Climate Change,  Global Threats,  Sustainability

Results from a global survey highlight widespread eco-anxiety in young people

By Roberta Attanasio

The notion of “eco-anxiety” has been creeping into worldwide culture for the past few decades. Now, it’s in the mainstream vocabulary. It’s defined as worry or concern about climate change and its effects. Children and young adults are especially vulnerable to eco-anxiety, as shown by a recent study based on a survey of people aged 16 to 25. The study, published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health (December 2021), found that nearly 60% of survey participants were very or extremely worried about climate change. A similar number said governments were not protecting them, the planet, or future generations.

More than 50% reported each of the following emotions: sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. Notably, more than 45% of respondents said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning. In addition, 55% of respondents felt they would have fewer opportunities than their parents, and almost half (48%) of those who said they talked with others about climate change felt ignored or dismissed.

According to the study, “Distress about climate change is associated with young people perceiving that they have no future, that humanity is doomed, and that governments are failing to respond adequately, and with feelings of betrayal and abandonment by governments and adults.” Not surprisingly, Caroline Hickman, co-lead author of 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.” 

However, the study also shows that young people do feel reassured when governments act.

The survey—the largest of its kind—included 10,000 young people in 10 countries (Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, the UK, and the USA). The countries were chosen to reflect populations from a wide range of cultures, incomes, climates, climate vulnerabilities, and exposure to differing intensities of climate-related events.

The study concluded that governments must respond to “protect the mental health of children and young people by engaging in ethical, collective, policy-based action against climate change.”

Luisa Neubauer, the 25-year-old German climate activist, told The Guardian: “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.”

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