A person’s a person, no matter how small
– Theodore Seuss Geisel1
It’s not that I did not believe in climate change—I could sense the subtle changes in the seasonal norms, and I forced myself to read the increasing number of articles offering scientific proof of it—but it was an unsettling, nagging insight that I could generally pack away. I would recycle my plastics, make some donations, and get on with my busy day. My defensive structure was shaken four years ago when my son sent me a link to an article with the title “When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job,”2 which described how climate scientists were struggling emotionally with the burden of facing the facts and trying to communicate them to the public.
The article forced upon me the realization that, in the face of impending catastrophe, I had not only resorted to repression (trivializing the magnitude of the problem and thereby diminishing the intensity of my fear and anger). I had engaged in regression, manifesting a remarkably childlike consciousness with respect to authority.
Of the generation whose formative experiences included the Vietnam War and Watergate, I generally thought of myself as an adult who had a healthy skepticism about the competence and morality of those in power. The fear of climate change had evoked my childish trust that the adults in charge would “take care of things.” To my surprise, I realized that I (or some part of me) still retained the belief that scientists impersonally discern the facts and those in charge make the appropriate policy changes to keep us safe, and that’s just the way things work. Yet, the scientists featured in the article were distraught about what they were finding. Even more intense was their agonized frustration that no one seemed to be listening to their important and dire message—this was acutely painful to me.
Perhaps not surprisingly—given my job (I work in a college counseling center) as well as my childlike consciousness with respect to climate change—I became interested in how actual (ie, chronological) children and adolescents are responding to climate change. As it turns out, there is little research in this area.
Dr Mark is a staff psychiatrist at the Counseling and Psychological Services of the University of Pennsylvania, and a student in the Masters of Environmental Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She reports no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
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