Our understanding of climate change and the need to take action is far from new, but the motivation and drive we are seeing in young people today is an inspiration for all. Rarely, has a whole generation shown such complete and collective commitment to a cause.
Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’, published in 1962 spoke of biodiversity loss due to environmental pollutants and the insights the book offered took the world by storm. Over 50 years later, climate change is of such prevalent concern that ‘climate emergency’ was deemed Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2019.
For many young Australians, climate change tops the list of their concerns today. A study released by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) found that people aged between 18 and 24 are nearly 20% more likely to believe in the existence of climate change than those aged over 65.
The popularisation of the ‘climate emergency’ concept was spearheaded last year by the youth-led School Strikes 4 Climate. At its peak in September of 2019, this movement saw 6 million people worldwide protesting for climate action – amassing the greatest turn out for an environmental protest of all time.
So, what has spurred this increased interest in the climate?
Younger people the world over seem to be motivated by the impact of climate change on future generations – showing a long-term value of equality and the idea of putting people ahead of profits. While this is a noble plight, this sense of responsibility has contributed to a rise in ‘eco-anxiety’.
Dr Beth Hill, of Psychology for a Safe Climate told Greenfleet that, “Broadly speaking eco-anxiety is a feeling of chronic fear of environmental doom. It is an issue of growing prevalence as we witness the impacts of climate change.” Dr Hill suggests that it is “a sane and reasonable response to the [climate] devastation we are witnessing.”
Overcoming eco-anxiety often requires assistance from others and younger people do seem to feel more hopeful when they are actively involved in pro-environmental behaviour. Dr Hill says, “Developing the skills to hold these difficult emotions takes time and usually requires support from others.” Based on this, the ultimate antidote to eco-anxiety could be collective climate action to help generate a sense of hope. The amazing momentum generated by the climate strikes in 2019 was a testament to Generation Y and Z’s willingness to do just this and mobilise around a cause they believe in.
While the current global COVID-19 pandemic has added a number of challenges to many aspects of our lives, it has also allowed time to reflect on the best ways to take climate action. The 2020 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey found that the impacts of the pandemic has contributed to a positive change in perceptions of hope for the environment among young people. With global lockdowns having some positive impacts on the environment, there is still time to act and protect the planet.
There is no doubt that we have a way to make a tangible difference for future generations. But with the motivation and drive that we are seeing within the next generation of climate activists, there is certainly hope for our climate and for a greener future.