Climate anxiety; a concept unknown to most yet a legitimate, heart-pounding reality for youth climate activists around the world. According to Psychology Today, climate anxiety—also referred to as eco-anxiety—is “a fairly recently psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis.”
The teens who organize around the climate crisis work to tackle a global catastrophe that has yet to be solved. Alongside this strenuous and herculean feat, they go through the daily stressors of a teenager in the modern age: school, family, friends, etc. The intersection between the climate crisis and mental health crisis is apparent and its prevalence must be normalized. In partnership with Heads Up Teens, Youth Climate Action Team Inc (YCAT), a global youth climate movement, is working to highlight the notion of climate anxiety. Whether it be to give a name to a feeling that teens often face yet struggle to label or emphasizing that youth climate activists are not alone in their worries, we hope to drive change through this writing.
In a two-part series, YCAT youth organizers across the world will detail their experiences with climate anxiety, what it looks like for them, and how they handle it. We’re ecstatic to present: “Climate Anxiety, The Invisible Thorn of the Climate Crisis.”
“No matter what I’m doing, the existential threat of climate change is always looming over my head and this constant pressure can be extremely draining and demotivating. Climate scientists agree on the urgency and magnitude of the issue, but even though the science is here, the legislation that has been passed so far is highly inadequate. I can’t help but feel pretty certain that my generation is going to watch our Earth be destroyed while even the most pragmatic pieces of climate legislation continue to be blocked in the Senate. I think it is extremely important that young people do not suppress their climate anxiety, but rather confront and grapple with our anger, because our emotions—our love for our Earth and our desire to see it thrive—are going to be essential motivators in the fight for climate change reversal. The minute we lose hope is the minute we let large corporations and mega-billionaires win. Whether it be the Civil Rights movement, the fight for the right to unionize or 20th century protests against United States occupation of developing nations, young people’s concern, anger and passion have consistently been indispensable ingredients in the push for change. I truly hope that everyone experiencing climate anxiety can recognize that their frustration is valid and allowing for their emotions to fuel their activism is the only way we will confront the existential threat of climate change.” -Ben Ringel, 17, Redondo Beach, California
“Climate change, the future’s next problem. A problem left to be handled for the next generation. Once the next generation, gen Z, finally comes to the working field, it will be too late. Climate change is determining what our generation, what my generation is going to look like. A world full of terror, with every minute counting towards large-scale problems that are already happening this day and time. As a teen, we shouldn’t have to worry about what will occur to us once planet Earth has experienced irreversible damage. I feel I have to worry and fight for a problem that should have started to lessen a long time ago if governments stopped worrying about corporations making billions of dollars instead of these threats. Climate anxiety is valid, so pushing in efforts to confront climate change and pressure our governments will make a change.” We just all need to try. -Brianna Gonzalez, 15, Pearland, Texas
“Climate change is not just a scientifically proven fact that carbon dioxide and average temperatures are consistently higher than they have been in history; it’s also a trigger for many people’s anxiety and mental disorders. A study of Australians with OCD shows that more than a quarter of them have a compulsion to reduce their carbon footprint, obsessively checking lights and water taps. Climate change causes thousands, maybe millions, to question and worry about ever having to suffer through a world led by choices made by powerful people they don’t even know or if someone can morally have kids that they are willing to potentially let grow up on an Earth that won’t outlive them. The worries are valid. Why start life on a planet that may not outlive that life? Why try to be great when the world could be underwater when it happens? Those big, looming questions are the lingering elephant in the room called Earth right now.” -Evan Hadam, 17, Tampa, Florida
“When you combine the persistent ‘the world is screwed’ Reddit posts with the 9 years we have left to save the Earth, it is near impossible to avoid a constant state of exhaustion. The “focus on yourself” mentality can also be harmful—how am I meant to concentrate on furthering my future when it is not guaranteed? Once you add being a teenager to the mix, you can see why studying for the SAT and AP tests seems so daunting when we live in such a confusing state of the world. Although it can be easy to feel unmotivated, a good way to battle climate anxiety is to channel it into action. Rather than watching the 9-year timer become 8, join your local climate group. Start recycling. Pick up a piece of trash on your way to school. Rather than using that anger bubbling inside you to give up, be the change you want to see. Not only will it make you feel better, but Mother Nature will also thank you for it.” -Huda Jafri, 16, Staten Island, New York
We hope that the perspectives shared in this article highlight both the validity and pressing nature of climate anxiety. Not only when we address both facets of this intersectional issue, the climate crisis and mental health crisis, will we be able to quelch the anxiety faced by many young climate activists. This will be a profoundly laborious task to accomplish, but that doesn’t mean we won’t attempt our best. We are just getting started; stay tuned for part 2.