As climate changes, climate anxiety rises in youth

March 3, 2023

March 2, 2023,  CBS News, David Schechter, Haley Rush, Chance Horner

Kids often worry about much different things than their parents do. One of the big ones is climate change. Research shows most youth are “extremely worried” about it, leading to a phenomenon called climate anxiety. Kids and young adults who struggle with this can perceive they have no future or that humanity is doomed.

“We see that a lot of young people are saying, I think my life will be worse than my parents’ lives,” said Dr. Sarah Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Suffolk University in Boston.

A study published last year collected attitudes about climate change from 10,000 people across the world, aged 16-25.

In the survey, 59% of youth and young adults said they were very or extremely worried about climate change and more than 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning.

“So, they know that the world is going to get to be a harder, darker, scarier place,” said Schwartz. “And imagining themselves in that world feels really scary for them.”

The study also revealed how climate change makes young people feel. In all countries surveyed, nearly 62% said they were anxious about climate change. About 67% said they were sad and afraid.

Schwartz is researching climate anxiety. She said it’s not a diagnosis, but a valid response to the current situation in the world, and her research shows that three-quarters of young people report worrying about climate change.

“I don’t think it makes sense as a disorder because, again, that one assumes that this is a psychopathology of a few rather than the majority,” said Schwartz. “And then the goal is that it is this individual disorder, where we treat at the individual level rather than address the societal issues and the environmental issues.

“People should be talking about it more since it’s their planet,” said high school student Johanna Flores. “They should be worried about their health.”

Flores lives in Chelsea, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, where she said there is so much jet fuel, road salt and heating oil stored on the river it’s hard for some residents to even get close to the water.

“And you wouldn’t see that in a white neighborhood, like you would see a beautiful view of the water,” said 15-year-old Darien Rodriguez, who also lives in Chelsea. “You wouldn’t see any industries, any like smoke and pollution.”

The students are environmental activists at a non-profit called GreenRoots. They work alongside adults, advocating for environmental justice in their hometown by educating and empowering others to get involved.

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