# 31 - Climate Change Causing Real Distress In Children
Updated: Aug 29
by KC Johnson
Can you put yourself into the mind of a child who is hearing and seeing how climate change is affecting their life?
Adults seem oblivious to the impending doom children are sensing, to the lack of power the child feels in being able to change things, and to the frustration they have watching how little the adult world is doing to save the planet.
Many parents and adults struggle to even discuss with their child the concerns about their fears or to even try to ease their child’s distress.
Developing a sense of connection to nature is one of the first visceral feelings a sensitive young person experiences. With limited understanding about the forces causing our ecological crisis and with their emotions just developing within themselves about rightness and wrongness, the daily news expounding constantly about one horrible event after another creates in the child deeply confusing ideas about what they can do and what the future will be like for them.
The challenge we face protecting our children is helping them find ways to manage their chaotic feelings. The most empowering action adults can take is to talk with the child about their feelings and develop actions that will build in the child a sense of doing something that will help their beloved nature. But it starts with sincerely trying to understand what emotions the child is experiencing about nature, and that only happens by having heart-felt talks with the child, even sharing some of the adult’s concerns and fears they too struggle with about climate change.
There are many age-appropriate actions to consider with the child such as planting a garden, cleaning up trash along a trail, studying wildlife such as frogs or butterflies and finding ways to improve their needs, even hiking in the woods with the child can lead to a sense of connectedness with nature while providing an opportunity to think and ask questions. For older youth an adult can suggest and support them joining or starting an action group focusing on an issue they feel passionate about. The worst possible action, or better stated non-action, is to ignore or dismiss the child’s concerns and passions.
Adults seem to be waiting for their kids to take action on climate change.
Adults can’t simply avoid these climate issues and wait for someone else to deal with our rapidly deteriorating climate conditions. If we leave the decisions to solve these problems to the government, or even more stupidly, to the corporations causing these environmental conditions, as we seem to be doing, we will be writing off generations of our young people, and probably our survivability.
Young minds are developing significant traumas that everyone will have to pay for in unwanted behaviors when the children become adults. Dr. Lise Van Susteren, therapist and a leader with the Climate Psychiatry Alliance, has studied climate affects on the emotional make-up of children.
It's a simple message young people are saying, "Save the Planet". They simply want action taken that will make a difference and if today's adults don’t take the action they will. Their frustration is driving them to be the catalyst for change.
Anger, fear, distress felt by young people are signs they feel at the mercy of the adult world’s inaction about climate calamities affecting them. They talk about feelings of abandonment, betrayal, and they don’t understand why the adults in the room aren’t taking more action.
Ignorance by adults is not a defense for inaction, the warning signs are all around us daily. Even our young people are starting to take action by suing states and the federal government to reclaim their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. These are actions adults could and should be be taking already, but apparently it will be up to the youth to light the fire for action world-wide.
-- Twenty-one students and James Hansen, have lost a suit, in Juliana v. United States, for allowing their rights to be violated as a consequence of climate-caused environmental damage. A three-judge panel in the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to dismiss lawsuit and is a blow to climate activists showing the the courts’ unwillingness to assign legal responsibility to the government for the harms caused by greenhouse gases.
-- In Montana sixteen students are suing the state, in Held v. State of Montana, for ignoring public health by allowing the fossil fuel industry to degrade the land, waterways, and air with their business practices.
-- Sixteen Alaskan Students including Alaska Natives lost a split 3-2 decision against the state of Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and several state departments; the plaintiffs argued that the state’s fossil fuel policy exacerbates the climate crisis in Alaska, harming them in violation of their fundamental rights under Alaska’s constitution.
-- Thirteen Virginia students represented by Our Children's Trust, brought suit asking the court to declare that the state government's historic and ongoing permitting of fossil fuel projects that pollute the planet violates their constitutional and public trust rights.
-- Two young Oregon students are suing the state over the effects of climate change by arguing their case before the Oregon Supreme Court.
-- Dutch students in the Netherlands’ Supreme Court won a ruling ordering the country’s government to do much more to cut carbon emissions, after a six-year fight for climate justice.
-- German student are part of the European movement winning law suits represented by environmental NGOs resulting in the Constitutional Court ruling that the country's climate protection act must be amended to include more ambitious CO2 emissions reductions. The decision stated that the government's failure to protect the climate for future generations was unconstitutional.
-- New Zealand law students filed a lawsuit at Wellington’s high court against New Zealand’s minister of energy over her decision to grant two new onshore oil and gas exploration permits just six months after the government declared a climate emergency.
-- A South Korea-High school senior Kim Yujin and 29 other young activists are suing the government, claiming that parliament’s recent revision to the nation’s climate-change law doesn’t go far enough to protect their future.
-- Australia students are suing in the Federal Court in Melbourne on behalf of young people everywhere seeking an injunction to stop the Australian Government approving an extension to a coal mine, arguing it will harm young people by exacerbating climate change.
-- Philippines student are seeking legal actions to affect climate change by federal and state- level governments have been attempted since the 1990s; one of the first known cases was led by Antonio Oposa, a Philippine lawyer representing 43 students against the Philippine government to protect a forest surrounding their village. Oposa won the suit leading to numerous other lawsuits around the world. As of July 2018, there were over 1,000 such lawsuits filed across 24 countries, with 888 of those within the United States. Such cases typically involve youth and children and other future generations, as they help to broaden the appeal of the action, and represent the class that would be most affected by government action or inaction.
This is a full-blown social/environmental movement that will result in actions taken that hopefully will shake the power structures and adults to their core in every part of our world. Paul Hawken in his book Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World (2007), was amazed at the number of environmental groups already developing: “I looked at government records for different countries and, using various methods to approximate the number of environmental and social justice groups from tax census data, I initially estimated a total of 30,000 environmental organizations around the globe; when I added social justice and indigenous people’s rights organizations, the number exceeded 100,000.”
It’s time to let the power-brokers who are standing in the way of taking climate action to be distressed, depressed, and feel abandonment by the public when they experience severe controls implemented on their climate-affecting businesses and lobbying activities.
It's true that these powerful people have been able to water down past environmental efforts, but this time it is different. Not only will they have to deal with a fired-up base of young people as they reach maturity and grow into positions of influence in their societies, but climates will not take a backseat to business intransigence.
For young people it is a matter of survival. As they become adults they will not treat our ecological situations with a ‘business as usual’ mindset like the adults now have adopted. There is no situation that supersedes our survival needs. Young people believe that no action taken means things fall apart for everyone, including the well-insulated power brokers.
How did we get to this point?
This article’s premise might provide an answer to this question and address how young people can cope with their intense feelings, traumas, and hopelessness.
Consider for a moment what drives all of our decision-making and actions. Every moment we interact with our daily experiences we can only understand things through the perception we have for ourselves. Some call it the sense of self that is the reservoir for our deepest self-identity. This is our Inner Child’s view of who we are. The image we deeply hold for ourselves comes from the traumatic and loving experiences we have had starting from our day one beginning.
When a child has had a fully nurtured childhood, including into adulthood, that includes sufficient touch, holding, hugging, and caring discussions with parents, support for unique points of view, and acceptance for the young person’s sense of identity, then the child will see the world as a safe place and feel empowered to actively take part in it.
The Inner Child’s well-loved experiences results in being able to care about the world beyond the self. Developmental psychologists have compared two specific parenting styles.
Parents who rely on induction engage their children in reasoning when they have done harm, prompting their child to think about the consequences of their actions and how these actions have harmed others. Parents who rely on power assertion simply declare what is right and wrong, and resort more often to physical punishment or strong emotional responses of anger. Nancy Eisenberg, Richard Fabes, and Martin Hoffman have found that parents who use induction and reasoning raise children who are better adjusted and more likely to help their peers. This style of parenting seems to nurture the basic tools of compassion: an appreciation of others’ suffering and a desire to remedy that suffering.
However, when a child’s experiences are traumatic, this says the world is not safe, is not accepting of personal identity and perspective, and teaches the child they have little personal power, then the lens the child sees the world through is distorted and every message and experience reflects dis-empowerment. Without releasing the fears that have accumulated and been held during the years that have been shaping the person’s thinking and behaviors, we can’t expect the person to just magically begin acting in a less fearful, more responsible way. Feeling dis-empowered and holding a negative self-image is not likely to result in becoming an advocate for climate change or any other activist endeavors.
