Climate change didn't seem urgent to Gabriel Nagel when he was a kid. In a seventh grade class, he saw the chart showing global carbon emissions rising, but it felt abstract.

Then in 2017, a wildfire burned within a few blocks of his house in Boulder, Colorado.

"That was a moment when it kind of clicked for me that climate change isn't something of the future," Nagel says. "It's something that we're dealing with right now, and no matter who you are, you're going to be impacted."

Kids across the world are increasingly facing the impacts of climate change, from losing homes in disasters to having recess canceled due to extreme heat waves. Climate anxiety is on the rise, as a younger generation confronts inheriting a much hotter world.

"Many young people are experiencing grief and frustration and anxiety and elements of betrayal by adults and other generations," says Dr. Kelsey Hudson, a clinical psychologist who specializes in climate change.

In coping with those feelings, many young people are figuring out ways to find meaning and purpose. Here's some of their advice.

1. Talk to a friend about what's up

Nagel and his family evacuated during the wildfire in Boulder, Colorado, but luckily his house came out unscathed. After that, he began noticing how wildfires seemed to be happening more often across the West, especially with the long-running drought.

"I know other people through not just that fire, but other fires across Colorado who have lost their homes," he says.

Nagel started learning more about climate change and began taking action in his daily life, like biking more and eating less meat. But it was joining the sustainability club at his high school in Denver that made the biggest difference. There, he met other students working to help their community, like planting trees and encouraging his school to start composting

He also joined another student group, DPS Students for Climate Action. Over the course of almost two years, the group pushed Denver Public Schools to pass its first climate policy, adopting goals to reduce emissions and use clean energy district-wide.

"Being surrounded by people who are equally passionate and have the same amount of optimism about the future can be really uplifting and kind of motivating," he says.

When he feels overwhelmed by the future of the planet, he meets up with a friend, Mariah Rosensweig, whom he got to know through the sustainability club. They go on walks and hikes together, venting about whatever is on their minds.

"It sometimes feels like what I'm doing will never be enough," Nagel says. "And part of that is true. Like one person isn't going to be able to change the fate of this planet, of climate change. But I think at the same time, I also do have hope that by working together, we can actually resolve this crisis."

2. Get out in nature

As a kid, Rosensweig's deep love of nature grew from being outdoors all the time.

"I was always one of the few girls that would be dirtier than all the boys," Rosensweig says. "My grandpa nicknamed me the 'tree panther,' because I would always be in a tree and he wouldn't know where I was."

In high school, she became a beekeeper. For her, working on climate change is about reminding people of their connection to the natural world. But seeing the damage to the natural world can be disheartening.

"Now the conversation isn't: what can we do to prevent climate change?" she says. "It's: how are we going to live with it? As I'm still so young, to hear that shift is frustrating because it's like – we've known about this for so long."

When she feels that way, Rosensweig says it's simple: go outside.

"I'll sit myself down on the ground and really connect to my senses, especially breath," she says. "That will make you more aware of the world around you. And then the more that you're aware, the more you're going to care. The more you care, the more likely you are to do something about it."

3. Join people doing something in your community

When 15-year-old Tanish Doshi first moved to Tuscon, Arizona, the extreme heat was a shock, especially as rising summer temperatures broke records year after year.

"It feels like your skin is on fire," he says. "A lot of people have access to safe places to stay, to air conditioning, to water, stuff like that. When you look at our unhoused populations and different people, they don't have that access a lot of the time here in southern Arizona. So the heat is really, really bad."

When climate change seems daunting, Doshi's advice is to find someone who cares about it and ask how to help in your community.

When Tucson's Habitat for Humanity office was hit with flooding during heavy monsoon rains, Doshi rallied his friends to do something. They designed a flood control system around the building, putting in drainage pipes, holding basins and rerouting water to absorbent areas with plants. Around 20 people helped out with construction, including his nine-year-old brother.

"For me, advocacy and action has alleviated some of my climate anxiety because it shows me success is possible, right?" he says. "If a group of teenagers here in Tucson can have this success and if teenagers across the country are having similar success, that can really lead to reforms on the national level."

