First there was teenager Greta Thunberg. Now Hackney’s children are encouraged to take up the climate change cause

Climate activist Chris Haughton Pic: Lois Borny

Teenage activist Greta Thunberg has inspired adults around the world to take action over climate change. Now, the Extinction Rebellion Families group in Hackney is educating even younger children about the global crisis.

And teaching children about climate change is not about scaring them, but about inspiring practical solutions, said Hackney-based children’s illustrator and climate activist Chris Haughton, whose climate change animation ‘Antarctica’ was the focus of the group’s latest meeting last Saturday.

Alongside scientist Dr Emily Shuckburgh, a member of the British Antarctic Survey Haughton launched the film in May as part of the project Trans.MISSION, a collaboration between Hay Festival and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), aiming to communicate cutting edge science by pairing top scientists with artists.

The film uses Houghton’s distinctive graphics to explain how the British Antarctic Association measured the level of CO2 in air bubbles 3km deep in the Antarctic ice, and used this to charter how temperatures have changed over time. Through simple animation the film explained the relationship between Carbon Dioxide levels and temperature, and how burning fossil fuels speeds up the process.

Still image from ‘Antartica’ Pic: Chris Haughton
Still image from ‘Antartica’ Pic: Chris Haughton

Parents attended the event at the weekend in Lower Clapton with their children, including babies and toddlers. The older children were perched on the front row with their notebooks at the ready, and showed a genuine concern for the issues Haughton discussed. The younger children, although sometimes distracted, seemed enthralled by the interactive readings performed by Haughton and the bright colours of his film.

When asked whether the children understood the issue of climate change, Haughton told Eastlondonlines that although most of his audience are too young to understand, “they are still able to learn how to be mindful of their behaviour and how it impacts the world around them.”

He added that the abstract nature of climate change means adults can often detach from the issue, and so the simple graphics and straightforward information of ‘Antarctica’ can be effective in communicating with adults as well as children.

During the meeting Haughton suggested activities for parents to do with younger children that were both environmentally aware and engaging, such as using plastics washed up on beaches to do arts and crafts or cutting shapes out of recycled cardboard to make into artwork.

Haughton said that children are becoming increasingly aware of climate change from what they learn in school: “In general, children are probably the most aware out of anyone because they hear things from their teachers, and they learn about the most up-to-date environmental concerns. That’s why we are seeing people like Greta Thunberg.”

When asked about whether children could be frightened or upset by the information in his film, Haughton told Eastlondonlines that he aims to inspire practical change rather than create fear. 

He said: “I don’t think anyone should be fearful, it is just to acknowledge what we need to do and to do it. We just have to be realistic and listen to the science and what it’s telling us to do.” 

Haughton’s first book ‘A Bit Lost’ with thank you notes from young attendees Pic: Alex Shipp

A freelance illustrator for 12 years, Haughton has had great success. His first book ‘A Bit Lost’ was translated into 27 different languages, and won awards in 7 countries. His other books include ‘Don’t Worry Little Crab’ and ‘Oh No, George’ about a naughty dog won the Junior Magazine Picture Book of the Year Award in 2012.

Before becoming a published author, Haughton’s passion for fair trade saw him get involved in various non-profit projects, including the sustainable fair-trade fashion company People Tree. His design work for the company quickly landed him a spot in the 2017 Time magazine’s design 100. His passion for fair trade also led him in 2012 to co-found ‘Node’, a fair-trade business based in Nepal, which makes rugs and stuffed versions of the characters in his books.

Shuckburgh, who was teamed up with Haughton as a result of her role in the polar oceans team within the British Antarctic Survey, has also made a signification contribution to climate change science. She is Director of Cambridge Zero, the University of Cambridge’s climate change initiative, and a Fellow of the British Antarctic Survey. She also co-authored the Lady Bird Book of Climate Change.

To find out more about Extinction Rebellion Hackney Families and Extinction Rebellion Hackney, go to XR Hackney Families Instagram, or XR Hackney Families Facebook. Extinction Rebellion Hackney Families can also be contacted by email on

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