Written by Sydney Stevenson, 2019-2020 Youth Advisory Board
We all now know that climate change is affecting environments all over the world, some places more disproportionately than others. Even though powerful forces are trying to disprove the scientifically proven impacts of climate change, the consequences still prevail.
Growing up, I always loved being outside. Nature and the outdoors had a soothing presence in my life. I was lucky to spend summers on Georgian Bay in Bayfield Inlet, which is located on the traditional territory of the Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ and Huron-Wendat. This land and experience sparked in me a connection to our environment. Campfires, swimming, hikes, and island adventures still have a huge presence in my life. I’m most humbled when I am in the natural world because it makes me see how I am part of a massive system interconnected to everything living on our planet. I always think about looking up at the stars and how we are a small part of a huge universe, and this makes me feel as though I need to be a part of this system and do my part to protect it. Although, I feel like the more I grow up, the more I hear about losses, harms, and damage being done by humans to the environment. The older I get, I feel as if all I hear is bad news.
“Due to the lack of collaborative climate action in the past, the youth of today have no choice but to be the change makers and save our environment!”
Youth today are the generation left to try and understand past mistakes and change actions and systems on a mass scale to save the earth. During a General Assembly meeting at the UN, the president stressed that in 2019 we only have 11 years to avert irreversible damage from climate change. She stated, “We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet” (U.N.). This gives us a mandate and a nerve-racking ultimatum. It is important to understand who will feel the burden of the effects of climate change, and that is the youth of today. Generations in the past 100 years have made the problem worse and failed to reverse these catastrophic effects of environmental damage. We will grow up with the burden of this damage. Due to the lack of collaborative climate action in the past, the youth of today have no choice but to be the change makers and save our environment!
“As we grow up in a world filled with talk of destruction and environmental damage it is hard not to feel a sense of impossibility sometimes.”
These notions create a powerful message of strength and hope for youth today, but for many, it incites feelings of stress and anxiety. Clayton, a psychology professor at the College of Wooster said, “the psychological responses to climate change such as conflict avoidance, fatalism, fear, helplessness and resignation are growing” (Christensen). A Globe and Mail series done by Gayle Macdonald on examining the health repercussions of climate change on Canadians states that, “child psychiatrists, psychologists and educators say they’ve seen an escalation in the anxiety levels of today’s youth, who are constantly exposed to doomsday talk about the destruction of our planet.” In her article on climate change and psychology, Janet Swim explains that it is also important to note the cultural and place-based differences that affect an individual’s psychological response to climate change (Swim, 31). Therefore, youth all over the world are uniquely experiencing personal and individual psychological impacts of climate change. As we grow up in a world filled with talk of destruction and environmental damage it is hard not to feel a sense of impossibility sometimes.
“It has been an amazing and heartwarming experience connecting with other youth all over Canada who are passionate about tackling environmental issues.”
With all of this fear, there is hope. I felt immense hope this year attending the student climate strike in Montreal. Started by youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, students across the globe have been striking from school on Fridays to call for political action on the global environmental crisis. I remember being in the crowd on the front steps of McGill University and looking down the laneway leading to the main building. All of the other schools had planned to meet us there before we marched to a park. When I saw the front of the procession coming to meet us I got shivers. I had never expected so many people to show up. The mass of youth came towards us and we all joined forces to march together. At this moment I truly felt the power of collective youth action.
This last May, I had the pleasure of joining Waterlution’s Youth Advisory Board. It has been an amazing and heartwarming experience connecting with other youth all over Canada who are passionate about tackling environmental issues. It is hopeful to see through this group of youth how many people are dedicating their time, thoughts, and energy to do their part in acting to protect the environment. At the end of our first meeting as a Youth Advisory Board group, everyone said three words they were feeling at that moment. Hopeful, inspired, and motivated were some of the most prominent adjectives used to describe the feeling of us all being empowered and working together. This platform of connecting youth through Waterlution’s board has truly given me hope because it has made me realize how many young people just like me have turned their fears and anxieties into action, and collective action of youth could truly be the first step to solving this crisis.
Levitt, who is a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Toronto argues that to help calm this anxiety on an individual level one answer can be, “helping people to master small tasks that reduce their carbon footprint can lead to a greater sense of control and efficacy for that person – and with that a reduction in anxiety” (Macdonald). This means that taking small forms of action to limit your personal impact on the environment can help quell the effects of anxiety from the burden of climate change. Even more beneficially, every one of these small actions can add to a change in habit and mentality which all have an impact on reversing the effects of climate change. If mass amounts of youth are driven to action, there will become a communal sense of power and strength among us as we step into the world as the leaders of the environmental movement. It is our actions that can help save the world for our future.
To learn more about the Youth Advisory Board and programs such as the Great Canoe Journey, please visit waterlution.org.
- Christensen, Jen. “Climate Anxiety is Real, but there is Something You Can Do About It.” CNN. May 7, 2019.
- Macdonald, Gayle.” Youth anxiety on the rise amid changing climate.” Globe and Mail. May 12, 2018.
- United Nations. “Only 11 Years Left to Prevent Irreversible Damage from Climate Change, Speakers Warn during General Assembly High-Level Meeting.” U.N. Meetings Coverage and Press Releases. March 28, 2019.
- Swim, Janet. “Psychology and Global Climate Change: Addressing a Multi-faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges.” American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change. August 2009.