Helping out in your community doesn't need to be a big project, psychologists like Hudson say. It can be as simple as planting a pollinator-friendly flower. The key thing is to find meaning in the action and build social connections in the process.

"We can think about: what does it look like for young people to find a sense of meaning and purpose in this crisis?" Hudson says. "Connect with like-minded others and build some agency through connecting with climate engagement or action."

4. Don't be too intimidated to speak out

When Sabal Dangi was 11 years old, he took a trip to Nepal where his family is originally from. He saw how vulnerable people are to climate impacts, like hotter temperatures that are making water supplies more unreliable.

"We would see how climate change is really affecting them at those high altitudes," he says. "They use all of their water from all the glacier melt and the Himalayas. And so now they're really trying to adapt and conserve."

Dangi was homing in on something that resonates with many young people: the global inequality of climate change. Extreme storms, floods and droughts can be more devastating in lower-income countries where people have few safety nets.

"Last year, my climate anxiety started really getting to its peak," he says. "It was just the feeling of not being able to do something."

Dangi, now 16, wasn't sure he knew enough about climate change to get involved. But after going to a few climate protests, he started a Fridays for Future chapter where he lives in Fresno, California. The youth-led movement has chapters around the world that lead climate strikes, where students walk out of school or protest after school.

At first, it was just Dangi and a couple friends, but the group grew in size the more he kept at it. Discussing and engaging people about climate issues has helped him feel more positive.

"You don't have to have a fancy degree or something to really speak out about the planet," Dangi says. "The world is everybody's home. It's everybody's future. And it's something everybody can really stand up for and speak out about."

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Some of the most strident voices at the global climate summit in Egypt have been youth voices. Younger people are feeling the weight of inheriting a hotter world as the climate changes. We're going to talk about how kids are processing climate change and how to help them with climate anxiety. But first, we meet two students grappling with that. And we're going to start with 17-year-old Gabriel Nagel of Denver, Colo. He first remembers learning about climate change in class as a seventh-grader.

GABRIEL NAGEL: I don't think it really clicked. Like, I saw the numbers increasing on a graph, but I didn't really see how much of a crisis it really was. It wasn't actually until the Boulder Sunshine Valley Canyon Fire.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The fire continues to burn west of Boulder, the Sunshine Canyon area. It's called the Sunshine Fire.

NAGEL: I went to my dad upstairs and told him that, like, I think something's wrong, like - and then we looked outside, and it was this giant blaze coming over the ridge right towards us.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: More than a thousand homes were evacuated before the sun came up this morning.

NAGEL: I mean, we just ended up evacuating with everyone else and just getting out of there for the day. Luckily, when we returned, everything was fine. And that was a moment when it kind of clicked for me that climate change isn't something of the future. It's something that we're dealing with right now. And no matter who you are, you're going to be impacted. After that fire, I kind of had an internal feeling that I needed to do something, so I started taking personal actions, like bike and public transport and eat less meat. But then I started getting involved with our sustainability club at East High School. That's where I met Mariah.

MARIAH ROSENSWEIG: So my name is Mariah Rosensweig. I am 18 years old. I had grown up just always being outside. I was always one of the few girls that would, like, be dirtier than all the boys. I think climate advocacy is more than just policy, but for me, it's really getting people to understand how integrated we are with the natural world, and we're not separate from it.

NAGEL: We tend to talk about this climate change stuff a lot, and we'll spend time going to hikes and kind of just enjoying what we have around us while it's there.

ROSENSWEIG: I went to a sustainability club meeting, and one of the presidents was like, hey, we have this other group called DPS Students for Climate Action. And I was immediately like, oh, this is something I want to be a part of.

NAGEL: So we started off, and we realized DPS, which is essentially the largest school district in Colorado, they lacked any sort of climate action policy. And then we came up with this whole resolution where we outlined goals.

