“I don’t understand why other people, particularly those with children, aren’t terrified about the future environmental change?”

This is how a conversation with one of my good friends started on a sunny (well partially sunny!) bank holiday weekend over a cold one. He had been reading up on the research around climate change – a sobering but un-doubtable read.

The strength of the word terrified struck me. According to the dictionary this word means ‘cause to feel extreme fear’.

Working with people’s emotions at Forest School has given me some insight to how people respond to fear. According to some neuroscientists there are 4 main human responses to fear:

• Fight – we attack
• Flight – we run away
• Freeze – we switch off and can’t function
• Flock/Fawn – we do what we are told to fit in and please others

After some reflection I believe that we do see these fear responses in the majority of people when considering the big environmental issues. Have you ever tried talking to people about climate change and got any of these responses?:

• “well I heard that that research is outdated and disproved” (Fight)
• “….err…did you see that new Bear Grylls show on TV?” (Freeze)
• “what can I do, I’m just one person, everyone drives/uses plastic/eats meat etc” (Flock)

So perhaps everyone is terrified but maybe not aware of what’s causing the fear?
The deep ecologists like Joanna Macy (worth looking her up if you haven’t already! see link 1 below) have been talking about this for some time. They suggest that all of humanity feel the sadness of the human inflicted tragedy on our one and only planet and that a grieving process is necessary before people can face the reality of the situation and take action.
So where does Forest School fit in with all of this? Well, I was wondering – is the Forest School movement a conscious fight response to the fear of environmental change?

We know that reconnecting people to nature changes how people relate to their environment (see link 2 below for a source of collated international research) it improves their understanding and attitude towards nature and our home planet. The emotional work we do at Forest School can also help with validating and expressing fear, sadness and any other emotions triggered by environmental loss.

Thinking about my own experiences of seeing this – I vividly remember the expression of anger expressed from a group of teenage lads one session when they arrived at site to see the environmental destruction some unenlightened members of the public had left – beer bottles, litter, graffiti, trees cut into and deadwood logs all smashed up. The lads chose to dedicate their time and energy over several future sessions tidying up the area, writing signs to put up and writing to the ranger and local newspaper. These lads a year and half prior to this incident would have engaged in the same destructive behaviour without thinking any different. I’m sure many of us have this anecdotal evidence of people’s attitudinal change to the environment through participating in Forest School programmes. Now imagine this up-scaled to influencing people’s future lifestyle choices and attitude towards the planet…

It takes every snowflake to cause the avalanche. But in the words of Stanislaw Jerzy Lec “no snowflake in an avalanche feels responsible”

So how can we help the snowflakes to let go? How can we help people to feel the fear…?

1. Joanna Macy, Embracing Pain
2. A collection of research

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