: So engagement can happen on very different levels, she says. You know, it can be just, you know, planting a pollinator-friendly flower in your backyard with a kid or maybe volunteering at a local park. What's important here is finding community, finding those social connections so that young people don't feel so isolated with these feelings.

FADEL: Lauren Sommer of NPR's Climate Desk. Thanks so much, Lauren.

SOMMER: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF DARDUST'S "PRISMA (ACOUSTIC)")

FADEL: And you can head to NPR's website to download a comic book of Gabe's story just for kids. It explains what climate change is and how kids can process their feelings. That's at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Lauren Sommer covers climate change for NPR's Science Desk, from the scientists on the front lines of documenting the warming climate to the way those changes are reshaping communities and ecosystems around the world.