Climate Change and Youth

November 8, 2019 - 6 minutes read

Thank you to Rockridge counsellor, Mr. Robert Broughton for his insights into how to encourage and support young people concerned about climate change.  

“2018 now worst fire season on record as B.C. extends state of emergency”   CBC, Aug 29, 2018

“Wild orcas may not survive climate change”    Salon, Jan 5, 2015

“Sockeye salmon at risk of overheating due to climate change: study”  Globe and Mail, March 31, 2011

In BC, we are no strangers to alarming news regarding the possible impact of climate change. The smell of smoke in the air seems to now be an almost permanent feature of summer, and news about impacts on wildlife and on the oceans is a regular item in the news.  Consequently, some adolescents may express concern about the possible impact on their future, and what they perceive as lack of action on the part of adults.

Regardless of one’s views on the climate crisis, there is one fact that cannot be denied: the changing climate, and environmental degradation generally, are causing feelings of grief, sadness, anger and fear –  especially in young people.  An emotional response is normal, and even negative emotions are part of a healthy, fulfilling life.  But when these feelings become stuck, they can have a negative impact on young people’s general well-being, and on their ability to experience life as they want to.  This blog post looks at some ways that we can support young people in managing these feelings, and encourage them to use these feelings in ways that will enrich their life.

Talk About It

All of us need to talk about the things that are important to us.  We don’t need others to agree with us all the time, and it’s not reasonable to expect this, but we need to feel heard and understood by those around us.  Sometimes teens seem to prioritize independence and autonomy over pretty much everything, but they highly value being understood and listened to by parents, teachers, and other adult role models.

Talking gives young people (and older people) the opportunity to express their emotions, and to let them move through them.  Without this, it is easier to become stuck in a feeling, and have it bleed into other areas of our lives.  Most young people would likely say that talk is not enough when addressing this particular issue, but it is an important part of the whole, and something in which adults can play a key role.

Take Action

Most people, when in a state of anxiety, go into avoidance mode. However, our emotions provide important information about what our lives are meant to look like, and what is important to us.  For example, fear tells us they may be a threat to address, and confusion tells us that we need more information.

The feelings that young people experience regarding climate change have a message also.  For many youth, they are a call to action.  Using these feelings to inspire one to engage in personal change that supports the environment, or advocacy work that does the same, can create a sense of purpose and agency.  It also combats the despair many young people feel when they think about the size of the problem, and allows them to feel connected to others who share their views.

Take a Break

There are, and will always be, issues that represent an existential threat to humanity.  The spread of fascism before WWII, or the threat of nuclear conflict during the Cold War, are both examples.

Our challenge is the same as it was for folks then: to live a fulfilling life, while at the same time embodying our values and helping make the world a better place.  This requires a commitment to self-care.  We have to remember to both live our vision for the world, but to also enjoy the life we have.  Though it might seem counter-intuitive, playing sports, spending time with friends, and doing other activities that we enjoy is critical to our ability to improve the world for ourselves and others.  If we care for ourselves, we will have more to offer others as well.

It is possible to acknowledge the pain, loss and danger that the climate crisis may represent while also preserving one’s courage, resilience and compassion.  I hope that in presenting these ideas, I am able in some small way to help you do this.