A Sense of Security in the Face of Global Warming

Hello, I have just joined this ning but I have been a member of the C&NN for some time. This essay, which first appeared as three posts on my blog, "Seasons South and North" (http://www.seasons-south-and-north.co.uk ), I offer by way of introducing myself.

A Sense of Security in the Face of Global Warming

Fairly regularly now, someone writes in the press of their concern for how much children are being frightened by all the dire talk about global warming. It is frightening. Many adults are frightened as well, though they tend to respond with anger more than with tears and bad dreams. (Perhaps.) Leo Hickman wrote in the Guardian’s Green Living Blog a post entitled “Are Global Warming and deforestation Too Scary for Sesame Street?” In it, he discusses how many television shows and publications for children find the subject too frightening to address. An earlier Guardian article along these lines is Bjorn Lomborg’s “Scared Silly Over Climate Change”. He gives examples of frightened and confused children and insists that the press report in a less terrifying manner.

That will never happen. Terror, horror and appealing to our morbid curiosity are what sell the news. It is up to us as teachers, librarians, and parents to find the solid ground for our children in this sea of fear and confusion.

It is not my intention here to sink into the bog of defending or disputing the claims about global warming, but I do intend to look
at the facts so that we can help our children. What is indisputable is that:

  • there is a serious crisis of overpopulation of our species, and
  • there is a serious crisis of pollution of every part of the planet
Our children will have to live with these things and try to amend the situation. We must give them the clarity, strength, courage, and example to do so.

When children are frightened, they take their security from certainties. There can be no greater certainties than the cycles of the seasons, the months, and days. These are easily explained to children as brought about by the sun, the earth’s orbit around it, the earth’s tilt on its axis, the moon’s orbit around the earth, and the earth’s spinning on its axis. Yes, science tells us that the sun will one day burn out, but computer models estimate that will happen in 4 or more billion years, rather a long time from now.

Let’s begin with a definition of “forever” as being at least a million years. Thus, we can safely tell children that all of the following are forever:

  • The sun will be in the sky, so we will always have light
  • The earth will always orbit the sun and earth’s axis will be tilted, so we
    will always have seasons
  • The moon will circle the earth, so we will always have waves in the seas
  • The earth will turn on its axis, so we will always have days and nights
As you teach geography, point out this aspect of permanence. When children ask questions about global warming, the future of the planet, pollution, etc., remind them of what is permanent. With this solidity, you can more comfortably discuss how we must address the issues of concern, remembering to keep the discussion appropriate to their level of understanding:

  • The night sky will always have stars, but we may not be able to see them
    because of air pollution. They are still there. What could we all do to reduce
    air pollution so that we can see the stars again? This could lead to activities
    aimed at discovering causes of air and light pollution, perhaps a night class
    with a telescope, perhaps charts showing how turning off lights not only saves electricity but reduces light pollution.
    • Here is the very useful education page of the International Dark Sky Association ( http://www.darksky.org) which has some good downloads
    • For this and the following topics, the EcoSchools
      (http://www.eco-schools.org.uk) programme is an excellent resource
  • The seasons – summer, autumn, winter, spring – will always occur and always in that order, though they may be hotter and rainier than in the past
    because of too much carbon in the atmosphere. How can we reduce the carbon and increase the oxygen? This particular discussion could be expanded to include tree-planting, via one of the many, many programmes now in existence.
  • The moon will always be in the sky and will always circle the earth, pulling
    the oceans with its gravity and making waves. The waves will always be there, but they might be full of rubbish or empty of fish because of pollution or the waters warming. How can we clean up the rivers and oceans and stop polluting them? This discussion could lead to involvement in some of the many programmes for cleaning up beaches, rescuing sea birds and animals, etc.

By consistently teaching what is permanent we can approach our problems with greater confidence, and help our children to see their future not with fear but with hope.

Finding Security In Nature’s Repetitions

Using the solstices as an illustration, we can move to the next of the most fundamental lessons of nature: repetition.

Repetition is observed everywhere in nature. The seasonal cycle repeats. The processes of seeds falling, germinating, sprouting leaves, growing into plants repeat. The moon's cyclical waxing and waning repeats. There are millions of species identified and all of them have repetition in their behaviour as animals and development as plants. It is repetition that gives us an almost inborn certainty that nothing ends forever but will begin again. For small children, this is a source of comfort and security.

