Child safety and climate change: seeking protection when our safety is at risk in our global home

Photo by Jérémie Crémer on Unsplash

Our homes are meant to be a safe place. They are meant to be the place where we retreat to rejuvenate, restore, and reflect. For some children in Australia, this is not the case as they face or are at risk of facing abuse and harm living at home. But, in an age of climate crisis, all children are now being confronted with living in a “global home” that no longer feels like a safe place.

Harm in the global home

Let’s consider that Mother Earth is a child’s greater home. A clean unpolluted sky provides fresh air to breathe and a roof over their heads, the loving earth provides shelter and space to grow and develop, the trees provide shade and protection, the rivers and waterways provide nourishment, and sunlight provides warmth.

When these natural elements are removed from a child or are being damaged, then all human beings as children of Mother Earth are either being harmed or at risk of being harmed.

Who is responsible for providing protection and care for us when our planetary environment is unsafe?

Are our federal and state governments, who are either failing to take effective climate change action or turning a blind eye to environmental devastation, the real perpetrators of this new form of harm and abuse facing us – Mother Earth’s children?

If we are concerned due to climate change in our global home, who or what authority can we contact to notify them of the harm – our governments, the police, the United Nations, Mother Earth herself, or even God, Lord Buddha, Rama, Allah, or some other Supreme Being?

When Mother Earth is no longer safe, we need to begin thinking about who becomes our provider, sustainer, and life-giver.

As children of Mother Earth, if we reported our concerns to state and federal governments (and many of us have already done so through protesting, signing petitions, or writing to local members and so on), then we are expecting those who have caused the problem to also investigate and resolve the problem.

And if they don’t?

It can cause us much frustration, grief, hopelessness, and anxiety.

Climate anxiety: the new trauma

Recent surveys and research are revealing that climate anxiety, or eco-anxiety, is increasing. Young people are fearing their future, climate scientists are suffering from ecological grief, and even Inuit hunters in Northern Canada are alarmed about changes in their local ecosystem and food sources. With climate anxiety on the rise, scientists and health experts are declaring that the climate emergency is also a mental health emergency.

Climate anxiety is different from other forms of anxiety. A catastrophic natural event (for example, a fire, flood, cyclone, or earthquake) in one location can be witnessed by millions of people around the world in almost real-time. And as a result of technology, including mobile devices, social media and the Internet, images and details of these events can spread like a virus throughout the minds of many. With such vivid imagery, the reality of the environmental crisis that humanity faces is psychologically damaging thereby leading to intense anxiety about our future – especially for children and young people.

Climate change trauma can happen to all of us

Whether we are rich or poor, or employed or unemployed, educated or not, any one of us can fall victim to climate anxiety. The causes of this type of trauma extend beyond our sphere of influence; what has happened to Mother Earth and the planet on which we live is outside of our control. The globalised nature of the climate crisis is multi-incidental and could affect millions of people.

Are our governments and health services prepared for what may be required to support those who experience climate anxiety? Is humanity staring down the barrel of not only an environmental crisis but also a massive mental health emergency?

What can we, as children of this global planet, do when our natural home living here on earth becomes unsafe? Where can we go to find safety?

Seeking refuge from climate anxiety through meditation

One of the most powerful tools to assist us to find inner safety in times of external crises is meditation or mindfulness practices. Meditation is an ancient science, which is gaining credibility in the medical and science communities for its powerful effect in changing the way the brain functions. According to the American National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, meditation “can physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviours.”

The Cambridge dictionary defines meditation as “the act of giving your attention to one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.” There are many forms of meditation available to be learned, and it doesn’t have to be aligned with any religious or spiritual belief system. Another way of describing meditation is a method of concentrated awareness on the present moment or an observation of thoughts and emotions.

Benefits of meditation

As further research is conducted on meditation, particularly in the field of neuroscience, more and more benefits of its practice are being discovered and proclaimed. One of the benefits of taking care of our mind through meditating and mindfulness practices is to help alleviate eco-anxiety, or climate anxiety.

In the same way that we charge an electric car before we drive it, daily meditation is like charging the mind in our body-car before we start our day. Unfortunately, very few of us are taught as children how to properly care for the mind. From an early age, we learn that we must brush our teeth every morning and evening. As adults, we clean and floss our teeth without questioning why. It becomes a habit. We accept that it is good dental hygiene. Similarly, meditation is good mental hygiene, except we haven’t learned this in modern society and therefore it has not become part of our daily routine.

The beauty of meditation is that anyone can do it, regardless of their physical disposition – from the young to the old, from the fit to the not-so-fit. It doesn’t need to cost anything, nor involve any strenuous activity. If you can consciously watch your breath, then you are meditating. To underestimate the potential of meditation is to undervalue your capabilities as a human being.

Though our future certainly doesn’t look secure, we must remain positive. By taking care of our minds and strengthening our mental wellbeing, we can ease our worry and fears and start taking individual conscious action to help our environment.

Copyright © James Golding and Leisa Golding 2020

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