The growing consensus that climate change is reaching a point of no return is leading to anxiety in children, psychologists have found. While eco-anxiety is also seen in adults, children who live through a devastating climate crisis are said to be especially susceptible.
In recent years, many teenage activists, including Greta Thunberg, have organized public strikes and protests to urge the world’s governments to take greater action towards addressing climate change.
Meanwhile, climate scientists continue to predict devastating consequences for humans around the globe if dramatic action isn’t taken soon.
Psychologists warn of eco-anxiety in children
In a March 2017 report, the American Psychological Association (APA) officially recognized “eco-anxiety” as a legitimate condition, defining it as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” In the report, the APA stated that “Children and communities with few resources to deal with the impacts of climate change are those most impacted.”
Recently, Oxford psychologists Dr. Patrick Kennedy-Williams and Megan Woodard have begun hosting workshops to help people address eco-anxiety. Among the topics covered in the workshop are “Identifying goals in order to have an impact” and “Overcoming anxiety or depression related to climate change.”
The workshops also provide techniques for discussing climate change with children so “they are not paralyzed by fear and disempowerment but instead can be enthused by motivation and optimism.”
Dr. Kennedy-Williams told The Guardian in February 2020 that he had turned his focus toward addressing anxiety in children because many parents are seeking help for dealing with the topic. He said he was shocked when his own daughter approached him when she was six to ask if humans were “winning the war against climate change.”
Youth taking action against climate change
Dr. Kennedy-Williams’ daughter is not alone in expressing concern over climate change. In the last few years, many prominent youth activists have taken up the cause.
One of the most visible is Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who was named Time’s Person of the Year for 2019. She has appeared at climate protests around the world and famously sailed the Atlantic Ocean in August 2019.
Thunberg isn’t doing it all on her own, though. According to the BBC, millions of children across 150 different countries have participated in global protests. These have included strikes in which children have skipped school or specifically sought out audiences with global leaders. Other youth activists include teenagers from India, Mexico, and Uganda, among many other nations.
National Geographic reported that youth-led activism and protests have occurred in hundreds of countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Hong Kong, Thailand, Kenya and Australia.
The effects of climate change
Climate scientists have been talking about the potential effects of climate change for decades. In the 1980s they warned that increased greenhouse gases would lead to the ocean rising and would have “catastrophic consequences.”
Recent weather events around the globe seem to be validating those fears.
On Friday, February 7, 2020, for the first time in recorded history, Antarctica reached nearly 65 degrees Fahrenheit (~18°C). As the polar ice caps melt, sea levels around the world are rising and people who live in low lying coastal regions are at severe risk of being permanently displaced.
Climate scientists have also said that the devastating bushfires that have waged in Australia over the last few months are, in part, a result of climate change. Those fires have resulted in dozens of deaths and have led to thousands of people being forced to flee their homes.
Scientists tell us that other likely consequences of climate change are stronger hurricanes and tropical storms. Scientists are projecting a 45-87% increase in category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the US in the near future.
Climate predictions for the future
According to a study recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (and cited by NASA), models used to project the effects of climate change have been “generally quite accurate.” The research found that 10 of the 17 models that were developed over the last five decades were highly aligned with observations.
When accounting for the complexity of actual changes versus modeled changes, the study determined that for 14 of 17 models, there was no evidence that the models “either systematically overestimated or underestimated warming over the period of their projections.”
Those findings make a recent report by the United Nations appear even more alarming. The 2019 report warned that the rate of species going extinct was currently accelerating and that the planet was headed for mass extinctions within the next decade.
As numerous nations declare climate emergencies, global powers such as the European Union have been attempting to address the issue. However, many of the nations involved in setting climate goals are failing to achieve those necessary changes.
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