Beyond the climate crisis gloom and doom: Nurturing hope and opportunity – Canada's National Observer


This four-part series, Beyond the Climate Crisis Gloom, explores while as we adults navigate the harsh realities of the climate crisis and do the hard work of creating change, we also must build an environment of hope and opportunity for ourselves and for our children that lets them set their sights on a brighter future. I will also share examples of climate action progress that illustrate humanity’s ability to tackle massive challenges — once we decide to put our minds to it.
This first instalment focuses on why our children need more positive messages and how we can start to provide those.
There’s no instruction manual that comes with a newborn, though most parents have often wished they could flip to a page 26 that offered a step-by-step outline on How to Soothe in 3 Easy Steps.
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Yet, floating near the surface of the undocumented morass of early-parenting advice is one of the fundamental tips passed down from generation to generation — when your child has a fall, resist showing them fear. Instead, lovingly encourage them to get back up, dust themselves off and try again.
I believe this piece of wisdom applies equally to today’s climate crisis as we attempt to shift beyond the gloom and doom and nurture in our children a mindset and a skill set that focuses on hope and opportunity.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Greta Thunberg. She is 100 per cent right that “our house is on fire” and her ability to inspire and mobilize millions of teenagers to take meaningful action is phenomenal. The gloom-and-doom nature of the messages of well-intentioned activist leaders is certainly effective. However, fear isn’t a motivator for all children, especially the very young.
Many parents are beginning to feel the need to temper the stark climate reality with some positivity by imbuing our children with a strong sense that they will grow up to have the chance to be an active part of the solution. The need for a new approach is all the more heightened against the backdrop of a global pandemic when it is too easy to focus on the frightening headline of the day.
A series by the Toronto Star, the Investigative Journalism Bureau and Canada’s National Observer revealed anxiety and depression among post-secondary students worried about climate change. The findings of the Generation Distress series of stories used data to confirm what many parents may be experiencing — our youth are growing up with a far darker outlook of their futures than we did. The result? An unprecedented youth mental health crisis.
The climate crisis is just one factor contributing to the stresses on the minds of today’s youngsters, though it is clearly a major one. Surely, we can help to reduce the tsunami of mental health issues being seen in post-secondary youth by resisting the tendency to flood elementary school children with thoughts of ecological despair that will only build into cresting waves of anxiety in their high school years.
Young children naturally tend to withdraw from what scares them, which is precisely why parents gently encourage them back into the fray of play after a fall and a scraped knee. And when it comes to diverting potential mental health catastrophes when they are still a manageable trickle, any parent of a teen with serious mental health challenges will suggest you spend more time nurturing play, building hope and cultivating resilience as early and often as you can.
Why not try to reframe the climate crisis for young kids into an opportunity for them to make a positive impact on the world? Renowned climate scientist Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, and co-founder of The Solutions Project, recently emphasized “we don’t need ‘miracle technologies’ to slash emissions — we already have 95 per cent of the technologies we need today and the know-how to get the rest.”
If we are to believe a carbon-zero future is already possible, then our kids are going to grow up in what I like to refer to as the Heal-the-Planet Era. Years ago, Ontario phased out the burning of coal to generate electricity, which has had a huge impact on greenhouse gas reductions and improved air quality in the region — wow, kids, that’s great news you can help build on!
As of April, battery electric vehicle (BEV) sales in Norway accounted for 74 per cent of all new cars sold — wow, kids, more great news you can help build on!
It is not beyond our grasp to reframe to a position of positivity that has the potential to engage and inspire young children, rather than trigger them to withdraw under an ocean of despair.
The second instalment, Climate Action Can Be Fun, will focus on how kids instinctively just get what is good for the planet and how climate action can uplifting for us all.
Paul Shore is an award-winning author and technology consultant who has worked in the worlds of software, semiconductors, health care and the Olympics. His current writing project is a graphic novel series for children in collaboration with co-author Deborah Katz and illustrator Prashant Miranda called, Planet Hero Kids: I Can Hear Your Heart Beep.

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