Eco-anxiety, a side effect of the climate crisis that prompts young people to act

The climate crisis is causing uncertainty and even anxiety (eco-anxiety) in a large part of young people but, at the same time, it encourages action on the part of this group and, in fact, could turn the problem into part of the solution, encouraging youth and society as a whole to act in defense of the environment.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
08 June 2023 Thursday 11:13
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Eco-anxiety, a side effect of the climate crisis that prompts young people to act

The climate crisis is causing uncertainty and even anxiety (eco-anxiety) in a large part of young people but, at the same time, it encourages action on the part of this group and, in fact, could turn the problem into part of the solution, encouraging youth and society as a whole to act in defense of the environment. This is one of the main reflections expressed in the presentations and debates of the XI Environmental Day, a meeting organized jointly between Familia Torres, the University of Barcelona (UB) and the meteorologist Tomàs Molina.

The session took place in the Aula Magna of the UB with the participation of twelve climate experts and activists, who focused their presentations on the effects of the ecosocial crisis on mental health and on the future of young people, and how anxiety climate change is generating protest actions by this group.

Some 150 people attended the conference in person (held on June 7) and more than a hundred more have followed it virtually from the UB YouTube channel (the full video of the conference is available).

At the inauguration, Tomás Molina recalled the beginnings of the Environmental Day, in 2012, the objective then was to generate a university, scientific and social debate, which was focused on successive days on climate change, renewable energy, the water etc

Miguel A. Torres, president of Familia Torres, has pointed out that, despite all the alerts and the clear emergency we are experiencing, "everything remains the same, there are no changes, there is no desire to radically change the situation."

Although there are more and more companies with an environmental commitment, "six of the ten largest companies in the world are from the oil sector and it is very difficult to fight against it." "According to the magazine Nature, we are exceeding all the limits for the Earth to be habitable," Torres recalled, and if we do nothing, this could lead us "to extinction."

Teresa Jordà, Minister of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda, has pointed out that eco-anxiety is not only a matter of young people but of all citizens, although "we speak very little" and "requires courage". "For too many years we have thought that the resources were infinite and that we could do everything, that everything was worth it", and "advances have been made" in the change, but "not enough". "The debate on the uses of water has not yet been opened," and the sector that pays almost all the consequences is the primary one, farmers and ranchers, a very important sector for adaptation to climate change.

From a social point of view, moreover, Jordà concluded, "we are advancing in the energy transition", but we must remember that "there is no revolution that does not leave many people behind" and, in this case, we should avoid it. The rector of the UB, Joan Guàrdia, has spoken about the response to the climate emergency as a collective cause that challenges everyone and leads us to act in the face of a challenge. And in recent years, this response has been growing and "there is no going back." This is, he has said, "a great opportunity."

Anna Barnadas, secretary of Acció Climàtica of the Generalitat, biologist and teacher, said during her speech that we are "very reluctant to change" and, furthermore, "we have made the @jornadambiental

In the first block of the Conference, eco-anxiety has been addressed from a clinical point of view, describing and analyzing what it is and why it occurs. In two consecutive conferences that complemented each other, Dr. Virginia Krieger, from the UB Faculty of Psychology, and Caroline Hickman, psychotherapist from the University of Bath (United Kingdom) and co-author of the largest scientific study published on this subject , have analyzed this global problem and that it is increasingly prevalent among children and young people.

Anguish over the uncertainty of the future and the impossibility of controlling it, a common sentiment in our society, makes young people perceive that they have no future, that humanity is doomed and that, furthermore, governments do not respond properly. First of all, the experts have proposed two different but complementary ways to deal with the problem.

On the one hand, to observe the signs of the development of this anguish and, from the immediate family and social environment, promote ecological literacy and the involvement of children and young people in actions in favor of the environment and sustainability, in addition to the development of strategies to improve emotional well-being. On the other, the world's governments should respond clearly, protecting the mental health of their citizens by undertaking ethical and collective policies against climate change to reduce the stress they suffer and improve their vision of the future.

The second block of the Environmental Conference has been opened by the CSIC professor Fernando Valladares. After denouncing the impact of denialism, a minority that is linked to political, social, economic interests... has opposed eco-anxiety, a reaction to a very serious situation and that must be fought from the root, since it is a problem that can prevent the action.

And action, precisely, improves eco-anxiety, and activism is one of those therapeutic forms. You can also react with anger, a way of channeling concern in a positive way and that can lead to more intense activism, which breaks inertia, what is behind 'Fridays for Future' or the actions in art museums around the world. world.

A social movement that "cannot be ignored and has great power". Connecting these two reactions is very important to be able to change things, "very healthy" for individuals and groups, a "virtuous circle" that could save us from the "precipice" towards which we are headed. That is why he has invited us to reflect and act to achieve the break we need.

Tomás Molina and Carlota Bruna, dietitian-nutritionist and ambassador of the European Climate Pact, have focused their debate presentation on climate anxiety. Based on a survey carried out during the same Conference, they have pointed out how widespread this concern is in all age groups, which manifests itself as impotence, anxiety and sadness, but also anger and fear.

An anguish about the future of humanity and about the course of one's life that is reinforced with a practically null effect of public policies when it comes to appeasing it with their actions.

The renowned German climate activist Luisa Neubauer, co-organizer of Fridays for Future, has also intervened with a short presentation entitled Why should you be a climate activist? Growing up in the nineties, a golden age where it seemed that everything @jornadambiental

A reaction against the future where we are going, but also towards inaction and sadness in the face of this dark horizon. The final stretch of the Environmental Day has begun with a round table on actions initiated by young people in the face of this great crisis.

From Greenpeace Spain, Dani Arenas has wanted to break the "heroic vision" of climate activists and vindicate all the people behind it and who make the actions possible. Everyone can put their grain of sand. Elisabet Manich has explained the genesis of the Barcelona Citizen Assembly for Climate and how they were organized to draw up proposals for the institutions.

Maria Serra, ambassador of the European Climate Pact, spoke of the duty to talk to everyone, to go everywhere, to get involved in the future of a world that we will all have to live. "Eco-anxiety comes from not being in the room" where decisions are made and you don't understand what they do and you can't influence it.

Finally, Beatriu Garcias, from End Fossil Occupy Barcelona, ​​spoke about the movements born to convert this eco-anxiety into non-violent direct action to face the climate crisis and stated that the media do not give visibility to their actions, unless they resort to spectacular initiatives.

The Head of Communication of the European Commission Representation in Barcelona, ​​Laura Rahola, spoke about the future of young people in Europe and what the community institutions are doing. The reality is what it is, she has admitted, but she has pointed out that for four years climate change has been the "absolute priority" of the European Commission. This, however, will depend on the political options that govern the continent, and therefore citizen participation is necessary to continue and even accelerate the work that has been started.

Professor Teresa Sauras, from the Faculty of Biology of the UB and delegate of the rector for Sustainability, has presented the conclusions of the Conference, making a brief summary of the interventions, before the closing, which has been in charge of the deputy vice rector Ernest Abadal, Miguel A. Torres and Tomàs Molina.

The XI Environmental Conference has ended with a collective appeal to stop dependence on oil through t-shirts with the message "JUST STOP OIL" worn by some speakers, members of the advisory committee and those attending the conference.