The Dim Future of Gen Z: Climate Change and Distrust in Government
To trust in the future is one condition necessary for the self-motivation which leads to live a full life. The youth is lacking that trust and missing the opportunities it brings about. The reason behind this dreadful situation involves climate change and governments.
By Rosa Maria Currò | ASG Italy
About twenty days ago, The Lancet published in preprint form (i.e., before peer review approval) an article that is nothing short of terrifying. The text, written by a team of nine researchers from various international universities, is entitled ‘Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon‘ and is the largest questionnaire-based study about climate anxiety and young people’s perception of the future. Ten thousand questionnaires were filled in, ten thousand young people aged between 16 and 25 were given the opportunity to express their opinions on two macro themes: “thoughts about climate change” and “thoughts about government response”. From Australia to the Philippines, from the United Kingdom to Brazil, young people from different demographic basins and backgrounds have expressed their opinions. The response? A uniform and widespread distrust in the future, in their governments and in the possibilities they may have.
Quoting directly from the article:
“A large proportion of children and young people around the world report significant emotional distress and a wide range of painful, complex emotions […]. Similarly, large numbers report experiencing some functional impact, and identify pessimistic beliefs about the future […]. These results reinforce findings of earlier empirical research and expand on these by demonstrating the extensive, global nature of this distress as well as impact on functioning. […] Climate distress is clearly evident both in countries that are already experiencing extensive physical impacts of climate change, and in countries where the direct impacts are still less severe. Such high levels of distress, functional impact and feelings of betrayal will inevitably impact the mental health of children and young people.“
It is evident that the majority of global Generation Z (with peaks of over 90% in some countries) agree with negative statements such as ‘the future is terrifying’ and ‘what I value most will be destroyed’. Faced with such a picture, the feeling of neglect that these boys and girls feel when they think about their governments is even sadder. And so, the least considered feel their possibilities, from having children to building a career that allows them to access their parents’ wealth, crumbling beneath their feet.
As a member of Generation Z, I find these statistics deeply understandable. Indeed, it is not the first time that research has shown not only the increase in anxiety and stress in our generation but also that it will truly be the first age-group in a long time to generally have fewer opportunities than their parents. The low possibility of social mobility forces the younger generation to rely more and more on family capital, taking away more and more possibilities from those who cannot invest a lot of money in training or work for free or almost free within the endless internships offered by companies. In such a socio-economic situation, climate change is bound to be yet another element of destabilization for both individuals and their families. One only has to think, for example, of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. Numerous studies have shown that climate change has influenced the migration of bats to areas that are not typical for them, thus favoring the chain of events that has given the results we are now well aware of.
The awareness of our generation, born and raised in a globalized world with very high and widespread accessibility to information, is probably unprecedented. Similarly, overexposure to catastrophic news can have an influence on our anxieties and insecurities. Clearly, we, the young people of Fridays for Future, see our efforts wasted and our appeals still too little heard in the face of a Climate Clock that is ticking faster and faster, delineating a catastrophic scenario for our thirties, forties, and fifties. Not to mention the possible lives of our children and grandchildren. The time for systemic change must come, but this message is hardly getting into the heads and agendas of those in power. Our generation, almost without representation (with the exception of activists who are sometimes even exploited), finds itself squeezed at the edge of a future that seems impossible. How much more research of this kind will be needed before this ‘future’, which increasingly tastes like present (given that many of the young people interviewed are in fact already adults), is taken seriously?
Klenert, D., Funke, F., Mattauch, L. et al. Five Lessons from COVID-19 for Advancing Climate Change Mitigation. Environ Resource Econ 76, 751–778 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10640-020-00453-w
Marks, Elizabeth and Hickman, Caroline and Pihkala, Panu and Clayton, Susan and Lewandowski, Eric R. and Mayall, Elouise E. and Wray, Britt and Mellor, Catriona and van Susteren, Lise, Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3918955 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3918955
Rodó, X., San-José, A., Kirchgatter, K. et al. Changing climate and the COVID-19 pandemic: more than just heads or tails. Nat Med 27, 576–579 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-021-01303-y