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New Survey Asks Children What They Think About Climate Change

New Survey Asks Children What They Think About Climate Change

New Survey Asks Children How They Feel About Climate Change

A new studyPublished in the Lancet, Planetary Health Journal, this article examined a global survey about climate anxiety in children and youth and their beliefs about government response to climate change.

“We know from smaller studies that young people around the world experience climate anxiety and we also know that young people can feel betrayed by those in power who are failing to act on the climate crisis,” study author Elizabeth Marks told us. “However, large scale research was lacking and we wanted to know how widespread these experiences are.”

The study sought to determine what percentage of 16-25-year-olds in different countries report feeling anxious about climate change. It also looked at the functional effects of this anxiety on their emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Researchers also wanted information on how young people view government (in)action on climate change. 

“The research was based on existing evidence that young people are particularly vulnerable to climate-related distress and that climate anxiety has been reported in many countries around the world,” Marks told us. “We therefore hypothesized that we would find evidence for climate anxiety in all countries we surveyed.”

The literature shows that climate anxiety can cause many emotions, including anger, sadness and grief. They based their survey on the most widely reported emotions and thoughts linked to climate anxiety and hypothesized that these would also be present in a  proportion of their survey.

“The questions about how young people feel about government responses to climate change were based on qualitative reports that young people feel let down by government inaction, and the theory that government failure to prevent the harm arising from climate change can be experienced as a betrayal, which has the potential to cause moral distress,” Marks told us. “This was more of an exploratory research question than a hypothesis, as we were interested in finding out whether this theory was relevant to climate change, and whether it might be related to climate anxiety.”

Climate change poses a serious threat to our health. Marks explained that while most research has focused on the physical effects of climate change on human health, the psychological impacts are equally important. 

“It is essential to understand the ways in which climate change is affecting our mental health, and those of younger generations who have less power to make the changes that we need,” Marks told us. “Young people around the world are deeply concerned, we can see this in movements such as the youth strikes for climate and children taking governments to court for their failure to protect ecosystems and the future. Researchers have a responsibility to listen to young people, take their concerns seriously and find ways to support them.” 

The current study used existing literature to create a survey that asked about the thoughts, feelings, and functional effects of climate change and government inaction. The survey was completed online by 10,000 young people (1,006 in each of the 10 countries). This survey was designed to collect data from participants that were representative of each country.   

The survey revealed that 60% were concerned about climate change, and that nearly half (45%), felt that it had affected their daily life. These levels were higher in countries that are already directly affected by climate change. Researchers found that climate anxiety was associated with many difficult emotions, including sadness, fear, anger, powerlessness, helplessness, guilt, and as predicted. 

“Strikingly, we found that a large proportion of our whole sample agreed with a series of negative beliefs related to climate change, with 8 out of 10 saying that people have failed to take care of the planet, 3/4 saying that the future is frightening and over half saying that they believe humanity is doomed. We also found that 4 out of 10 said that they are hesitant to have their own children because of climate change.” 

However, despite their powerful feelings and thoughts, 48 percent of respondents said they are ignored or dismissed when they talk about climate change. 

“This links to my previous point about how important it is for all of us, including us researchers, to listen to young people,” Marks told us. “The beliefs endorsed about government action were also striking, with over half of our sample saying that, in relation to climate change, they believe governments are failing young people, lying about the impacts of the actions they are taking, dismissing their distress and betraying young people and future generations.”

Only 1/3 of respondents believe that governments protect them, can be trusted, or are doing enough to stop climate change. Similar feelings were expressed about governments by young people. Many felt let down by governments and described feeling anguished, abandoned by, afraid, anger, ashamed, and belittled because of government inaction. 

“There was some hope, as some people could feel reassured by governments. However, feelings of betrayal were greater than feelings of reassurance across the board,” Marks told us. “We also found that feelings of betrayal and beliefs about inadequate government action was associated with climate anxiety and with the impact this has on their daily functioning.” 

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Marks wasn’t surprised by the results but instead, dismayed by the sheer numbers of children and young people in the sample who reported climate anxiety and profoundly disturbing thoughts about what this means for them, their futures and those of new generations, and how let down they feel by those who should be protecting them – their governments. 

“We all have to take climate anxiety seriously,” Marks told us. “If children and young people in our life are concerned about the climate crisis, then it is important that we listen to their distress. This may mean that we have to be in touch with our own distress – not only are young people concerned about climate change, but many adults around world are also suffering from it. It is difficult. It is important to recognize that distress is a sign of our concern for the world and each other. Evidence suggests that when we come together and listen to one another, we can create supportive and helpful ways of responding to this distress, particularly as it means we don’t feel so alone with difficult experiences.” 

Marks believes that researchers, clinicians, educators, and others around the world have a responsibility in understanding and acknowledging this experience, and then to find the best ways to respond. 

“Most importantly, governments, global leaders and those in positions of power must regard these results as a call to action,” Marks told us. “We must place the voices of young people at the centre of decision making and bring all generations together to protect all of our futures. Yes, we need to find ways to support people who are experiencing this distress, but the only real ‘cure’ for climate anxiety will be urgent, decisive and effective action on climate change.” 

Patricia Tomasi, a mother, maternal mental health advocate and journalist, is a speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her at You can find the Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group – Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support GroupJoin over 1500 other members around the globe. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com

Email: tomasi.patricia@gmail.com



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