Ignoring young people’s climate change fears is a recipe for anxiety


Rachael Sharman, University of the Sunshine Coast and Patrick D. Nunn, University of the Sunshine Coast

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.


Thousands of school students across Australia are expected to join in the global protest today calling for action on climate change.

This isn’t the first time students in Australia have rallied against climate change – many took to the streets in March. But today is expected to be one of the biggest protests as they’ll be joined by others, including many workers.




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The participation of our school students is a sign of how seriously they see climate change. As the organising website says:

We are striking from school to tell our politicians to take our futures seriously and treat climate change for what it is – a crisis.

By the end of this century, average temperatures on the surface of our planet are predicted to be more than two degrees Celsius or higher than today. The average level of the ocean surface could be more than a metre higher. Such changes will challenge the ways we live now.

There are plenty of evidence-based projections of future climate readily available, such as the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But then there are denial, scepticism and misconceptions about climate change that confuse people and create unnecessary fear and anxiety, especially in school-age students.

Young people are still developing their ability to critically reason, contextualise and realistically assess risk. They are vulnerable to emotion-charged information and less likely to understand the possible agendas of people with differing ideas.

Fear and anxiety about climate change

Anxiety is a form of fear we experience when a threat is not immediate or catastrophic but has the potential to be so. It can be useful when it mobilises us to act on a problem.

Two important criteria underpin both fear and anxiety. You find yourself faced with a potentially dangerous situation that appears to be uncontrollable and unpredictable.

Either unpredictability or uncontrollability on their own can lead to a fear or anxiety response. In concert together they form a perfect storm of stress and confusion.

Looking at climate change through this emotional lens, we can certainly see the element of uncontrollability. Some climate scientists and activists believe we have started a chain reaction that is almost irreversible.

Most climate scientists are careful not to talk about predictions of future climate and favour model-informed projections. That still gives us an idea of the nature of our future world, at least for most of the rest of this century.

This knowledge encourages the perception that we can control or mitigate certain aspects of climate change. From a human point of view, this brings us some relief.

But the anxiety related to the impending climate change should not be underestimated. Some researchers list it as a top concern for population mental health.

It is therefore not surprising that many of our younger generations feel particularly anxious about the impacts of climate change.

On the one hand, teenagers are especially sensitive to fear-based messages as they have a tendency to catastrophise – they imagine the worst possible outcome.

For example, in the last century, it was the threat of a nuclear war that caused anxiety in many children.

Fast forward to today and climate change is seen as the next big threat for future generations.

How to ease the anxiety

Today’s school students know they will inherit the fallout of climate change. They will live to see their children and grandchildren doing the same. So they have reason to be concerned, and anxiety may mobilise useful action.

So what can we reasonably say to teens who are feeling shut out of the debate and experiencing heightened anxiety about their future?

Adaptation is one of the most valuable skills of the human species. Understand that we can and must adapt to the impacts of climate change.




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Climate change isn’t new so we will need to work together to care for the Earth and one another. Importantly, taking an interest in understanding why and how things happen helps us to manage them (rather than sticking our collective heads in the sand and engaging in denial).

While there is genuine cause for some anxiety, a fear reaction that is out of place or disproportionate to the actual threat serves very little actual purpose other than leaving a person in great distress.

Listening to the valid concerns of school students, and engaging them in discussions about the mitigation and adaptation strategies we will need to adopt, will go some way towards easing their fears and anxieties.The Conversation

Rachael Sharman, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of the Sunshine Coast and Patrick D. Nunn, Professor of Geography, School of Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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You can help track 4 billion bogong moths with your smartphone – and save pygmy possums from extinction



Healesville Sanctuary, Werribee Open Range Zoo

Sally Sherwen, University of Melbourne and Therésa Jones, University of Melbourne

Each year, from September to mid-October, the tiny and very precious mountain pygmy-possums arise from their months of hibernation under the snow and begin feasting on billions of bogong moths that migrate from Queensland to Victoria’s alpine region.

But for the past two springs, moth numbers have collapsed from around 4.4 billion in alpine areas to an almost undetectable number of individuals. And the mountain pygmy-possums went hungry, dramatically affecting breeding success among the last remaining 2,000 that live in the wild.




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This year’s migration of bogong moths to the possums’ alpine home is crucial for the critically endangered mountain pygmy-possums. That’s why we’re asking you to do two simple things: turn off your lights at night, and if you see a bogong moth, take a picture.

What’s happened to the moths?

Bogong moths make an epic migration through Australia every spring.
Credit: Donald Hobern

We don’t know exactly why the moths are not making it to their summer alpine destination. It’s likely extreme drought, pesticides and changes in agricultural practices are all major factors. However, scientists believe that because moths use both the Earth’s magnetic field and visual cues on the horizon to navigate, light pollution from urban centres can confuse the moths and stall their journey.

Some of the greatest beacons on their path are Parliament House and Canberra’s bright surrounds. Both parliamentarians and the general public are being asked to turn unnecessary outdoor lights off from September 1 to October 31, as part of the Lights Off for Moths campaign.

Artificial night lighting has dramatically changed the nocturnal environment. In urban environments, the soft glow of moonlight is overpowered by bright streetlights, security lights and car headlamps. These light sources can be more than 1,000 times as bright as moonlight, and their biological impact is increasingly visible and widespread.

One of the most obvious impacts of artificial light at night is that it can attract animals (sometimes fatally). While a “moth to a flame” may be somewhat poetic, when one moth becomes hundreds, or potentially thousands, the ecological impact may be catastrophic. Current global lighting practices may be creating this very scenario.

Recent evidence links the presence of artificial light at night with large-scale deaths and shifts in nocturnal migration patterns in birds. In insects, artificial night lighting disrupts nocturnal pollination networks and is strongly linked with observed mass declines in insect (and particularly moth) populations.

No moths means hungry possums

When a species like bogong moths decline, it has huge ramifications. Insects in particular are vital pillars supporting whole ecosystems – without bees and other insect pollinators, for example, we risk the extinction of our flowering plants. Many birds, reptiles and mammals depend on insects as part of their diet.

Tiny mountain pygmy possums, like many other animals, depend on the annual bogong moth migration for food.
Tim Bawden

For mountain pygmy possums, the fatty, nutrient-rich bounty of bogong moths arrives right as they are waking up in the spring. They are one of the only Australian mammals that hibernate, and can spend up to seven months sleeping under the alpine snow.

The possums awake ravenously hungry, and devour the bogong moths to regain crucial fat stores. Without the moths there at the right time, the possums struggle to secure enough energy to breed successfully.

Snap that moth

Alongside the Lights Off for Moths campaign, Zoos Victoria has launched Moth Tracker, an app that allows Australians to photograph and log any potential sightings of migrating bogong moths.

Moth Tracker, which can be accessed through any laptop or smartphone, is adapted from the popular Southern Right Whale watching app in collaboration with Federation University and Victorian conversation network SWIFFT.

Bogong moths migrate from their winter breeding grounds throughout Queensland, New South Wales and western Victoria in search of cooler climates for the spring and summer in the Victorian and NSW Alpine regions where the mountain pygmy-possums live.

Before they become moths, the larvae look like tiny, shiny brown capsules and are commonly referred to as cutworm. Migratory bogong moths are dark brown, with two lighter spots on each wing. They are small, only about the length of a paper clip. During the day they’re often seen grouped together like roof tiles. At night, they are more active and flying around.

If you see a bogong moth (or something you think might be a bogong month), we need you to take a photograph and log the location, day and time with Moth Tracker. Scientists will use the data to determine whether any moths are making their way to the precious, and very hungry, possums that are just starting to wake from their winter hibernation.




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The Victorian Mountain Pygmy-possum Recovery Team, together with partner organisations, is also investigating options for interventions in the wild if needed. These may include a world-first airdropping of “bogong balls” to feed the hungry possums, as well as improving habitat connectivity and captive measures to support populations through the breeding season.

But with unnecessary outdoor lights switched off and citizen scientists looking out for bogong moths, there is still hope for the mountain pygmy-possums.The Conversation

Sally Sherwen, Director Wildlife Conservation and Science, Zoos Victoria, University of Melbourne and Therésa Jones, Lecturer in Evolution and Behaviour, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: what happens when magnetic north and true north align?



Very rarely, depending on where you are in the world, your compass can actually point to true north.
https://www.shutterstock.com

Paul Wilkes, CSIRO

At some point in recent weeks, a once-in-a-lifetime event happened for people at Greenwich in the United Kingdom.

Magnetic compasses at the historic London area, known as the home of the Prime Meridian, were said to have pointed directly at the north geographic pole for the first time in 360 years.

This means that, for someone at Greenwich, magnetic north (the direction in which a compass needle points) would have been in exact alignment with geographic north.

Geographic north (also called “true north”) is the direction towards the fixed point we call the North Pole.

Magnetic north is the direction towards the north magnetic pole, which is a wandering point where the Earth’s magnetic field goes vertically down into the planet.

The north magnetic pole is currently about 400km south of the north geographic pole, but can move to about 1,000km away.

The lines of the Earth’s magnetic field come vertically out of the Earth at the south magnetic pole and go vertically down into the Earth at the north magnetic pole.
Nasky/Shutterstock

How do the norths align?

Magnetic north and geographic north align when the so-called “angle of declination”, the difference between the two norths at a particular location, is 0°.

Declination is the angle in the horizontal plane between magnetic north and geographic north. It changes with time and geographic location.

The declination angle varies between -90° and +90°.
Author provided

On a map of the Earth, lines along which there is zero declination are called agonic lines. Agonic lines follow variable paths depending on time variation in the Earth’s magnetic field.

Currently, zero declination is occurring in some parts of Western Australia, and will likely move westward in coming years.

That said, it’s hard to predict exactly when an area will have zero declination. This is because the rate of change is slow and current models of the Earth’s magnetic field only cover a few years, and are updated at roughly five-year intervals.

At some locations, alignment between magnetic north and geographic north is very unlikely at any time, based on predictions.

The ever-changing magnetic poles

Most compasses point towards Earth’s north magnetic pole, which is usually in a different place to the north geographic pole. The location of the magnetic poles is constantly changing.

Earth’s magnetic poles exist because of its magnetic field, which is produced by electric currents in the liquid part of its core. This magnetic field is defined by intensity and two angles, inclination and declination.

The relationship between geographic location and declination is something people using magnetic compasses have to consider. Declination is the reason a compass reading for north in one location is different to a reading for north in another, especially if there is considerable distance between both locations.




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Bush walkers have to be mindful of declination. In Perth, declination is currently close to 0° but in eastern Australia it can be up to 12°. This difference can be significant. If a bush walker following a magnetic compass disregards the local value of declination, they may walk in the wrong direction.

The polarity of Earth’s magnetic poles has also changed over time and has undergone pole reversals. This was significant as we learnt more about plate tectonics in the 1960s, because it linked the idea of seafloor spreading from mid-ocean ridges to magnetic pole reversals.

Geographic north

Geographic north, perhaps the more straightforward of the two, is the direction that points straight at the North Pole from any location on Earth.

When flying an aircraft from A to B, we use directions based on geographic north. This is because we have accurate geographic locations for places and need to follow precise routes between them, usually trying to minimise fuel use by taking the shortest route. All GPS navigation uses geographic location.




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Geographic coordinates, latitude and longitude, are defined relative to Earth’s spheroidal shape. The geographic poles are at latitudes of 90°N (North Pole) and 90°S (South Pole), whereas the Equator is at 0°.

An alignment at Greenwich

For hundreds of years, declination at Greenwich was negative, meaning compass needles were pointing west of true north.

At the time of writing this article I used an online calculator to discover that, at the Greenwich Observatory, the Earth’s magnetic field currently has a declination just above zero, about +0.011°.

The average rate of change in the area is about 0.19° per year, which at Greenwich’s latitude represents about 20km per year. This means next year, locations about 20km west of Greenwich will have zero declination.

It’s impossible to say how long compasses at Greenwich will now point east of true north.

Regardless, an alignment after 360 years at the home of the Prime Meridian is undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.The Conversation

Paul Wilkes, Senior Research Geophysicist, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keeping the city cool isn’t just about tree cover – it calls for a commons-based climate response



Where’s the shade? Trees are not an immediate or whole answer to keeping cool.
Cameron Tonkinwise, Author provided

Abby Mellick Lopes, Western Sydney University and Cameron Tonkinwise, University of Technology Sydney

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.


A recent report by the Greater Sydney Commission singles out urban heat as one of four priority areas given our coming climate. It identifies tree canopy as the top response for reducing city temperatures and delivering amenity. However, the public conversation about urban heat often misses the complex relationship between trees, people and the built environment, which challenges this response.

In soon-to-be-published research supported by the Landcom University Roundtable we found that responding to a more extreme climate requires new social practices and new relationships with the commons. Commons are the spaces, resources and knowledge shared by a community, who are, ideally, involved in the regeneration and care of those commons. Trees are an important social commons, but they also present multiple challenges.




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Closing our doors to the great outdoors

For one, trees are an outdoor amenity, but we are spending more and more time indoors. For those who can afford it, air conditioning delivers cooling in the privacy of your own home or car – no need for trees.

