Students asking about climate change? Here are some answers.

TODAY 1.4 million students demonstrated in 2,233 towns and cities in 128 countries taking part in today’s Climate Strike

School children protesting with banners in Melbourne
Melbourne School Strike for Climate Action 2
Credit: Julian Meehan Licence

“From small actions, like that of students who went on strike for the first time across India, to large demonstrations in the UK, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Sweden and Australia, the strike for climate action spread across more than 2,000 events.

“The co-ordinated strikes were organised via social media by volunteers in the countries under the banner of Fridays for Future.” Read more about these unprecidented acts of frustration by young people: climate strikes in 100 countries and more that 1 million took part

UPDATE: As a result of the school strike, António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, is bringing world leaders together at a climate action summit later this year to demand concrete plans to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next decade, and to net zero by 2050.” Read more about António Guterres’s statement.


Teachers and parents, if you have children or young people asking about climate change, here are some answers.

Chris Smith is a research fellow in Physical Climate Change at the University of Leeds. He has focused on three big questions we often get asked:

  • How long is the planet going to last? I heard it was 12 years…
  • What would be the most effective policy to end climate change?
  • What’s the single best thing I could do in my life to help the climate? – be warned he lets you think it is ok to focus on indivdual action.

Read his clear answers with links to further explanation here: Climate change: a climate scientist answers questions from teenagers

Compare this with the more nuanced An Audacious Toolkit: Actions Against Climate Breakdown (Part 3: I is for Individual)

The big question: Why didn’t the older generation do anything to stop climate change?

George Monbiot explains this and what we must do now to support the youth movement.

New data shows how fossil fuel companies have driven climate crisis despite industry knowing dangers: The Guardian (2019) Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions


Scientific evidence 

Here’s why there are mass protests across the world: Graphs and Facts collected to explain protests.

For the more scientifically curious students looking for credible evidence, try this site recommended to me by Will Lambert.  “The polar portal website in particular is very good website for getting daily recorded updates direct from the monitoring stations.”  Polar Portal
“In particular to note the overall accumulated Ice mass loss and gain from Greenland shown here, along with prior year averages for comparison.” Polar Portal: surface conditions


Climate Change Resources

The Story of Stuff “The Story of Stuff Project’s journey began with a 20-minute online movie about the way we make, use and throw away all the Stuff in our lives.” Free videos a free quiz, plus lesson plans and materials you can buy too. Story of Stuff resources

NASA Resources for Educators  

WWF Climate Change Resources 

A multimedia project I wrote that you could adapt for your students: Climate Emergency

Interactive Whiteboard Resource Very clear Twitter thread by Ben See @ClimateBen a Literature Teacher informing pupils of the scientific reality of the Ecological Catastrophe & urging them to act. See also @urgenceclimatiq & @ClimateHound 

Climate Change Curriculum Many free courses on Climate Change 

What should you focus on? World Economic Forum explains: Why plastic pollution shouldn’t distract from other environmental challenges

Myth busting: How much would individual action help? If we all become vegan tomorrow 

Extractivism and environmental racism reading and watching resources

A climate crisis timeline half a century of dither and denial, charted against CO 2 and methane emissions, tonnes per annum with an interactive graph.

Sustainable Thinking from BBC Ideas: 16 brilliant video stories, each under 5 mins, that the BBC have created to explain the current situation and take it seriously.


Eco-anxiety and climate anxiety

Psychologists report a rise in people suffering from climate change anxiety or eco-anxiety. 

The New Scientist writes, “If the prospect of climate change makes you stressed, anxious or depressed, you aren’t alone. ‘Eco-anxiety is a term that’s used a lot, but it’s misguided if it’s not used in the right way,’ said Sarah Niblock of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) in her opening speech. ‘This is not an illness or disorder, it’s a perfectly normal and healthy reaction.’” Read on

Watch this BBC 4-minute video on what’s it like and what can you do to cope.

Here are more things to suggest to your students if they express climate anxiety:

Campaigning is a great way of expressing your feelings and using your energies wisely.  You may meet others who feel the same way.  Getting involved gives you another reason for getting up in the morning.

1. Take advice from a charity: Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace

2. Why making ecocide an international law would be a game changer

3. Bust myths:

–Tell everyone “It’s not your fault”: Climate change: focusing on how individuals can help is very convenient for corporations

Why plastic pollution shouldn’t distract from other environmental challenges

Find a local campaign group. Based in Derby? Why not check out local campaigns like this one about the A38 expansion. See if you can help Trees for Derby


I explore this in a full detailed guide: Climate Anxiety: What it is and what to do about it

See also: my resources for supporting students who are anxious – How to advise students who worry and 7 Ways to stop Worrying

Resources on eating sustainably

The current rate of meat consumption cannot continue. Here are some facts and links to support students on a research project or a to help them mount a sustainable eating campaign at school or college.

  • Animal agriculture produces huge CO2 emissions, pollution, using too much water and animals stored tightly together produce diseases that can lead to future pandemics.
  • Cows, sheep and pigs burp methane which is many times worse a greenhouse gas than CO2 in a 20-year timeframe.
  • Dairy products add to the problem.
  • Ancient forests are cleared to grow palm oil and animals for slaughter.

