[LINK] Fud on the Internet Scaring our Children
tomk at unwired.com.au
Sat Feb 25 19:26:26 AEDT 2012
The boy has drawn, in his third-grade class, a global warming timeline
that is his equivalent of the mushroom cloud.
"That's the Earth now," the 9-year-old says, pointing to a dark shape at
the bottom. "And then," he says, tracing the progressively lighter
stripes across the page, "it's just starting to fade away."
Alex Hendel of Arlington County is talking about the end of life on our
beleaguered planet. Looking up to make sure his mother is following
along, he taps the final stripe, which is so sparsely dotted it is
almost invisible. "In 20 years," he pronounces, "there's no oxygen."
Then, to dramatize the point, he collapses, "dead," to the floor.
For many children and young adults, global warming is the atomic bomb of
today. Fears of an environmental crisis are defining their generation in
ways that the Depression, World War II, Vietnam and the Cold War's
lingering "War Games" etched souls in the 20th century.
Parents say they're searching for "productive" outlets for their
8-year-olds' obsessions with dying polar bears. Teachers say enrollment
in high school and college environmental studies classes is doubling
year after year. And psychologists say they're seeing an increasing
number of young patients preoccupied by a climactic Armageddon.
"Our parents had the civil rights and antiwar movements," says Meredith
Epstein, 20, who grew up in Rockville and is now a junior at St. Mary's
College of Maryland. "But for us, this is what we need to take immediate
Young people might not be turning out at demonstrations against the war
in Iraq in numbers rivaling Vietnam War protests. But the environment is
becoming their galvanizing force: Thirty-seven years after the first
Earth Day in the United States, the topic is more than an issue. It's
"For, like, the whole history of the environmental movement," begins
David Bronstein, 19, a freshman at St. John's College in Annapolis,
"we've been saying: 'Do it for your children. We have to protect the
Earth for them.' But that argument has shifted. I'm fighting for my
Over the weekend, thousands of students at more than 1,400 "Step It Up
on Global Warming" events from Alaska to New Mexico to Maine asked
Congress to place limits on carbon emissions. Earth Day returns Sunday,
and as University of Maryland freshman Andrew Nazdin told 200 high
school and college kids gathered Saturday on the Mall, "We're proud of
the students of the '60s and '70s, but now it's our turn to rise to the
challenge of our generation and end the climate crisis."
Last month, Epstein crusaded for a referendum to raise St. Mary's
student fees by $25 -- enough to collect more than $45,000 a year and
pay for 100 percent green electricity. Epstein worried about campus
apathy: Last year's election for student government president drew only
100 voters. But for the environment, more than half of the student body
turned out. "We had people lining up to vote," Epstein says, "and no
one's ever seen that before." The measure passed, 1,005 to 75.
It's not as though every student in the United States is turning green.
For many, the biggest anxieties are still status, class standing and
"But there's a pretty significant minority of kids trying to convince
their friends: 'This is serious. You or your family is wasting gas, and
you're not recycling,' " says Mark Goldstein, a child psychologist and
school-system consultant who has practiced in Chicago's northern suburbs
for 30 years.
"And they're looking ahead and going, 'Hey -- when we have kids, our
kids are going to be messed up because of this, and we need to start
doing something now.' "
Goldstein adds: "In my practice, they bring this up. Some of the kids
are scared, and it's interesting, because I've seen an evolution. . . .
Kids used to have fears of war and nuclear annihilation. That's
dissipated and been replaced by global warming."
It's not just a U.S. phenomenon: A United Kingdom survey, by the
Somerfield supermarket chain, of 1,150 youngsters age 7 to 11 found that
half felt anxious about global warming -- and many were losing sleep
over it, convinced that animal species will soon die out and that they,
themselves, will be victims of global warming.
After 8-year-old Mollie Passacantando, daughter of Greenpeace USA's
executive director, read a story about polar bears in class this year,
the Fairfax County youngster and her friends spent recess marching
around the playground with signs reading, "Stop global warming. Save the
polar bears." A classmate taunted, "You can march all you want, but
you're not going to save a single polar bear."
That riled Mollie up. With her father, John Passacantando, she started a
blog to get the polar bear put on the endangered species list.
"I have heard from friends and work colleagues around the country," says
Mollie's mother, Lisa Guide, "that global warming is a subject that can
be stressful to children. Mollie was so concerned . . . we really felt
it was important to help her do something constructive."
The number of interested students, both elementary-age and older, keeps
booming. In 2003, 65 U.S. and Canadian colleges joined the Energy Action
Coalition's drive to raise awareness about global warming. One year
later, there were 280 campuses. By February, that number was 587.
"I think it's been exponential in growth," says Matt Stern, campus
director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, describing the
numbers of students fighting global warming's dire predictions: massive
sea-level risings, drought, famine, widespread disease.
"If you follow global warming, every prediction is scarier than the
prior one. It's really scary stuff. Global warming is this huge
uncertainty, and we see it compromising our future.
"So much of going to school," he says, "is getting an education and
preparing yourself for the future. But . . . what's the use of a college
degree when Wall Street is under water?"
At Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Laura Dinerman's AP
environmental science class has grown by an entire classroom each year:
She started with 22 students, is teaching two classes this year and next
year expects to have 66 students -- at least three classes, "if it
doesn't go up," she says.
Dinerman has also seen a blossoming interest this year in the school's
environmental club (mission statement: "Change the World"). Just under
10 teenagers were active last year; 90 have signed up this year, an
increase helped by an aggressive marketing campaign and Al Gore's
documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." Gore is this generation's Bob
Dylan; "Truth" is its "Blowin' in the Wind."
There was also last spring's effort by David Bronstein -- before he
graduated and enrolled at St. John's -- to do 20-minute PowerPoint
presentations on "the problem of global warming and how it's the
challenge of our generation and what we need to do about it" to about 20
of Sherwood's government, English, social studies and philosophy
"This message about global warming is so powerful," Bronstein says. "It
gives me hope for the human race because people are responsive to it."
He also encourages anxiety about the planet's future, comparing
enviro-fears to "any suffering in your life: The first step is denial,
and then there's a sense of doom, and then you have to get up and shake
it off and change something."
Which is exactly what happened when 9-year-old Alyssa Luz-Ricca's mother
returned from a business trip to Costa Rica with a T-shirt of a colorful
frog and the words "Extinction is forever." Alyssa looked at the T-shirt
and, she says, "I cried."
"She cried very hard," clarifies her mother, Karen Luz of Arlington.
"I don't like global warming," Alyssa continues, her eyes huge and
serious behind her glasses, a stardust of freckles across her nose,
"because it kills animals, and I like animals."
She dreams of solar-powered cars and has put a recycling basket for
mail, office and school paper in the corner of her family's dining room.
She made another recycling box for her third-grade English teacher's
classroom at Key Elementary School and has persuaded her mother to start
composting. At Key, she also organized an effort among her classmates to
pick up playground trash at recess.
Marvel at any of her efforts, though, and she looks confused: Everyone
should be doing all this -- and more -- to save the environment.
"I worry about it," says this girl who has yet to lose all her baby
teeth, "because I don't want to die."
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