Schools in New Zealand will this year begin to help students understand and respond to the climate crisis, according to reports.
Materials will be made available to students in every school in the country to encourage activism, while spaces and resources for processing the painful emotions associated with climate change — known as eco-anxiety — will also be made available.
“One of the pieces of feedback we’ve got from teachers around the country is that they’re really crying out for something like this, because kids are already in the conversation about climate change,” James Shaw, New Zealand’s climate change minister, told the Guardian.
He added: “They’re seeing stuff on social media on a daily basis and none of it’s good news, and the sense of powerlessness that comes from that is extremely distressing."
The program will be offered to schools that teach 11 to 15-year-old students, but it will not be compulsory. It is modeled after a successful pilot program that ran in a school in Christchurch, a city in New Zealand, in 2018.
Some of the tools that will reportedly be made available include materials for making a “feelings thermometer” to help students monitor their mental health in relation to climate change; and materials to help students create their own action plan concerning an environmental issue — to help students tackle feelings of helplessness in the face of such a looming and signficant issue.
Other countries are taking similar steps. Italy, for example, announced in November 2019 that it would become the first country in the world to make climate change a compulsory part of the school curriculum, as of 2020.
A focus on helping children deal with the effects of climate change on mental health is a big step forward, according to psychologists.
“Children are increasingly suffering anxiety and grief about climate change,” a group of British psychologists told Reuters last year. Meanwhile the American Psychological Association has also found that climate change can significantly harm mental health.
Today’s children and teenagers will certainly inherit some of the worst effects of a warming Earth, and climate change will “define the health of an entire generation,” according to Scientific American magazine.
This has, however, inspired powerful activism from today’s youth, most notably Greta Thunberg and her global climate strike.
The issue of climate change also hits particularly close to home in New Zealand right now, as its neighboring country of Australia is currently being devastated by bushfires that have been intensified due to climate change.
New Zealand has pledged to stop emitting carbon by 2050, however, the Climate Action Tracker rates New Zealand’s current commitments to mitigating climate change to be “insufficient” for the goal of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius.