Wednesday Wisdom

March 08, 2023

Alleviating Eco-Angst

By Dr Cassie Rhodes

Alleviating Eco-Angst


Last Saturday, I had every intention of spending the day shopping; an activity that I view as a form of relaxation and as a means of taking my mind off the working week. However, this time I paused before I headed out, remembering a podcast interview that I recently recorded with Dr Verity Jones, and thought twice about my consumption!

Dr Jones is one of those people you really wished you lived next door to. She’s incredibly passionate about the environment, vastly knowledgeable and a real-life role model for how we could/should be living. She is an Associate Professor in UWE Bristol’s School of Education and Childhood and her research focuses on pathways to social and environmental justice. She has worked with charities including Friends of the Earth, Fashion Revolution and the Centre for Alternative Technology. Dr Jones has developed insights into pedagogies of hope in the face of the climate and ecological emergency and has highlighted the importance of arts-based practices to support sustainable education in the UK and India. So she knows her stuff!

She taught me lots of things that I wasn’t really aware of, or perhaps even subconsciously avoided considering. Did you know, for example, that fashion is the third largest manufacturing industry globally, after only automation and oil? It accounts for around 10% of global carbon emissions, and causes 20% of waste water worldwide, some of which pollutes waterways with dyes, chemicals and microplastics. It supports the wide scale use of artificial pesticides and fertilisers – in fact, between 10% and 20% of pesticides used globally are related to fashion. Dr Jones told me that 93% of brands don’t pay workers a living wage. The manufacturing of textiles and clothes often involves dangerous conditions, excessively long hours, and little by way of unionisation to protect workers. Shockingly, 500 billion dollars worth of unsold clothing stock is dumped or burned each year. Up to 70% of clothing donated in Western countries (much of which is never worn) ends up in a global clothing trade with tonnes of garments ending up in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some items are sold, whilst others are packed off to dumps, out of sight, out of mind.

Talking to Dr Jones really made me reflect on home habits that could do with new thought. In fact, it stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider my Saturday shopping trip for clothing I didn’t need! Why do I feel motivated to purchase similar items again and again when I already own several? Why do I always simply look at the brand, rather than first consider the circumstances under which garments are made? Why am I inclined to think about upgrading a technical device when this one works perfectly well and does the job? Why don’t I try to be more sensible when it comes to washing clothes? No, they don’t all need to be cleaned at 40 degrees and they don’t always need a machine wash after every single wear. Why do I choose that £3.50 birthday card covered in glitter for a friend when I could opt for an attractive paperless one? Isn’t it the thought that matters after all?

You can see that the interview inspired me to think differently and a little more flexibly and encouraged me to ponder on what I am modelling and teaching my children.


How do young people feel about climate change and fast fashion? To what extent have their opinions been heard? You might be surprised to know that their voices have often been left out of research in this area.

A recent survey in Britain, commissioned by Sky News, reported that a quarter of adult Britons are unwilling to change key habits to help tackle climate change. 69% of those polled said that they were not personally affected by climate change. However, this survey did not ask the opinions of anyone under the age of 18. In response, a similar survey was undertaken with 1170 young people (7-18 year olds) from across Britain. Their responses were published in the Hear Our Voice report, authored by Dr Jones and colleagues.

So what did they find? Firstly, young people are far more confident than us adults in their understanding of certain terms and issues relating to climate change. This includes carbon emissions, greenhouse gases, renewable energy and ecological footprints. The majority of young people surveyed (72%) are willing to support key habits in reducing climate change, compared to 62% of adults. These changes include not driving new diesel and petrol cars and paying more for flights, meat and heating homes. 82% of young people asked support a shift away from our reliance on fossil-fuelled power. A majority of young people recognise the importance of political leaders in the mitigation of climate change, yet they don’t appear to be familiar with some of the important decisions that are being made. They often have little knowledge of political meetings such as COP26, the G7 Summit or who the current political leader for climate change is.

Interestingly, research suggests that most young people don’t have confidence in their knowledge of ‘fast fashion’ and lack knowledge about the huge social and environmental impact of this industry. That’s not to say that no schools are covering this material. As a small anecdote, on a shopping trip with my teen last year, I suggested buying new jeans, but he refused the pair I suggested, citing the fact he had learned in school about the environmentally unfriendly processes used to white wash them (something I knew nothing about).

