Sharing Climate Stories – Eco-Anxiety And The Powerful Voices Of Young People
I’m fresh out of the ‘Open Mic’ event that I alluded to in my previous blog, where ‘Force of Nature’ made space for discussing climate emotions at Glasgow University. I’ve left with a sense of calm and confidence, but mostly I’m in awe of the awareness, intellect and power of youth across the world.
First up, let’s get to grips with the buzzword of the article: ‘eco-anxiety’.
Also described as ‘climate anxiety’, eco-anxiety is the feeling of anxiety, fear, stress and more in the face of climate change and biodiversity collapse. The strain on our mental wellbeing is a less-obvious impact that the climate and ecological crises have on us. It is a growing phenomenon, especially felt in young people (for numerous reasons).
The ‘Open Mic’ session attracted around 25 young people, and it began with an open invitation for individuals to share their climate story; this could be a low point, a realisation, a catalyst moment or an account of where agency prevailed instead of anxiety. We sat together and listened to each other’s stories, including two elected scout leaders from Finland and Portugal, who are proud to be part of the scout – and youth – representation at the COP26 conference, a local young person with Mexican heritage speaking of her frustrations surrounding the lack of engagement with indigenous communities and our leaders ‘mopping up’ an overflowing bath rather than ‘turning off the taps’, and an American law student who told us of his involvement in kick-starting a TikTok campaign about the ‘Arctic Coalition’ that helped pressure US Leaders into halting oil exploration in the Arctic, to name a few.
I also shared my climate story, one of four parts:
Realisation – of my place on a complex yet delicate planet that we have a duty to protect.
Fulfilment – having successfully worked my way into the sustainability sector, where I believed I could make the greatest positive impact.
Newfound awareness – of the presence and significance of eco-anxiety in my life, and understanding how this feeling interacts with and impacts my professional and personal action and capabilities.
Finally, acceptance – whereby I now understand that despite devoting your working life to addressing the climate and ecological crises, eco-anxiety does not go away; in many cases, it grows. But also, importantly, accepting that this is okay, natural, and can fuel my proactive, positive activities in the future.
After the climate stories we had a facilitated discussion. We shared how we were feeling about the first week of COP so far and also reflected on identifying any moments this week where we’ve felt positive, optimistic and hopeful. Off the back of this came a big discussion surrounding perspectives of the COP conference from the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’.
It was this part that filled me with wonder – the youth proceeded to highlight such forward-thinking, considerate and sustainably-minded thoughts, some of which even I as a sustainability professional two years into their career perhaps overlook on occasion! Individuals considered the importance of making space and time to hear from indigenous and ethnic minority groups, the challenges of communicating climate change and sustainability to others, and how we can best promote the agenda to those who may not value the same things as we do, to evoke positivity and success rather than frustration.
Attending the event was a calming experience that filled me with confidence; space was being made to reflect on emotions, share experiences and provide valuable recommendations and insights, and all this was being done by youth! The young people of the world are so capable and intelligent, and they certainly need to be involved more heavily in decision-making processes like COP; though this is happening in part at the conference, there’s certainly room for improvement!
So I encourage you, whether in a climate conversation or not, to make space for negative emotions, talk to others to help share experiences and fuel your agency, and make an active effort to invite young people into your conversations. Whether you’re part of a community, organisation or business, and whether it’s directly related to climate change or not, you may be surprised at how inspiring and thoughtful they are.
Jake has recently trained with Force of Nature to learn how to help people shift their eco-anxiety into agency. If you would like to discuss eco-anxiety in more detail, he would love to hear from you – get in touch by emailing: [email protected]
Jake Causley and The Team