Agency and empowerment will help counter fatalism and climate anxiety

The morning rush hour commute was even more stressful than normal for thousands of motorists on Monday when climate change campaigners blocked five junctions of the M25. “They’re doing this,” said a protest group member on BBC Radio 5 Live, “because they’re desperate for meaningful action from the government…” Opinions will of course differ on whether such direct action, disrupting the lives and livelihoods of potentially millions of people, is ever justified. The context, however, is certain: concern about climate change continues to grow. Now a major worldwide study has found that large numbers of children and young people are suffering from climate anxiety. Central to Life-Based Learning is the idea that children need to be learning about the challenges that we face. But the aim is not to frighten or to spread a fatalist mindset. On the contrary, LBL is about agency and empowerment — giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to lead healthy, sustainable and happy lives, able as individuals and collectively to tackle the many challenges that blight our world.

The survey, involving 10,000 young people, aged 16-25, in 10 countries (and still subject to peer review), is called Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon. It was conducted and analysed by seven academic institutions in the UK, Europe and the US, including the University of Bath, the University of East Anglia, and the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

Key findings include:

  • 59% of those surveyed were very or extremely worried by climate change and 84% were at least moderately worried
  • More than 50% felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty
  • More than 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning

Climate change has significant implications for the health and futures of children and young people, yet they have little power to limit its harm, making them vulnerable to increased climate anxiety. Qualitative studies show climate anxiety is associated with perceptions of inadequate action by adults and governments, feelings of betrayal, abandonment and moral injury.

Quoted from the report’s abstract

Tom Burke from the think tank e3g told BBC News: “It’s rational for young people to be anxious. They’re not just reading about climate change in the media — they’re watching it unfold in front of their own eyes.”

One response to findings such as these goes roughly as follows: ‘It is no surprise that children and young people are frightened out of their wits because we go on and on about climate catastrophe and a future global meltdown. Who wouldn’t be terrified? If we didn’t go on about it so much, young people wouldn’t be so anxious.’

Many people would doubtless say that such an outlook is less than helpful. Ignoring a problem by choosing not to discuss it or downplaying its seriousness does not make it go away, still less solve it. Another mistake would be to just throw up our hands in despair. In our blog Practical ideas for families wanting to do their bit for the environment we highlighted an excellent article by the journalist Jonathan Freedland, warning against a fatalist mindset which says that individuals on their own can’t possibly make a difference and so there is no point doing anything.

The contrary is true. Positive action — getting involved in doing something, helping to bring about change, making a difference, however small that difference on its own might be in the grand scheme of things — is well worth the time and effort. And the more of us who take part, the better it will be, encouraging others to join in and pressurising governments to do more.

As a bonus, the feelings of agency and empowerment it brings will improve our mental health. Joining the campaign to plant a tree for the Queen’s Jubilee is just one of several schemes we have highlighted in recent months which provide opportunities for individuals, families, schools and communities to get involved in positive change.

The WWF website is also an outstanding resource for people interested in doing their bit to bring about change. There is an area of the site dedicated to “what you can do”, with separate sections for schools, youth groups, families and young people.

Today’s young people will be the stewards of our planet in the years to come. That’s why we’re putting young people at the centre of our work. We’re working with young people who care about our natural world, to help them explore the issues facing our planet, and equip them to take positive action to protect it.

Our youth engagement programme supports and empowers young people, helping them to inspire and motivate others to join in the fight for our world. There will be plenty of opportunities for young people to get involved and take action, from upcoming community events to accessing our dedicated youth engagement toolkit.

from the WWF website

The excellent booklet ’21 actions’ lists — yes — 21 actions, as suggested by WWF’s youth ambassadors, simple ways we can help make a difference. Use the link below to download a copy.

There are lots of ideas for younger families too:

By helping families to experience the wonders of nature together, we can inspire them to become informed and caring ambassadors who are well equipped to take action for our amazing planet. There are plenty of ways for young people and families to take action with WWF; from participating in simple craft activities at home to using the new new nature ID app — Seek — which is designed for young explorers and anyone curious about our world.

from WWF’s Families page. Helping families connect with nature
WWF website
’21 actions’ booklet from WWF youth ambassadors
Read more of our blogs

Image at the head of this article by Marc B from Pixabay.

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