Learning to observe it in nature is also the beginning of developing an enquiring mind. Encourage children to keep track of the phases of the moon all year long. Above the nature table, keep a cut-out moon that is at the same phase as is the real moon. Go outdoors and look for repetition - in a plant's repeat flowering, in the way all of the flowers on a plant are the same, in the way ants all repeat the to-and-fro of food gathering along the same path. There are innumerable examples. Help the children to find something that is repeating and to draw it or write about it.

Solstices repeat twice a year. They mark the days when the sun is as far from the zenith as it can go before it begins to move slowly back again. Put differently, it is the day when summer and winter have reached their midway point in their respective hemispheres.

Where it is the winter solstice, people for centuries in both the northern and southern hemispheres have celebrated the day as a turning point, a time when the shortening of days ceases and long hours of darkness begin to lessen. Various symbols and rituals celebrate that the time of cold, trees without leaves, no flowers, animals either hibernating or gone -- in short, the time of dying -- has stopped, and spring, with all of its life, will return. In many pre-Christian societies, from New Zealand to Norway, the winter solstice was the beginning of the new year.

Where it is the summer solstice, it is the peak of life, fruition and flowering. Again, there are celebrations, midnight fires, a heady exultation in the plenitude of nature. The same sense of it being a turning point is present, though in the summer it is usually with poignancy and the awareness that the days will begin to grow shorter and colder. Then, leaves will fall, birds will migrate, animals will hibernate, until it will seem that the whole world has died. Then, with spring, it will come to life again.

The repetitions of the solstices and equinoxes will go on forever. Knowing this, looking for it and for other repetitions, will help to give children the security from nature that they need in order to face the future and deal with the environmental problems that are ahead.

Security From Nature’s Patterns

After permanence and repetition, one of nature's most important and beautiful lessons is pattern. Nature is not chaos; nature is pattern and the compulsion to pattern. Whether a spider's web, bodily construction, petal arrangement in flowers, patterning is everywhere, within and without. Our need to reason is, ultimately, our need to see and understand the pattern of something.

Teaching a child to observe the patterns in nature will help even further to develop an enquiring mind. Begin with the simplest: pairs in our construction. We have two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two arms, two legs. With pictures of animals, including birds and insects, discuss pairs in our structure with children.

Move on to plants, where pattern continues but is different. Look at the veins in leaves, which branch off from a central trunk, sometimes opposite, sometimes alternate. Look at flowers that may have three, four, five six, or more petals. Look at the fur of the big cats, the wings of butterflies. Go outdoors and let each child tell of a pattern he or she can observe. There are thousands of workbook pages teaching pattern recognition. The origin is nature, so why not use that? It is much more attractive and fun and better rooted in reality.

Being able to observe a pattern, recognize its structure leads the mind to be able to predict what the pattern maker will do next. Correct prediction is integral to scientific discovery. Using something as simple as a vine, help your observers to look at how the leaves grow along it, while you keep the end covered. Slowly revealing more, let them predict where the next leaf will be -- opposite, alternate, in twos or singular. With something as simple as a flower, point out how the buds grow, examine the opened flowers, lead the children to predict how the flowers will look when the other buds open. Repeat exercises like this many times with many different plants and animals, until the children begin to tell you of their independent observations of pattern, and find security in being able to “figure out” about, on a basic level, the world around them.

Permanence, repetition and pattern are what we can observe in nature. They are solid facts on which children can begin to build a sense of certainty about the natural world. Teach them to see the absolute permanence of the seasons, night and day, and they will learn security. Teach them to see the repetition and pattern and they will learn to reason well. Teach them to love the beauty of nature, and they will want to preserve it.

©2010 Anne Morddel

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Comment by Suz Lipman on March 15, 2010 at 2:38pm
Thank you for this, Anne. It really resonates with me. As a parent, my own child at times seemed overly concerned about global warming. (I was happy she was an aware child, who, as a teen, has turned into a conscientious steward, but I was conscious of the line where awareness and action turned into unhelpful worry.) As an adult, I continue to derive comfort from nature's daily and seasonal rhythms and think that's something that everyone can benefit from. Your blog is beautiful as well, and I appreciate what you bring to this forum.

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