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75% of young people think ‘future is frightening’ over government inaction on climate

In the largest study of its kind, researchers have found that the climate crisis is leaving young people around the world feeling frightened – and with a sense of betrayal that their governments are not doing enough to tackle the issue.

Researchers from the University of Bath in the UK surveyed 10,000 young people, aged 16-25 in ten countries including the US, Nigeria, Finland, and France.

The poll, yet to be reviewed by independent experts, asked questions about general feelings towards the climate crisis and how governments are responding.

More than 45 per cent of young people said their feelings about climate change negatively impact their daily life and functioning, and 75 per cent said they feel the future is frightening.

“When I was 16, I went through phases of feeling utterly helpless in face of this immense problem,” said Beth Irving, a 19-year-old activist who organised the Cardiff student climate strikes.

Some 65 per cent of young people said governments are not doing enough to avoid a climate catastrophe, while 58 per cent said governments are betraying them.

Mitzi Tan, 23, from the Philippines, said: “I grew up being afraid of drowning in my own bedroom. Society tells me that this anxiety is an irrational fear that needs to be overcome — one that meditation and healthy coping mechanisms will ‘fix.’

“At its root, our climate anxiety comes from this deep-set feeling of betrayal because of government inaction.”

Nearly two-thirds (61%) said governments are not protecting them, the planet, or future generations.

“Climate change has significant implications for the health and futures of children and young people, yet they have little power to limit its harm, making them vulnerable to increased climate anxiety,” the study notes.

Caroline Hickman, from the University of Bath, Climate Psychology Alliance and co-lead author on 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.

“Our children’s anxiety is a completely rational reaction given the inadequate responses to climate change they are seeing from governments. What more do governments need to hear to take action?”

In the US, there are conferences and groups dedicated to unpacking feelings about the climate crisis. Uplift Climate is an annual conference about the climate crisis for people under 30. There are sessions about how to stay resilient and cope with the effects of a warming planet.

In 2017, the American Psychological Association released a report on how the climate crisis affects mental health, saying “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion”.

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