Children bearing “much reality” on climate change

Last week, I gave a second presentation to a class of 11 year olds in Ferney Voltaire near Geneva. How much do children this age know about climate change and does it matter? Pasted to the entrance to the children’s class was a poem by T.S. Eliot. In “Burnt Norton”, Eliot writes “humankind/Can not bear much reality” – how would the kids cope with this reality?


Another question keeps me on my toes

From what I could see, the children want, and need to know exactly what climate change is, what it will mean for their lives ahead and how it can be stopped.

Before the class began, I asked them if they knew what climate change was. Out of the 10 answers, only a couple were near the mark. By the end of the presentation, they all had some basics about the link between burning fossil fuels and emission of gas that trap heat, the carbon cycle, impacts of climate change particularly in developing countries and what we can do to stop it.

As with the class I gave a few weeks ago, the questions were unrelenting and to the point. The toughest question to answer was “how bad is it going to get”. I said that the negative impact on food production particularly in lower latitude regions was a great concern. I spoke of climate refugees, coastal flooding and spreading areas of disease transmission. But given the enormity of potential impacts I do not think I gave the children the whole picture. If I was speaking to adults, I would not hesitate to say that we are on a path to “catastrophy”. I did not use this language with the children. I need to think more about how best to communicate these aspects.

We spoke of the difficulty in changing our lifestyles. It is so easy to jump in the car instead of taking a bicycle, to not bother turning off a light when electricity is relatively cheap. I explained that government has a role to make fossil fuel energy more expensive, so that we use less of it. I asked why this might be difficult for governments to do that. I was taken aback by one girl who said that people working in the coal industry wouldn’t want to see more expensive coal so would discourage governments from making it more expensive.

Eleven year olds I think have a thirst for “reality”, maybe even more than adults. We owe it to them to explain what may be the toughest issue about their future that they will face and how to plan for.

The class has a very dedicated teacher who asked the kids to prepare some questions for me. These should dispell any doubts about their thirst for knowledge and thus the need to teach children early on about climate change.

What do we need to do to avoid polluting the air?

What exactly is carbon dioxide?

What will happen if we pollute too much the earth?

Is climate change man-made?

What is the difference between climate and weather?

What kind of gas traps the heat

What temperature is it going to be if we pollute too much the air?

Is there a solution against climate change?

How can we put a definite stop to climate change?

Is it too late? Why?

How dangerous is it?

What is being done about it?

What can CHILDREN do about it?

What should we not do?

What will happen if climate change continues?

Will oceans really flood big towns?

How are we going to live if big towns are inundated?

Can’t we convince humans to stop to do pollution? How?

What will be the consequences if the climate changes 4 degrees?

Why are we in summer and it is still cold?

For the blog on my first presentation to the kids, go here.

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2 Responses to Children bearing “much reality” on climate change

  1. Aimée says:

    I agree that kids have a thirst for truth or at least a desire for a reasonable explanation for what they see. I observe it when my 13 year old students search for meaning in Shakespeare or books on complicated issues like love, jealousy or prejudice. Despite occasional criticism from colleagues who teach older students, I maintain that younger students can handle difficult concepts on different levels depending on their sophistication. How far to push? I present the facts and let them stew for a while. Silence breeds questions which are sometimes easier to discuss than topics dictated by adults.

  2. loupdumer says:

    Mmm nice idea Aimee to present the facts and let them stew for a few days and then attack the issue again.

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