Now consider the impact of generation after generation of people not having experienced adequate nurturing. Since we generally raise our children using the techniques we learned from our parents and caregivers, we perpetuate these emotional holes in our self-image. Touch in childhood is one of the most critically important experiences needed for a healthy sense of self.
We have all heard stories about the terrible outcomes experienced by children deprived of physical touch (e.g., Pines, 1997). Yet, many parents today brush off the importance of touch as relatively insignificant beyond infancy, despite the fact that research suggests that humans are “hardwired” to crave touch and actually require it for normal physical, social, and emotional development to occur (Field, 2001, 2003).
The United States is one of the least touching cultures in the world, especially for males. As a result we have extremely high incidences of male manipulation over others. That is a prerequisite for capitalism.
Studies have found that frequent touch is likely to result in greater levels of trust and cooperation. This in turn can lead to higher levels of group performance and team success. If they are right, it would seem to follow that lavishing our children with loving contact may have far-reaching benefits to our families and our society.
It is clear we have entered a new era that will demand a radical change in mindset if we are to survive as a species. Global climate change, peak oil, and the increasing demands of an ever-increasing population present problems solvable only through unprecedented cooperative action.
And what professions do manipulator personality types prefer to work in? Any work that rewards people who don’t feel compassion for others, who need to feel control over others, and who need to feel a sense of superiority over the people around them. Certainly scammers, thieves, and con artists fill the role. But so can some money traders, company managers and owners, insurance brokers, elected officials, and some people in law and military professions. Within the family structure a parent or spouse may feel a need to exert control over other family members. These are manipulators who are destroying the humane fabric of society.
These personality types don’t just happen. Each of us follows life paths that reflect our Inner Child’s sense of self. If we have been fully nurtured and loved, then we can give out that same kindness to others and not needing to use others to fulfill our incomplete Inner Child needs.
With incomplete nurturing our sense of self develops personality characteristics that try to fulfill the inner needs by taking from others. This personality type also does not feel a responsibility to their external environment. Healing the Earth is likely not a path they care to follow.
When we consider the number of people, and I am again talking mostly about males, in many so-called developed cultures who have not been fully nurtured, held, and loved during childhoods, it’s no wonder adults make few commitments to correct our species that is so out of balance with nature. Everything we do as individuals goes back to how fully nurtured we were in childhood.
Parents can love their kids and still avoid holding them, hugging them, listening to them, accepting them, and encouraging them to express their child’s uniqueness and personal powers to influence the world around them. Actually, these needs that a child has never cease being needed throughout our lives. It is what our Inner Child needs to maintain a healthy, loving sense of self. This is the emotional well we each draw from for handling our life challenges. This is the healthy social brain needed for reaching out to others to give aid, comfort, and healing, whether it is an individual or the environment in crises.
The term “social brain” describes neuronal networks enabling our dealings with the social world. Specifically, our interest in others, our sensitivity to their emotions, thoughts, and intentions, and our ability to meaningfully interact with them are presumably supported by dedicated brain processes separate from those supporting our dealings with the inanimate world (Dunbar and Shultz 2007; Frith 2007; Adolphs 2009).
To become an activist working to overcome so many destructive actions against our natural world, we will have to be strong enough to withstand the fearful behaviors of people using our planet as a surrogate for meeting their inner needs. So many livelihoods depend on liquidating Earth’s resources and manipulating our people in the name of making their Inner Child feel better. Fortunately, there exists among us a sizable core of people not needing to use others and our Earth’s resources in destructive ways.
Healing the World Means Healing Our Children
The young people described above who are taking action may be trying to save themselves, but for all of us, whether we appreciate them or not, they are our true heroes in this titanic struggle to overcome the manipulators. Their strength of will, youthful energy, and creative minds will overcome so much of the damage already caused by adult inaction. We can only hope they can do enough. And if enough adults join with them, encourage them, and use the powers adults have acquired, then those titanic changes will be made in time.
The world needs to be run by environmentally aware people loving the wonderful intricacies nature has to offer. We need to see the manipulator mindset for what it is, a dysfunctional behavior that indicates a person has not developed a healthy, caring, loving sense of self. They are not evil, they are just incomplete, and their behaviors are attempts to heal themselves at everyone else’s expense.If we are to heal our planet, we also need to heal those people among us who don’t know how to heal themselves in appropriate ways. - kc