As the climate changes, climate anxiety among young people is on the rise

Children often worry about very different things than their parents. One of the big ones climate change. Research shows that most young people are “extremely concerned” about it, leading to a phenomenon called climate anxiety. Children and young adults who struggle with this may realize that they have no future or that humanity is doomed.

“We see a lot of young people saying, I think my life will be worse than my parents’,” says Dr. Sarah Schwartz, a psychology professor at Suffolk University in Boston.

A study published last year collected the views on climate change from 10,000 people around the world aged 16-25.

In the survey, 59% of youth and young adults reported being very or very concerned about climate change and more than 45% said their feelings about climate change had a negative impact on their daily lives and functioning.

Source: The Lancet Planetary Health

Source: The Lancet Planetary Health

“So they know the world is going to be a tougher, darker, scarier place,” Schwartz said. “And imagining themselves in that world feels really scary to them.”

The research also revealed how climate change is making young people feel. In all countries surveyed, nearly 62% said they were concerned about climate change. About 67% said they were sad and scared.

Schwartz researches climate anxiety. She said it’s not a diagnosis, but a valid answer to the current situation in the worldand her research shows that three-quarters of young people say they are concerned about climate change.

“I don’t think it makes sense as a disorder, because again, that assumes this is a psychopathology of the few rather than the majority,” Schwartz said. “And then the goal is that it’s this individual condition, where we’re treating on an individual level rather than addressing the societal issues and the environmental issues.”

“People should talk about it more because it’s their planet,” says high school senior Johanna Flores. “They should be concerned about their health.”

Flores lives in Chelsea, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, where she says so much jet fuel, road salt, and fuel oil is stored on the river that it’s hard for some residents to even get near the water.

“And you don’t see that in a white neighborhood, like you see a beautiful view of the water,” says 15-year-old Darien Rodriguez, who also lives in Chelsea. “You wouldn’t see industries like smoke and pollution.”

The students are environmental activists at a non-profit organization called GreenRoots. They work with adults and advocate for environmental justice in their communities by educating and empowering others to participate.

“We just have to participate in everything we can, for example if something happens with the planting of trees, like participating in that,” Flores said. “Or if there’s some kind of event, even just a garbage pick-up, people should participate because it helps the community so much.”

With a group so focused on the environmental issues in their neighborhood, it’s no surprise they’re also concerned about climate change.

“It’s scary to think about what awaits future generations and the world itself,” said 16-year-old Greandoll Oliva.

“I’m very concerned because I want to be able to have children and see their children grow up and start a family,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like I won’t be able to experience that just because people are careless about what they do and how they treat the environment.”

Participation helps

Schwartz said activism can be an effective way for children to deal with the feelings associated with climate anxiety.

“Higher anxiety about climate change is correlated with higher clinical symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Schwartz said. “But what we saw was that for young people with high levels of climate anxiety, if they also have high levels of activism, we didn’t see higher levels of depression symptoms.”

Schwartz said the social aspect and peer support of activism is probably the biggest piece to help protect against depression.

“That could mean signing petitions,” Schwartz said. “That might mean supporting other people who are the ones who will be the face of, you know, who are going to march there to Beacon Hill,” Schwartz said. “So I’m thinking about the idea of ​​working with a group.”

It could also mean building a ‘pop-up park’ together in Chelsea, as the children of GreenRoots have done.

“If more people work towards a better future like this, things can change,” says 16-year-old Greandoll Oliva.

“It helps me deal with it, like I’m not alone,” says 16-year-old Troy Arnold.

“There are times when you think, well, nothing will ever change,” said Rodriguez. “But then there’s also that little sense that there’s still hope that people will change and people will come together to help save humanity.”

How to join

Schwartz said when people think of activism, they often think of a protest or rally. She said there are also other ways people can get involved and collaborate with others. She recommends some of the following tools, guides, and resources:

To work

Are you interested in climate activism, but don’t know where to start? You can find climate toolkits and resources here, via Our Climate.

Programs and Resources

Get involved in programs to make a difference in your community, through The Climate Initiative.

Find more resources to help you fight climate change here.

Join a group

Join a Sunrise Hub here. A hub is a group of young people working together in their communities to stop the climate crisis, through the organization Sunrise Movement.

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