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Pod Corner: 'The Anti-Dread Climate Podcast'

ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:

Lots of environmental news can be hard to listen to. Maybe it leaves you with a feeling of doom, gloom and dread. Well, one podcast that meets you where you're at, it's called The Anti-Dread Climate Podcast from member station KCRW in Santa Monica. The podcast helps push away any climate anxiety by empowering you to make good decisions for the planet. Listeners ask questions about what they can do to help, and The Anti-Dread Climate Podcast gets the answers.

Today, the team answers a listener question about helping children who are just learning about the climate crisis. Here's Caleigh Wells, KCRW's climate reporter, and her co-host on the pod, Candice Dickens-Russell, from Friends of the LA River.

CALEIGH WELLS, BYLINE: OK, Candace, so question for you. When you are teaching kids, what is your method when you have to break some big, bad, scary climate news?

CANDICE DICKENS-RUSSELL, BYLINE: You know, there's actually guidelines for this that I like to follow, which is tell the truth.

WELLS: OK.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: We don't lie to them, right? We tell them the truth. But we don't do doom and gloom, like, oh, it's all bad. We're all going to die.

WELLS: OK.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Some people might think that is the truth, but, you know, we don't do the doom-and-gloom thing. The other thing I never do or try never to do is the unattainable, like, save the planet.

WELLS: Oh.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Like, I really don't like those sorts of, like, big messages that are too big for kids to wrap their arms around. I really want to give them something that's practical. That's what - that's how I like to approach it.

WELLS: OK. I'm really excited to lean more on your expertise because if we haven't made it obvious already, this is all about helping the kids.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Our listener this week is Stacy Miller (ph), and she works in IT for a health company out in Madison, Wis. She has two young daughters, so she is on board with teaching kids, but she wants to know...

STACY MILLER: What skills would be important for me to teach my kids to help weather future climate change?

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Yeah. She says her daughters already know a bit about helping the planet. They do things like recycling, et cetera. But she wants to do more activities with them after school that will prepare them for a changing environment.

MILLER: If they develop the skills now, then, you know, it would just be second nature to them as they get older.

WELLS: I'm excited we're doing this too because I've actually devoted several feature stories to this exact topic.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: And I've devoted a large chunk of my career to this exact topic.

WELLS: (Laughter) Yeah. So we're definitely ready to tackle this one.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: So you've done some stories about this?

WELLS: Yeah, a couple of them. I'm always struck by how powerful they are, talking to children about climate change. Oh, my gosh. There's something about how well-educated they are...

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Yeah.

WELLS: ...About this big, scary thing.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: So much more so than their adults in their lives.

WELLS: Or the adults, like me, when I was 10.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

WELLS: Yeah.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: I feel like, kids now, they have so much more access to information, which helps a lot.

WELLS: Yeah.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: We didn't have all of that, quite that much access to information. I certainly didn't because I'm quite a bit older than you. But I certainly didn't have that kind of access to information. My dad - I remember my dad driving me to the library because I would not shut up about photovoltaics. And he was like, here you go, you know. So there's a lot more that they have access to and is tangible for them to kind of be more knowledgeable in this area. But it also has to be tempered, I think, by adults who can help them make sense of some of that.

WELLS: Yeah.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Yeah.

WELLS: That totally makes sense to me. Man, I wish I were the kid who wanted to learn more about photovoltaics. I am not that cool.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Thanks, daddy.

WELLS: Yeah. I did this story a little over a year ago. What you're saying just now kind of resonates with me and reminds me of this. I sat in on this fifth-grade history class where they were discussing, you know, are the people in the U.S. doing a good job protecting the planet for future generations? And I asked them how they felt about it. And I got a smattering of answers.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Well, I don't like hearing about it. Like, I know I need to learn about it and stuff. But it's, like, really sad because a lot of big, like, companies and stuff, they don't care about it.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: I feel like we take it a bit more seriously than, like, some adults because we actually care about, like, having this earth, like, not having it turn into just, like, a wasteland. And, like, eventually, this is just going to end up in a way that kills us all.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: You know, this is so on brand for these younger generations...

WELLS: Yes. Yeah.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: ...Because they're actually kind of pissed in some ways, which I get that.

WELLS: Yeah.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: You know, I've got a 12-year-old. And she's just like, well, you all screwed it up. And I'm like, wait a minute.

WELLS: Yeah. I'm trying.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Let me point to the people who screwed it up.

WELLS: Yeah.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: They're a generation above me. But yeah. No, I hear that. I totally understand that sentiment of, like, oh, gosh, now we have to fix it. You ever have to come behind and clean up something you didn't mess up? It's a bitter moment.

WELLS: That's a good point.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: But it has to be done anyway.

WELLS: Yeah.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Yeah.

WELLS: You're right. It's the way I feel when I walk on a trail and I see litter, except it's not the trail, it's the whole world.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: The whole world.

WELLS: And I get sad because I didn't feel that way at 10. I wasn't worried that we were all going to die.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Right.

