Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time, and it can be emotionally challenging to discuss.
The climate crisis is causing shifts in the availability of resources and precipitating migration, which in turn impact human rights, national politics, and may increase conflict within and between countries. On a more local level, the climate crisis raises issues of justice. While every person is touched in some way by extreme weather events, flooding, or ecological loss, more vulnerable populations—who have contributed less to climate change—often bear the greatest burden. Examining the impacts of climate change with students is important, but it is also important to first help them process any feelings of helplessness, dread, or grief associated with this topic.
An increasing number of people—especially young people—are struggling with climate-related anxiety or “ecological grief,” a term used to describe feelings of loss and sadness caused by changes in the environment, the disruption of cultural practices and knowledge related to the natural world, and the anticipation of further losses as climate change progresses.
In a recent study, researchers interviewed 10,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 living in 10 different countries around the world. More than half of the respondents reported feeling “afraid, sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and/or guilty,” and 68% of respondents from the United States agreed that the “future is frightening” because of climate change.
This Teaching Idea is designed to help students reflect on their emotional reactions to climate change, consider their connection to the natural world, and learn about how collective action against climate change can make a difference. You can use this Teaching Idea to prepare students for further discussions on issues related to the impact of climate change on individuals or societies.
What follows are teacher-facing instructions for the activities. Find student-facing instructions in the Google Slides for this Teaching Idea.