Of course, clothing cost is a real and important consideration for the majority of families. The pressure of simply not buying these cheap garments may well feel unattainable. Perhaps we could consider disrupting the fast fashion process in other ways, by wearing our clothes for longer, learning mending skills, gifting old clothes to friends and family (rather than putting them in charity bags) and washing our clothes less (do the sniff test!)? It’s also a good idea to evaluate fast fashion ‘eco’ schemes for greenwashing. The Fashion Revolution website features an annually updated transparency index, which shows how well large companies are doing in terms of sustainability and environmental impact. To find out more, why not follow Sustainable Fashion Week? The first celebration of its kind, it aims to reimagine our collective relationship with clothing and envision a fashion industry that is joyful, whilst also being regenerative, harm-free and having only a positive impact on people and planet. It’s not happening until September, but the website is live now and features a useful resources section. Why not ask your children what sustainable ideas they can come up with?

The geography syllabus (certainly in England) requires schools to focus on issues of trade and many schools choose to focus on fairtrade. Dr Jones suggests that perhaps a change in tack might be considered? Clothing holds an almost uniquely intimate position in our lives and it can provide an immediate and tangible hook to draw children’s interest in lessons (or in conversations at home). We can all look at the labels in our garments to find out what they are made from and where they were produced; a great opening into a discussion about ways in which we could all support more sustainable supply chains.

In fact, interested teachers should take a look at Dr Jones’s work on ‘Sustainable Threads’ – a research study involving 150 families, which led to a new collection of free lesson plans for Key Stages Two and Three geography on sustainable fashion and the climate crisis. The lessons encourage learners to develop critical thinking skills and question information about the clothes they wear, nudging them to become active decision-makers and responsible consumers. Extension ideas allow children the opportunity to practise mending, and consider the challenges of making and working with specific materials. Importantly, the lessons encourage children to reflect on their own wellbeing and signpost positive actions, which can address potential worries about climate crisis and ecological change.


There has been much chatter in the media about the impact of social media, exam pressure or the effects of lockdown on children’s wellbeing, but what about the impact of the climate crisis on their precious mental health? Feelings of eco-anxiety (variously described as ‘eco-empathy’ or ‘eco-emotional responses’) are increasing.

Children’s responses to climate change range from very small worries and concerns, to severe mental health concerns, impacting on sleep and eating. Young people often report feeling a significant burden of responsibility for making positive changes to ‘save the world’, something which can cause understandable and quite rational feelings of anxiety. The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ website states that over 57% of child and adolescent psychiatrists in England are seeing children and young people distressed about the climate and state of the environment. In 2020, the organisation even launched a resource to support young people and their parents to manage fears and anxiety about the environment. Last year, ACAMH (the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health devoted an entire journal edition to the subject of ‘Child and Teen Mental Health in the Global Ecological Crisis’. As parents and educators, we need to validate how our children might be feeling about the challenges that our planet faces and, at the same time, try to help them navigate the pressure of solving these crises.

So what can we do? What does the evidence suggest is beneficial? As Dr Jones notes, knowing what actions authorities are taking is essential to lowering levels of anxiety and reducing a tendency for young people to feel that the onus is on them to sort the problems out by themselves. Talking about climate change at home and developing climate change pedagogies that support young people in learning about key government targets and challenges is important. We need to emphasise that as individuals, we are part of a complex and much larger system for change.

But it’s not all about policy and large-scale action. Believe it not, spending time in nature is essential to countering some of these worries. Having a connection to nature is proven to be excellent for our wellbeing. There are innumerable ways we can encourage our children to engage with the environment around us. Apps, such as iNaturalist, are a great way for adults and teens to share their observations of the natural world and really consider what is going on around them. Younger children might enjoy receiving Friends of the Earth’s Planet Protector pack or considering how to encourage more bees into your garden (schools can become bee-friendly too!).

Reading about nature can also help and the books that we have in our homes and classrooms are vital. Dr Jones has recently worked on an interesting study which examined how reading climate fiction (particularly that which features plants) can help to develop an empathy for nature that we need to harbour.

It can be hard to know which books to choose. When parenting younger children for example, Dr Seuss’s The Lorax is an excellent eco story, but it does put a lot of emphasis on the responsibilities of one child. For some, this might aggravate worries about what they can do personally or add to a feeling of burden. It’s important to engage with these stories critically, unpicking who is responsible for enacting change and lessening the weight of responsibility from individual children. You might find this list helpful.