WELLS: I mean, we had conversations about the trees are getting cut down, and we need to recycle.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Sure.

WELLS: But it just felt like the stakes were not the same.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: It feels a lot more - like, the stakes do feel a lot higher.

WELLS: Yeah.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: But I think, again, they've got all that information.

WELLS: Yeah. No, that's a good point. I've actually talked to a couple experts about this, and one of them made this point about taking their concerns seriously and then answering the question, rather than just dismissing it.

ELIZABETH BECHARD: They need to know that they can talk to you about it without you sort of saying, oh, it's going to be fine or, oh, you know, that's too scary. I don't want to go there with you.

WELLS: That is Elizabeth Bechard. She's a senior policy analyst with a group called Moms Clean Air Force...

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Nice.

WELLS: ...Which is a nonprofit advocacy group that does exactly what it sounds like it does.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: I've heard this point before. And trying to minimize their fears doesn't make them less afraid. Oh, good. I'm going to go and have, like, a good night's sleep.

WELLS: Yeah.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: it just makes them feel like you're out of the loop. Like, OK, my parent or this older person I'm talking to doesn't know about this or doesn't care about this. And now I have even more responsibility on me because there's this void of people who are really working toward making this better.

WELLS: Yeah. It's scarier.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: It's much scarier.

WELLS: Like, there's one less person who's solving this problem that I'm raising.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: That's right.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Another thought here. Not all climate change conversations need to be bad news. So, you know, throw in the good news too. You don't have to convince kids to be afraid the same way that you might sometimes want to convince adults that they need to be afraid. That's what Jenny Silverstein told me. And she is a therapist. She's a social worker, and she's part of the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America.

JENNY SILVERSTEIN: It's really important that the conversations include not just solutions, but things that we can witness, things that we see, especially that kids see adults around them doing. It's like all these horrible things are happening, and there's all these adults out there who are really actively trying to make it better. And here's ways you can participate.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: What this is really speaking to is a set of values, right? A set of values that they learn now, practice now and then take with them. That's what we're all doing as parents. We're trying to pack that bag. So when they leave, they take these things with them.

WELLS: Yeah.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: And I think that really does it. If you take the actions that that you're taking, the actions that you're actually putting forth in your lives, and explain their relevance to your children. Yeah.

WELLS: Yeah. That makes sense to me. I did a story about a school that was sort of - was a great example of doing exactly this. They were composting their cafeteria waste on the property. And so instead of just putting it in the green bin and whisking it off to wherever...

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Sure.

WELLS: ...The effect that it had on the kids was profound because they were seeing...

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Yeah.

WELLS: ...What was happening to their food. Now, I have some sound from them. And I want you to compare these fifth-graders on the day that they harvested their school compost for the first time to the fifth-graders that we played earlier about, this is all going to end in a way that kills us all.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Got it.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: That's my orange chicken in there. Oh, my God. That's my food. Like, that's not just, like, any food. Somewhere in there is my food.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #4: It feels good that, like, you're doing something to help the planet instead of just sitting and watching it, like, get destroyed. Knowing I'm a part of something good just helps me sleep at night. If we can just work together, it's all going to be OK, and everything's going to work out fine.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Oh, my goodness. That warms my heart.

WELLS: I know.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: And I just want - I want all the parents and people who have small people in their lives out there to know that when you do things and you show your kids how to do practical things, it makes such a difference to them.

WELLS: I know. And, again, these were the same age as the kids that were feeling existential and really freaked out.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: I love that so much.

WELLS: They were just in two different mindsets. One was talking about how we were failing. And one was getting to participate in an example of how we were succeeding.

WELLS: That's right.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: That makes the difference.

WELLS: Yeah.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: It makes me think too of the Mr. Rogers principle. Like, look for the people who are helping.

WELLS: Yeah. Look for the helpers. Yes.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Because then you get to be one of the helpers. You're not just looking to see the helpers, but you're joining them. And that feels so amazing.

WELLS: Yeah. Oh, I like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DICKENS-RUSSELL: OK. Let's do some takeaways about this one.

WELLS: OK.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Stacy, how do you talk to kids about climate change without scaring them? First, start by validating their feelings. Telling them there's nothing to worry about doesn't make that fear go away.

WELLS: And then try to pepper in some good news. We're using more solar energy than we ever have, or there are more people driving EVs than there ever were before.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Right.

WELLS: Sharing the scary parts about climate change are really only worth doing if they feel hopeful that there's actually something that they can do about it, and then that makes the news much less daunting.

DICKENS-RUSSELL: Yeah. And then go do something with them that helps the planet. You're not only teaching them how to channel their fear into something positive, but they're watching you take action. And you're proving to them that adults are trying to protect the planet and giving them something to look forward to and to kind of hold on to in terms of their own values that they'll take with them as they grow.

LIMBONG: You've been listening to an episode of The Anti-Dread Climate Podcast from NPR member station KCRW in Santa Monica. Check it out for more answers to your climate questions, like what actions really make a difference, or whether it's time to buy an EV. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.