While we campaign for whole system change, we can also use our consumer power:

What is the school/college/university doing about it?

WATCH: Five tips to help your school become more sustainable (Tes Schools Awards 2018 sustainable school of the year)

25 interesting ideas for reducing the carbon footprint of your workplace

The climate is changing; colleges and universities must adapt

How US Campuses & Students Are Helping to Save the Planet

Mapped: The UK Universities that have Pledged to Divest from Fossil Fuels


What about you?

It is immediate and obvious to many young people.  Another question is what are you, my teacher, doing about it?

Before reading on, please consider the value or danger of focusing on the indivdual at all.  Is it a distraction? Read An Audacious Toolkit: Actions Against Climate Breakdown (Part 3: I is for Individual)

Here’s my story:

I was 15 when I learned about global warming. That was the 1990s and I thought we’d have this sorted by now. I refused to learn to drive when I was 17. I learned to drive ten years later when I thought it was irresponsible with children to have only one driver.

In 2009, I screened the film ‘The Age of Stupid’ and had Sustrans manager and climate campaigner, Dave Clasby as guest speaker.  I showed it in two primary schools to parents and teachers and to staff at Derby College. Update from The Guardian: “Ten years after climate movie The Age of Stupid had its green-carpet, solar-powered premiere, we follow its director as she revisits people and places from the film and asks: are we still heading for the catastrophic future it depicted?” Watch this short film about this here.

Apart from cycling, for two years my wife and I have had a hybrid car and that has let us enjoy driving again. Even that’s imperfect because we will run out of the necessary rare minerals before everyone can a rechargable car battery. 

I learnt from The Age of Stupid that it makes you feel loads better when you are doing something about it. Reducing plastic is very popular now but we need to focus on reducing CO2 emissions. HOWEVER nothing we do as individuals compares with the 85-86% of CO2 emissions produced by large corporations.  Read on…  The most valuable thing is to put pressure on goverments to put controls on production and transform our way of life. Here’s just seven things that might make you feel better:

  1. It’s great if you travel via public transport. Tell others to stop flying and don’t fly yourself. I haven’t since 2006. 5 of us went to Antibes in the south of France in 2018 by train. It was bliss.
  2. Turn your heating down a degree or two and wear another layer. If this makes you wince, insulate your house to make it cosier and shut doors. See George Monbiot’s article in point 4 below.
  3. Turn off lights and appliances and things left on standby. More here:
  4. Reduce your carbon footprint. Grow your own. Shop at an ethical wholefoods shop. Research where your stuff comes from. George Monbiot who was in The Age of Stupid gives you 15 ways here: More on reducing carbon footprint.
  5. If you haven’t already, switch your electricity and gas supplier to a company like Octopus or Ecotricity who will turn you bills into windmills!
  6. Campaign. Support the push to make ecocide an international crime like genocide and become an earth protector.  Take advice from a charity: or 
  7. More to ethical banking and take your savings and ask your employer to divest from fossil fuel investments. ‘Derby city councillors give the lead and call on pension fund to divest from fossil fuels’:

2021 Update: What to teach now?

Scientists make it clear – we’re facing a climate emergency

“On 8th October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a vital report on the state of climate science. They warned that if the planet warmed by 1.5C there would be some devastating consequences, such as the loss of most coral reefs, and increased extreme weather such as heatwaves and floods. Yet the consequences of allowing 2C warming would be truly catastrophic. Given that the planet is currently heading for 3-4C warming, keeping to 1.5C requires a radical shift across energy, land, industrial, urban and other systems to reduce emissions, unprecedented in history for its speed.” Read more here.

Derby City Council passed the Climate Emergency motion unamended and with no abstentions in May 2019. Now 74% of councils in the UK have too.  However, very little has actually been done to reduce Derby’s contribution to global carbon emissions. 

Everything we teach our students to work towards – 40-hour working weeks (sometimes in bullshit jobs), individualism, over-consumption and the idea that technology will save us – is wrong. We need to explain the coming health crisis, teach collectivism, value work that helps society and provide space to grieve and talk together to reach an inclusive world where more than just the spoilt mega-rich liars survive. Joel Nihlean spells this out.

According to Teach the Future, “Students aren’t being prepared to face the effects of climate change, or taught to understand the solutions.” They are campaigning for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to implement 3 specific policy asks.  Read about Teach the Future. 

The climate strikes by students and peaceful but disruptive protests by adults in 2019 onwards, have changed society. A 2020 study showed Activism drives interest in climate change science. You now hear decisions made with regard to the climate crisis in the news every day.  There is still a lot of talk and not enough action.  We need systemic change.  Already, the natural world – our life-support system – is not the same as the one you grew up in.  One game changer would be to make ecocide an international crime like genocide.  Another is to use the collectivism we already have. Here’s a page of Union statements on environmental action.  NEU members can join the mailing list for the NEU Climate Teachers Network by emailing  Ask your union what they can offer you.

So keep busting myths (links above) and teaching what the scientists tell us (more links above) and then your students might have a livable world where what you taught is at all relevant.

Go for it!

Edward Pickering-Symes


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