ROSENSWEIG: One of the goals is 90% reduction in greenhouse gases from 2010 levels. You know, we would meet every single week, and a lot of that was presenting at public comments.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And our first topic this evening is sustainability resolution presented by the...

ROSENSWEIG: So a lot of times, we'd put so much heart and so much passion into it.


NAGEL: Our first primary goal is for the district to strive to 100% clean energy by...

ROSENSWEIG: And then the board is like, thank you. Next.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank you so much. You can...

ROSENSWEIG: And it was like, oh, how much longer are we going to keep doing this?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Once again, we have with us some special guests, the sustainability student group.

NAGEL: From start to finish, the process took almost two years.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Director Anderson.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Director Baldermann.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Director Esserman.


ROSENSWEIG: The policy was passed unanimously. And it was really amazing.


NAGEL: I know on a personal level, it sometimes feels like what I'm doing will never be enough. And part of that is true. Like, one person isn't going to be able to change the fate of this planet, of climate change.

ROSENSWEIG: I realize that now the conversation isn't what can we do to prevent climate change? It's how are we going to live with it? As I'm still so young, to hear that shift is frustrating because it's like we've known about this for so long.

NAGEL: Climate change can be incredibly overwhelming at times, and that's totally OK. It's OK to feel anxious about your future because it is a real threat. But also don't let that stop you from trying to make a change. And instead, kind of use that as motivation to make the change that we need.

FADEL: That was Gabriel Nagel and Mariah Rosensweig, both students at East High School in Denver, Colo. And joining me now for more on how kids are processing climate change is Lauren Sommer from NPR's climate desk. So we just heard from these two students feeling like not enough is being done. How common are these feelings?

LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: Yeah, in general, you know, if you look at young adults, they're more likely to care about climate change. And that's true no matter what political party they belong to. And when it comes to younger, school-age kids, you know, some are experiencing this climate anxiety that we heard. It's something that Dr. Kelsey Hudson, who is a clinical psychologist who specializes in climate change, she's seeing that in her patients.

KELSEY HUDSON: Many young people are experiencing grief and frustration and anxiety and elements of kind of betrayal by adults and other generations.

SOMMER: And for some kids, this is kind of layering on top of the isolation and stress they may have experienced during the pandemic.

FADEL: Wow. I think it is kind of hard to hear when you're 41, that they feel betrayed by us, by our generation and other generations. And climate change is in the news a lot right now with the international negotiations going on in Egypt. So if you're a parent or caregiver or even a kid feeling these emotions, what's a good way to address it?

SOMMER: Yeah. So Hudson says the first thing is to make some space to talk about it. But if you're a caregiver, ask what a kid knows about climate change and how it makes them feel. Listen, you know, acknowledge their feelings and validate that it's a big, difficult thing to think about, and avoid the urge to say that everything is going to be OK.

FADEL: Yeah, but I can see how a caregiver might want to just tell their kid, don't worry, everything is going to be OK. What's wrong with that?

SOMMER: It's kind of a Band-Aid. It's not a solution. And it's a global change that will affect billions of people. And young people know that.

FADEL: Yeah.

SOMMER: So the next step after kind of just talking about it and validating feelings is to find something meaningful, Hudson says.

HUDSON: We can think about what does it look like for young people or one young person to find a sense of meaning and purpose in this crisis, to maybe connect with like-minded others and build some agency through connecting with climate engagement or action?

SOMMER: So engagement can happen on very different levels, she says. You know, it can be just, you know, planting a pollinator-friendly flower in your backyard with a kid or maybe volunteering at a local park. What's important here is finding community, finding those social connections so that young people don't feel so isolated with these feelings.

FADEL: And I'm sure getting outside, being in nature can be very helpful, too, in this case, right?

SOMMER: Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, Gabe and Mariah both talked to me about how they go on walks and hikes together when they're feeling overwhelmed. And that's two strategies that psychologists recommend, you know, talking about it with someone you care about and taking some time in nature and just, you know, enjoying that space.

FADEL: Lauren Sommer of NPR's climate Desk. Thanks so much, Lauren.

SOMMER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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