Tackling Eco Anxiety with Climate Action

Posted: 02 June 2021

In a research study last year, we asked students across the Round Square community to identify the greatest problem faced in our world today. An overwhelming 61% identified Climate Change and the destruction of nature (with the next highest answer, from 9% of respondents, being Inequality & Discrimination).

With eco-anxiety on the rise, the questions is not so much whether Climate Change is an issue, but rather: How can we encourage and empower students to make a difference on issues relating to Climate Change? Can we shift the narrative from one of helpless despair to one of empowered action, by focusing, not on the problem itself, but on the positive action that can be taken, and is already being taken, to collectively address that problem?

As one respondent in our survey put it: “To combat climate change, a global topic, there needs to be a global effort which means countries, nationalities, genders, and races need to be accepting of each other in order to work together.”

This begins with building students’ understanding of the issue and its impacts at a global level, but also of the similarities and differences in how climate change affects us locally, and the many ways in which local and individual personal efforts contribute towards positive action on a global scale. Across the Round Square Community this is being approached in many different ways.

In January 2021 a Round Square Conference, hosted online by Chittagong Grammar School in Bangladesh brought together students from 51 schools in 21 countries to tackle the topic of “Climate Action – Now or Never”. In advance of the conference, students carried out their own research into issues and positive actions relating to Climate Change in their part of the world, and presented these during the conference.

Topics explored, and shared, included global warming, ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity, and the endangerment of oceans and forests. Students presented on issues of over-population, urban sprawl and waste-management. They discussed food security, water scarcity and air pollution. This process demonstrated how seemingly different local issues are in fact interconnected and part of the same bigger global issue.

Students discussed interventions that require change at a political or institutional level, as well as the need for individual action. In support of endangered oceans, students from Buckingham Browne and Nichols School, USA, called on us to “promote and use reusable water bottles and utensils” and to “educate people on how to properly dispose of their waste”. On waste management, students from Cadet College in Pakistan shared their initiative to clean up a local tourism site with installation of bins and education for visitors about proper waste disposal.

Issues of waste disposal were cited as a negative effect of overpopulation by King’s Academy Jordan, and in considering overpopulation, All Saints College in Nainital felt that “Education is the key, empower women, assuring equal rights, treatment and opportunities for the girl child”. The Indian School Al Ghubra made the connection between overpopulation and Urban Sprawl, and on the topic of Urban Sprawl, KC Public School identified Smart Growth solutions.

Students continued to make connections between urban sprawl, increased pollution, loss of biodiversity, water and food scarcity, overpopulation, and other topics discussed, with the threads between their presentation themes becoming clear as more groups presented. In this way, the conference delegations Illustrated the interdependence of issues relating to environmental stewardship and sustainability, understanding that whilst these issues may look different in different parts of the world, they are connected nonetheless.

You can listen to some of the students’ presentations HERE

RS Virtual Conferences enable students to discuss challenging topics with students their own age from across the world, which has proved invaluable these past months, in building international understanding without the ability to travel. Alongside larger Conferences, weekly RS Zoom Calls have connected students from 20-25 schools across the RS community through a live digital “Postcard”, sent by hosting students to their peers in other countries, on a topic of their choice.

On topics relating to Climate Change, students from St Mary’s Colchester, UK reminded us that “No Man is an Island” and asked participants to weigh up the thrills and threats of our natural world. Students from Park City Day School, USA challenged fellow students to consider the impacts of their actions on the ‘Sea Around US’, whilst Ryde School on the Isle of Wight, UK explained the Circular Economy and led a discussion about how it can work in a school.

Students from St Mildred’s Lightbourne School led a Zoom Postcard on Sustainable Leadership in which Sihua from Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy in the USA said, “Sustainable leadership means you are leading and affecting others’ actions and thinking to protect our environment.” Shashank from Sunbeam School Lahartara in India felt it, “is all about adopting a responsible approach to the way that we lead, stopping to think about the wider impact of our actions on society and the environment.” Isabella from San Silvestre in Peru, felt that, “a sustainable leader takes action and responsibility upon the challenges the world is facing in order to find a better approach to deal with the issue… Sustainable leadership allows the world to be a better place as people are taking the initiative to make a change.”

Another programme that channels students’ concerns about the environment towards positive Climate Action is the Round Square IDEALS Challenge for a Spirit of Environmentalism. Launched in May 2020, this six-part programme challenges students to consider how our behaviours impact the environment, and how, by making changes to those behaviours, we might change our impact. The ultimate challenge question asks students to examine and quantify their personal practices and behaviours, and create a personal sustainability action-plan for the future.

Within these plans, students have made personal pledges to change behaviours. For example, amongst the goals set by James from St Stithians Boys’ College, South Africa, he aims to “walk to school and home every day”, and to “donate things that I do not use anymore”. Naitik from Vivek High School plans to “limit use of plastic by investing in reusable items and staying away from throw-away plastic items”. Yifei Zong from Beijing Concord College says “turn off the lights, try to choose energy saving products, do not cut off or turn off the power when using electrical appliances,” and Jadeid from Chittagong Grammar School “will try to choose locally produced food over imported ones as this decreases the carbon footprint of the food”.

These are just a few snapshots from hundreds of examples shared by students taking part in the challenge. You can access the Round Square Spirit of Environmentalism Challenge HERE.

Alongside the Spirit of Environmentalism Challenge, Round Square has joined up with WaterBear, an interactive streaming platform dedicated to the future of our planet, to challenge students to share inspirational stories and ideas through planning a documentary film that celebrates positive stories of climate action and eco activism in their local community. You can link to the Round Square with WaterBear Challenge HERE.

Through the combination of these initiatives, and many more international collaborations and classroom-connections between Round Square schools, the RS network is pulling together to offer students a global context to their local climate action initiatives. In this way we aim to build students’ understanding of how their collective contributions and individual actions can add up to make a significant difference to a global issue.

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