What is climate anxiety?
In simple terms, climate anxiety is the sense of fear, worry, or tension linked to climate change. Young people stand to significantly and disproportionally shoulder the burden of climate change, however, making it more common in young people.
Surveying 10,000 young people aged 16-25 years in 10 countries across the world, the Lancet found that 59% were very or extremely worried about climate change, with 84% at least moderately worried. Over 50% mentioned feeling anxious, powerless, helpless, and sad, while 45% said their feelings about climate change “negatively affected their daily life and functioning.”
Does climate anxiety also affect older people?
A 2022 survey from the Office of National Statistics found that 62% of UK people over the age of 16 are worried that rising temperatures will directly affect them by 2030. Of these, we can break them down by age:
- 70% of 16 to 29-year-olds.
- 59% of 50 to 69-year-olds.
- 57% of those aged 70 or older.
Meanwhile, 45% of young people are worried about rising sea levels compared to 31% of older adults.
While climate anxiety appears to be less common in older people, their main anxieties may also vary. An older person living with climate anxiety may be more likely to worry that their children will be negatively affected, for example. So, while older people are less affected by climate anxiety, it can and does still affect older people.
Why is climate change important to young people?
Climate change is more than just a slightly warming climate. According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is made up of 270 scientists from 67 countries, it represents potentially irreversible change to our planet and standard of living. In a summary of their 3,600+ page report, the IPCC said that climate change will have a significant impact on global mental health, malnutrition, and displacement.
- The 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2005.
- Between 2010 and 2020, people were 15 times more likely to die from extreme weather such as flooding, droughts, and storms, according to the IPCC’s report.
- A temperature rise of another nine-tenths of a degree Celsius from now, and the amount of land burned by wildfires will increase by 35% globally.
- Researchers found that climate change was a likely factor in the devastating 2019 Australian bushfires, destroying almost 10,000 homes.
- Greenpeace reports the United Kingdom will see more severe weather due to climate change, including extreme heatwaves, flooding, storms, and wildfires.
Additionally, according to The Lancet, climate anxiety is “associated with perceptions of inadequate action by adults and governments, [and] feelings of betrayal, abandonment and moral injury,” related to climate change.
The 2016 Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, states that every person on Earth needs to reduce their carbon emissions – such as through the burning of fossil fuels – to an average of 2.3 tonnes by 2030, which is around half of today’s average. However, findings by Oxfam and reported by The Guardian reveal that “the richest 1% … are on track to be releasing 70 tonnes of CO2 per person a year if current consumption continues … [accounting] for 16% of total emissions by 2030.”
This reported 70 tonnes of carbon emissions comes from so-called “luxury carbon consumption” such as private space flight, private jets, and megayachts. The poorest 50% will be releasing lower than one tonne annually on average, by comparison.
This “carbon inequality” means that young people feel powerless to act, and therefore feel betrayed.
What can we do about climate anxiety?
While the above information might make it seem hopeless, there are steps we can take to combat climate anxiety and the wider issue of climate change.
- If seeing or hearing news of natural disasters triggers your climate anxiety, it’s important to limit your news consumption and avoid “doom-scrolling.” Check out our tips on how to cope with news anxiety to get you started.
- If you feel overwhelmed by negative news, look for the positive. Websites such as Positive.news offers curated news worth celebrating in a number of categories, including the environment. You can also read The Happy News, or follow The Good News Movement on Instagram for daily positive news.
- Our previously published tips on coping with climate anxiety offer some ideas for managing your emotions, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and the Stress Bucket tool.
- Get involved with campaigning and advocacy groups in your local area. Even helping out in a small way can help the greater cause, make your voice heard, and combat climate anxiety as a result.
- Get involved with larger advocacy groups in an effort to positively change the narrative on climate change at a country level. Write to your local government representatives and make your concern known.
- Consider some small acts to help local wildlife, especially during poor weather or extreme temperatures. Birdfeeders and insect houses are inexpensive but can dramatically help local wildlife cope with a changing climate. The RSPB have additional, even free tips for helping wildlife here, such as leaving “wild” areas in your garden.
- Spend time in nature, or get involved in local efforts to conserve local areas.
How can we directly help young people experiencing climate anxiety?
While climate anxiety can affect people of any age, it is more common in young people. If you care for a young person who experiences climate anxiety, you might be able to help in the following ways.
- It’s important to validate their concerns and not dismiss or disregard them. Acknowledge their concerns with affirming statements such as, “I understand that this is important to you,” and “I can see how this issue affects you.” Ask for their perspective and for any specific concerns they might have. Even listening without providing answers can be helpful.
- Suggest some of the above tips, such as getting involved with youth action groups and small acts to help local wildlife.
- If they are struggling, encourage and help them seek professional support. Check out Mental Health UK’s support and services for young people for ideas on getting started.
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