However, staying in cool bedrooms and car rides mean less time outdoors and with others, which isn’t ideal for human health and well-being.




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Air conditioning also uses more fossil-fuel-based energy, which generates more greenhouse gas emissions. The result is more climate change.

Mixed feelings about trees

As the Greater Sydney Commission report makes clear, tree canopy in Greater Sydney is roughly proportional to household wealth. The “leafy suburbs” are the wealthier ones. This means tree planting is an important investment in less wealthy parts of the city, which experience more extreme heat days.

Number of days over 35°C recorded in various parts of Greater Sydney (July 2018-June 2019).
© State of NSW through the Greater Sydney Commission



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However, research also shows people have mixed feelings about trees. In comparison to the neat shrubbery and easily maintained sunny plazas we’ve become used to in our cities, trees can be “messy” and “unpredictable”. Leaf litter can be slippery and natives like eucalypts, with their pendulous leaves, provide limited shade. People worry about large trees falling over or dropping branches.

Trees are often at the centre of disputes between neighbours. They can also be perceived as a security problem – if trees reduce visibility they might provide cover for wrongdoers.

In addition, insurance companies can charge a premium if a property is deemed at risk of damage by large trees. As we experience more extreme weather, laws on vegetation clearing are becoming more risk-averse.




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What trees where and when?

Urban development tends to give priority to roads and delivering the maximum number of dwellings on sites. This leaves little space for trees, which need to fit into crowded footpaths with ever-changing infrastructures. For example, will larger trees interfere with 5G?

When juggling priorities in the streetscape, trees often lose out.




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It’s an obvious point, but trees take time to grow. It can take many years for a planted sapling to become a shade tree. In that time there will be no shelter from the heat.

Also in that growing period, which can sometimes be unpredictable, trees need to be nurtured, especially in times of drought. And, once the tree is mature, fingers crossed that extreme weather events do not undo all those years of waiting.

So, while increasing tree canopy sounds like an obvious solution, trees are in fact a complex social challenge. In our research, we point to ways some of these tree-related tensions can be managed.

Shade in the meantime

A structure to support fast-growing vines has been built on one of Darwin’s hottest streets, but even these will take some time to grow.
Darwin We Love It/Facebook

Shade is an important civic resource. Large, mature trees with spreading canopy provide the best shade, so strategic construction bans and tree preservation orders are an obvious first step.

However, if shady canopy is decades off, we need to think about other, creative ways to provide shade in the meantime to ensure, for example, that people of diverse abilities can walk their city in reasonable comfort. This might include temporary shade structures such as awnings, bus shelters and fast-growing vine-trellised walkways (if there is space to create troughs for soil and the structure doesn’t cause access problems).

And, as the Cancer Council consistently reminds us, we all need to adopt more climate-defensive clothing.




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An important alternative is to follow our regional neighbours and start to populate parks and other public spaces at night. This suggests a need for removable shade, so we can take part in activities like stargazing.

Cultivating an intergenerational commons

Mature trees can die back or die altogether, so other trees should be maturing to take their place. Usually, experts design and maintain landscapes for others to enjoy.

However, users of the cooling services of parks could be invited into the process of planning and realising landscape designs. This would give them a say on the trees of which they have “shared custody”. Planting for succession can create an intergenerational sense of ownership over a shared place.

Current planning practices tend to ignore wind and solar patterns. The result is urban forms that make heat worse by prioritising comfortable private interior spaces over the commons of public space. Designing cool cities means using trees, water and buildings to create cool corridors that work with cooling breezes – or even summon these in still, heat-trapping basins like Western Sydney.




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These few examples point to new ways of living with trees as social commons, but they also point to new forms of commoning – collaborative forms of care and governance that invite people to adopt new social practices better suited to living well in the coming climate.

It is a positive step that state development agencies like Landcom aim to demonstrate global standards of liveability, resilience, inclusion, affordability and environmental quality. In so doing, they initiate transitions to these more commons-based ways of living.


In addition to the authors of this article, the Cooling the Commons research team includes: Professor Katherine Gibson, Dr Louise Crabtree, Dr Stephen Healy and Dr Emma Power from the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) at Western Sydney University (WSU), and Emeritus Professor Helen Armstrong from Queensland University of Technology (QUT).The Conversation

Abby Mellick Lopes, Senior Lecturer in Design, Western Sydney University and Cameron Tonkinwise, Professor, School of Design, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.