What about the quality of climate education that pupils receive at school? Traditionally, this topic is confined to geography or science lessons and emphasises the sharing of fast facts. Research shows that a more effective approach for schools to take is to establish whether there are any misunderstandings or misconceptions that need to be teased out and pay close attention to the emotional impact of the (pretty scary) issues being discussed. It’s vital to allow time to work through children’s feelings and provide a sense of hope by identifying opportunities to engage in appropriate action for change. Secondary schools interested in some free Key Stage Three teaching resources on the climate and biodiversity crisis, climate injustice, solutions to the climate crisis and eco-anxiety should visit the Friends of the Earth website.

Avoiding initiatives that are ‘tokenistic’ is sensible, as is ensuring that environmental initiatives are actually actioned across the school community. Eco-councils are clearly an effective way of bringing in pupil voice, but are children’s suggestions ever acted upon? Can we facilitate getting children’s opinions and thoughts to those in power? Post letters written in English lessons to local politicians, invite decision-makers into your school and let children engage them in healthy debate.

Young people might have access to digital media that amplifies scary stories about climate change, or friends who don’t have a full grasp of the facts. Only this week, a friend’s young daughter was deeply upset and worried when peers told her that a new and controversial oil field in Alaska (the Willow Project) would lead to the world ending in twenty years! It necessitated some speedy fact-checking and a discussion about the positive steps that many people are already taking to protect our planet.

At school, try to ensure that your setting promotes myth busting and showcases good news stories to help find balance. For example, we could draw children’s attention to a new treaty for the high seas, which protects oceans outside of national boundaries.

You might know that I’m really not the biggest fan of TikTok, but if your child already does use it, nudge them towards the EcoTok collective; a group of well-informed environmental educators and activists who use TikTok as a platform for positive change. Their aim is to empower younger generations to do something about the climate crisis by teaching them about science, activism and ways to make changes in their own life.

As we all know, children and young people can whiff hypocrisy a mile away! It is one thing to teach about food waste for example, but if the school canteen is tipping good food into the bin, rather than buying effectively or donating unused produce, it can really undermine children’s confidence. Role-modelling sustainable thinking and action is important. Schools should consider procurement procedures and strive for a holistic approach that considers things like waste disposal and plastic use. Further ideas can be found in this fantastic blog.

What about role models? Greta Thunberg is a widely recognised symbol of climate action for children and adults alike, but there are a diverse range of people out there, all working towards positive change. Why not check out ‘Birdgirl’? Dr Mya-Rose Craig (AKA Birdgirl) is a British-Bangladeshi ornithologist, environmentalist, diversity activist, author, speaker and broadcaster. At age 11 she started a popular blog and, at 17, became the youngest person to see half of the birds in the world! She’s written a book, which you can buy here. It features information about numerous other climate change role models that might inspire your children.

Little things make a big difference. The next time I consider buying and posting a greetings card, I will try and send a paperless one. The next time I think about buying another pair of navy trousers (when I already own at least five pairs), I will think again. By taking a ‘meta-moment’ to consider our consumption, we demonstrate one small act of kindness towards the beautiful planet that sustains us all.

Are you a Tooled Up member?

Our interview with Dr Verity Jones is available for you to listen to in the Tooled Up library now, complete with written notes. Check it out now for more information and tips on sustainable living. You might also enjoy our interview with Jen Gale, author of The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide, written after her family decided to buy nothing new for a whole year. It’s packed full of practical advice about how to make small changes to our actions and mindset which will make a big difference to the world around us.

If fast fashion is a topic that interests you, we’ll be exploring it further in a webinar on 27th April with Professor Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas, Professor of Marketing and Sustainable Business at the London School of Fashion. Book your place now. We’d love to gather your questions. If any young people would like to put theirs to Professor Radclyffe-Thomas, encourage them to get in touch!

Lastly, if you’d like to nudge your children towards a greater connection to nature, we’ve put together a list of brilliant apps and websites that combine on and offscreen activities to engage children with the outside world.

We’ve got some technical news! We’ve been working hard to improve the ease and speed with which you can find what you need. Because this is a significant update to the system, the main website will be in ‘maintenance mode’ from 7am on Saturday 11th March until 9pm on Sunday 12th March. We will carry out this work as quickly and efficiently as we can. If possible, we will get back online before 9pm on Sunday 12th March.