The problem with climate change is increasingly shifting from “something future generations will need to address” to what we’re going to do … now. Imagine being a U.S. Senator, and wanting to enact some legislation you believe, with all your heart, will be extremely good for many, many people.
What are your chances of having that legislation enacted?
Your ideas might either be ignored or will stir debates and discussions in some committee. But your chances for achieving the vision you cherish may be near zero.
Well … we’re beginning to experience what others predicted many decades ago. Increasing frequency and severity of major storms. Raging fires that consume whole forests and communities. Power outages for millions of homes. And increasing crop failures.
Not being able to tackle so big a problem ourselves, and seeing governments failing to address the problem, frustration has been building. In days of yore, we had kids with the hope that they’d experience a better environment than we had. Evidently, that’s no longer true. Research shows increasing numbers are opting not to have kids. I’ll add comments afterwards.
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Four in 10 young people fear having children due to climate crisis
Global survey finds most 16-25 year-olds worry a lot
about the future, and many feel failed by governments
Tue 14 Sep 2021
Four in 10 young people around the world are hesitant to have children as a result of the climate crisis, and fear that governments are doing too little to prevent climate catastrophe, a poll in 10 countries has found.
Nearly six in 10 young people, aged 16 to 25, were very or extremely worried about climate change, according to the biggest scientific study yet on climate anxiety and young people, published on Tuesday. A similar number said governments were not protecting them, the planet, or future generations, and felt betrayed by the older generation and governments.
Three-quarters agreed with the statement “the future is frightening”, and more than half felt they would have fewer opportunities than their parents. Nearly half reported feeling distressed or anxious about the climate in a way that was affecting their daily lives and functioning.
The poll of about 10,000 young people covered Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, the UK and the US. It was paid for by the campaigning organisation Avaaz.
Young climate activists said feelings of anxiety over the climate were now widespread among today’s youth. Mitzi Tan, 23, from the Philippines, said:
“I grew up being afraid of drowning in
my own bedroom. Society tells me that
this anxiety is an irrational fear that
needs to be overcome, one that meditation
and healthy coping mechanisms will ‘fix’.”
At its root, our climate anxiety comes from this deep-set feeling of betrayal because of government inaction. To truly address our growing climate anxiety, we need justice.
It is now common for young people to worry about having children, according to Luisa Neubauer, a 25-year-old climate activist, who is co-organiser of the school strike movement in Germany and helped achieve the court victory that has forced the German government to re-evaluate its climate policies. She said:
“I meet a lot of young girls, who ask
whether it’s still OK to have children.
“It’s a simple question, yet it tells so
much about the climate reality we
are living in. We young people realized
that just worrying about the climate
crisis won’t stop it. So we turned our
individual anxiety into collective action.
“And now, we are fighting everywhere:
on the streets, at the courts, in and
outside institutions across the globe.
“Yet governments are still failing us, as
emissions are rising to record levels.
The appropriate answer to this study
would be governments to start acting
like they promised they would.”
Earlier this month, Unicef found that children and young people around the world were bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, with 1 billion children at “extreme risk” from the impacts of climate breakdown.
The study, entitled Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon, has been released on a pre-publication basis, while it is under the peer review process, by the scientific journal Lancet Planetary Health. The survey 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.
Caroline Hickman, from the University of Bath, Climate Psychology Alliance and co-lead author on the study, said:
“This study paints a horrific picture of
widespread climate anxiety in our children
and young people. It suggests for the first
time that high levels of psychological distress
in youth is linked to government inaction.
“Our children’s anxiety is a completely
rational reaction given the inadequate
responses to climate change they are
seeing from governments. What more do
governments need to hear to take action?”
Francois Hollande, who was president of France when the Paris agreement was forged in 2015, urged governments meeting in November in Glasgow for the Cop26 UN climate summit to take note. He said:
“Six years after the Paris agreement,
we must open our eyes to the violence
of climate change, to its impact on our
planet, but also to the mental health of
our youth, as this alarming study shows.
“We must act urgently and do everything we
can to give younger generations a future.”
• • • • • • • • • •
I was struck by the expression, ”the violence of climate change,“ in the report’s final quote. It reminded me of a quote from an old movie, “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” in which cardinals were caucusing to elect a new pope. One commented about how young priests were doing things to address current problems. Another cardinal was concerned that they might, out of ignorance, make changes that would precipitate violence. Then a young recently appointed cardinal (played by Anthony Quinn) said:
“Well, excuse me, but violence is a
reaction against a situation that
has become intolerable, isn’t it?”
Well, we actually do, in fact, have existing solutions to this situation. For example, when the pandemic first happened, vast numbers of people hunkered down. They stopped driving to work, stopped driving to restaurants. Stopped flying. In short, we used far less fossil fuel.
And what happened to the environment?
Air quality quickly improved. Venice reported fish in their waterways they hadn’t seen in decades. But as people became accustomed to the pandemic, with many getting vaccinated, they returned to their old ways and climate problems re-emerged.
In our Garden Atrium sustainable community, we’ve engaged students with environmental majors with part-time jobs on our site. Upon graduation, they all took jobs in traditional organizations and drive traditional gas-powered cars. None live in solar-powered homes.
What’s “normal” dominates their behavior
far more than the sustainability they espouse.
The solution doesn’t lie with “innovation.” We already have proven solutions. The solution lies with what’s known as “diffusion of innovation.” It took decades for indoor plumbing to become “normal.” Same with a telephone in every home. However, it took only five years for most of the world to adopt smart phones. The question is:
Who are the people who can lead that diffusion …
and cause widespread adoption of sustainable living?
I wish I had a more specific answer. Each day, I ask myself what else I can do, and if I’m doing as much as I can do for “Sustainable Living” to become the “new normal.” It’ll take many of us to ask the same questions, and to cause the change we need … while we still have time to do something.
When I asked D for comments about this trend, what I got was …
“When large groups of people choose
to stop having children, it means they
have lost hope. And that is sad. But
more importantly, it is not what we
should pass on to the next generation.”