Fear-Mongering in Science: How Climate Change Activism Negatively Affects Gen Z’s Mental Health

Sydney Thompson

Senior Staff Writer

On the morning of Oct 21st, 2021, the Director of National Intelligence released the first estimate on climate change. This document declares the National Intelligence Agency’s assessment of climate change as a threat to the U.S. 

According to the New York Times, the document warns that “current policies and pledges are insufficient” to meet the standards of the Paris Accords. 

The National Intelligence estimate is one of many warnings given by top-level officials in various fields in the past decade. One of the most infamous warnings is the declaration that the planet has twelve years left, a misquote of a 2017 report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC).“Eleven years is all we have ahead of us to change our direction,” said UN IPCC President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces.

It is important that the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere does not increase much more, because corals and wildlife are drastically affected by the slight change in average temperature. NASA blog writer Alan Buis cites the average increase in the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere as the cause of the rise in dangerous, once-in-a-lifetime weather events such as hurricanes, increased wildfires, and snowstorms in Texas. 

However, some dislike the use of the more drastic claims such as the twelve-year estimate because of the negative mental health effects on Millennials and Generation Z. University of Michigan professor Meghan Duffy reflected on this after a study into her 2019 ecology class’s reactions to her climate change unit: “It’s tempting to say how bad things are, how much we need to stop it. But at some point, you’ve accidentally said this is a foregone conclusion. We can overemphasize how scary it is to the point where people feel hopeless and panicked.”

Many students feel hopeless and panicked, according to Nevada psychiatrist Elizabeth Haase in an interview with the Washington Post. She described the general feelings of her patients with eco-anxiety: “I’m supposed to be emotionally hopeful in a hopeless situation, and I’m supposed to act powerful when the source of power is collective power, and it’s overwhelming, and I’m supposed to feel faith and do things to be sustainable when nature is declining around me.” 

According to the American Psychological Association in 2016, climate change is the source of anxiety for many college students and adolescents. Australian researcher at Griffith University Joseph Reser stated in the APA’s report that climate change activism is not doing enough for the psychological impact of climate change. “People have been concerned and distressed about climate change for several decades, but there’s been little monitoring of those psychological impacts,” Reser said. “Climate change is an ongoing threat, and the psychological implications are occurring here and now.”

Resources are being developed for teenagers and young adults with anxiety over climate change. In February 2020, Seattle clinical social worker Andrew Bryant created Climate and Mind to help young people with climate change anxiety. 

Ultimately, however, what experts recommend is to teach solutions, not just the problems. Alabama teacher Lisa Balzas said in an interview with the Washington Post: “I wanted them to feel like they were empowered in the way you could have an intelligent conversation. The scary part is feeling like there’s nothing you individually can do, especially when you look at the government. So turning it around and putting it back in your personal control, this is what you can vote for and work for.”

Climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed and will have adverse effects on the ecology of Earth. The fatalistic language surrounding climate change, however, will not change the problem. Moderation is needed when discussing how to mitigate the changes humanity has made on Earth’s atmosphere.

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