I recently came across the WHO definition of child abuse which states
“Child abuse or maltreatment constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.” [¹]
On purpose I would like to discuss the climate crisis in the controversial context of child abuse because I think this will help to understand the climate crisis and the lack of action to deal with the crisis in young adults, teenagers, and children (and also parents). My main point here is that it is hard to accept that one’s beloved parents (or respected figures of authority) actually behaved so ignorant, selfish and dishonest harming the very people they pretend to love and protect. Similar to the great difficulties abused children have to come out and accuse their abusive parents, it is also very difficult for the young generation to question the trustful and respectful relationship and go into a conflict with one’s parents and other authorities (since the children themselves may have also benefited from their parents by having a higher standard of living). I think this is a worthwhile discussion to have to understand the psychological dynamics in the climate crisis and the insufficient action by young adults, teenagers, and children (and parents).
- Physical harm: Current children and future generations of children experience or have an increased risk of experiencing health hazards, sickness or death as a consequence of inaction (ie negligence) of their parents or other authorities (ie teachers, government) regarding climate breakdown in addition to social and economic risks by potential breakdown of societies. These harmful consequences do already exist, for example, by extreme forest fires in California in 2018 and other extreme weather events, especially in poorer countries.
- Emotional harm: Current children and future generations of children experience of have an increased risk of experiencing psychological hazards, disease, or death (e.g. by suicide) as a consequence of inaction (ie negligence) of their parents or other authorities (ie teachers, governments) regarding climate breakdown. The harmful consequences include existential threats of the destruction of life support, systems of the planet, resulting breakdown of societies and war (which may also escalate other existential threats such as mass extinction).
- Ill-treatment, neglect, negligent treatment, or commercial or other exploitation: Parents and authorities who show behaviour which contributes to climate breakdown for egotistical reasons, e.g. long-distance holiday trips by plane, voting for climate-adverse political parties or policies or inaction to protest against climate breakdown or other inaction regarding changes to a sustainable lifestyle could be considered of showing ill-treatment, negligence or negligent treatment of their children. Commercial or other exploitation may also play a role in case the behaviour of caretakers will have financial advantages or other egotistical advantages (e.g. increase in social status) , for example, by pursuing a career based on production or consumption of fossil fuels, e.g. manager in oil industry, investment fond manager with a high volume of business air travel, researcher with regular international, short-term conference visits.
- Actual or potential harm: Children experience already harm, e.g. by existential anxieties and depression, or actual catastrophes such as forest fires, floods, storms, droughts, destroying homes and livelihoods now or in the future.
- Child’s health, survival, development or dignity: The effects of the climate crisis affect already or will affect all these aspects now and in the future, especially in poorer countries. The effects may range from psychological stress and harm to children’s education, e.g. to participate in climate protest to manage their anxiety, to malnutrition, or health hazards caused by extreme climate events or resulting war.
- Relationship of responsibility, trust or power: Children trust their legal guardians and figures of authority (e.g. teachers, bosses, government) to protect their health and well-being because of such behaviour in other contexts, e.g. by providing shelter, food, health system, education system, and trust that these figures or authorities will also behave responsibly regarding protecting their children from climate breakdown. Note: The relationship of responsibility, trust and power may also make it very painful for parents and authorities to come forward and admit their failures (“Sorry, kid, but we messed up!”) .
 Report of the Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention, 29–31 March 1999, WHO, Geneva. Geneva,World Health Organization, 1999 (documentWHO/HSC/PVI/99.1) URL: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/1999/WHO_HSC_PVI_99.1.pdf (cited as ref 8 in https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/global_campaign/en/chap3.pdf)