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  • Children don’t need counselling for climate anxiety, they need climate action

Children don’t need counselling for climate anxiety, they need climate action



One evening last year, I lingered for a moment after tucking my 10-year-old into bed. A few minutes later, I heard a small voice through the darkness, ‘Mama?’

‘Yes, sweetie?’ I replied.

‘I just don’t understand. Why won’t the government do anything about climate change?’

I genuinely struggled with my response.

It was reported recently that Coalition MPs have been calling for an expansion of the government’s school chaplaincy program in order to reduce the mental health impacts of climate change ‘activism and alarmism’ on children. Yes, that’s right, they want to address the mental health impact of activism, not the impact of the actual, visible effects of climate change itself, or the very real threat that it poses to children’s futures.

Effectively, these Coalition MPs are implying that children’s overactive imaginations — spurred on by so-called ‘climate alarmists’ — are the cause of their anxieties. Liberal MP Andrew Wallace, for example, blamed groups like Extinction Rebellion for ‘robbing children of hope’.

Do you know what robs children of hope? Spending an entire summer holiday stuck inside because the air outside is full of toxic smoke and the sky has disappeared. Or worse, evacuating from their home by boat as the local beach is engulfed in flames.

Children, world over, are anxious about climate change for one extremely valid reason: it poses an existential threat to their future and governments are failing to take sufficient action. As one climate activist from Tanzania put it, ‘You might think that we are too young to know about the risks and realities of climate change. But we see its effects in our daily lives.’

Global inaction is bad enough, but the Australian government is a stand out performer in this space. Indeed, it would inaccurate to say that they are not taking action. They could almost be described as world leaders in climate action. It’s just that their actions are actively contributing to the climate crisis.


'The reality of the climate crisis is not a pleasant one, but it is both absurd and insulting to think that we can shield children and young people from this reality. They are already living with the effects.'


No wonder they want school chaplains to stamp out awareness and activism.

In a move that amounts to vandalism on a mass scale, the government is framing climate change as a problem that exists only in the minds of children, and in doing so, is trying to justify its ongoing adoption of policies that actively contribute to the climate crisis. Just last week, for example, federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, approved Wollongong Coal’s application to expand existing underground coalmining at its Russell Vale colliery north of Wollongong.

Ley’s decision comes just months after the federal court ruled that she owes a duty of care to protect children and young people from the harms of climate change, and mere weeks after the IPCC published its Sixth Assessment Report, which warns that ‘unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.’

As Paul Mitchell, Principal Climate Change Advisor for Save the Children said in response to the IPCC Report, ‘Today’s report really should shock everyone, and particularly the Australian Government. … Australian children, just like millions around the world, are already … suffering the shocking impacts — bushfires, floods, drought — of the climate crisis. … This is not theoretical for children; climate change is a real and present threat to their lives right now. Today. It’s also stealing their futures and their right to a liveable planet.’

In the face of this reality, activism is an entirely logical response and, indeed, it may be the best way for young people to actually reduce their anxieties about the future. UNICEF, for example, have been working hard to both empower young people to engage in climate activism and to amplify the voices of those who already area, because they recognise that they have a ‘right to participate in the decision-making processes that impact them’ and that activism can help to combat feelings of helplessness.

It’s patronising in the extreme to act as though children and young people have no right to engage in activism and, particularly, that their concerns are due to ‘alarmism’, and one would hope that School Chaplains would agree. Earlier this year, for example, Pope Francis emphasised the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to take immediate action, declaring, ‘This is the moment to act. We are at the edge.’

The reality of the climate crisis is not a pleasant one, but it is both absurd and insulting to think that we can shield children and young people from this reality. They are already living with the effects. So rather than trying to manipulate them into denying their reality, our only viable option is to support them to take action.

One Friday morning last year, after collecting my kids from school, I took them into the city for a Climate Strike. They painted posters, met up with friends, and together they loudly demanded climate action from their government. When we came home, they felt better, not worse.



Cristy ClarkDr Cristy Clark is a senior lecturer with the Faculty of Business, Government and Law at the University of Canberra. Her work focuses on the intersection of human rights, neoliberalism, activism and the environment, and particularly on the human right to water.

Main image: A young protestor is pictured in the Domain in Sydney, Australia. (Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Cristy Clark, COVID-19, individualism, lockdown, health



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Existing comments

Thank you Cristy for stating so clearly the rightness of children's activism concerning the climate crisis. I agree totally.

Mr Colin J Apelt | 14 September 2021  

climate change is very frightening and we should all do everything that we can to help the young people fight climate issue and do it NOW this is their future and we do not want to be the last generation on this earth now do we

Maryellen Flynn | 14 September 2021  

Dear Cristy
Our Australian Government is doing tangible and effective things to reduce CO2 emissions in conjunction with the Western Democracies.
Put your views to the Chinese Communist Party Government through its Canberra Embassy. China is the biggest, and increasingly, emitter of CO2.

Also have a look at Bjorn Lomborg's statements on climate change exaggerations and alarmism.
Gerard Tonks

Gerard Tonks | 14 September 2021  
Show Responses

Thanks Cristy for alerting us to the latest efforts by the Morrison Government to protect its political supporters, the fossil fuel industry . As a teacher and climatologist for over four decades, who has observed weather and climate for over half a century, I find my observation of the real impact of climate change as shown in my data are fully supported by the BOM and CSIRO. There is no exaggeration or alarmism in their statements .They are science based conclusions.
Gerard , your attack on China misses a very important point . We emit many times the amount of GHG emissions per person, indeed we are one of the worst offenders. China's population is many times ours. Heaven help the planet if a Chinese citizen had the life style we have! Unlike the Australian Government, the Chinese Government can control the country's emissions and is doing so.
Gavin A. O'Brien, FRMetS

Gavin O'Brien | 14 September 2021  

I find it difficult to make a decision about this very important issue because a significant part of our media has stated publicly that it will present only one side of the debate. How any self-respecting newspaper, magazine, radio station or TV network can be so dogmatic and narrow in its outlook is hard to imagine. The national broadcaster, The Guardian newspaper, the Channel Nine stable and The Conversation blog are just three that have announced this policy of deplatforming all but the opinion that they regard as right. That a significant number of scientists disagree with the alarmist view of the problem is rarely acknowledged by the media platforms such as those to which I have referred. The common assertion that the alarmist view is based on "the science" infers a scientific unity that just does not exist. When one side of an arguement works hard to silence any opposition the well-meaning enquirers have reason to doubt the good will and sincerity of one of the parties in dispute. I am sure there are many who, as I do, want a balanced discussion aimed at getting to the truth no matter how displeasing that may be to one of the proponents.

grebo | 15 September 2021  
Show Responses

Ditto. Truth emerges only through debate of different perspectives. If something is being silenced, there are grounds for suspicion.

marita | 20 September 2021  

I believe the recent reports on climate change - a recent Australian one by a lady formerly high up in both the Army and the Defence Department stating it was the greatest threat to our national security, bar none - are true. I think the real problem facing us is not climate change per se but how we as a nation face up to it. Therein lies the problem. There are many lobby groups and many opinionati, some far from expert, all pushing their own barrows. The real solution will have to be both political and economic. Some industries will eventually die. We need to think now about what will replace them in the areas where they exist, such as the Hunter Valley. Gladstone is in the process of commissioning or expanding a huge hydrogen plant to service the Japanese market. This is the way to go. This is a sunrise industry where Australia can be a leader. We need to be. Our future economic survival depends on it.

Edward Fido | 17 September 2021