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Princeton cannot solve the mental illness crisis without a divestment from fossil fuels

Princeton cannot solve the mental illness crisis without a divestment from fossil fuels

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In a time of global health crises and the imminent threat from global warming, the youth of today are crucial.Mental healthIt is rapidly deteriorating at alarming rates. Two years of less than normal social interaction have resulted in a steady increase in adolescent anxiety, and depression. This is mirrored in the following: Questions among the University’s student body, on campus with pressures of academic success and unrealistic expectations surrounding time management and achievement.  

Princeton claims that it supports student mental health in its publicity materials. Yet President Christopher Eisgruber and the University’s Board of Trustees Continue to confirm that divesting from investments into companies associated with the use and production of fossil fuels is not Princeton’s priority. What the University fails to understand is that it’s almost impossible to be emotionally healthy while the world is dying.

Princeton’s reluctance to divest while investing in mental health is jarring and hypocritical. The University’s declarations of support and remodeling of its approach to mental health are failed attempts to veil the real issue: Princeton must divest from fossil fuels, and they must do it now. It’s difficult to stifle the growing mental health crisis as climate change ravages the planet.

As Ivy League students, we’re considered the next generation of leaders. Ironically, however our declining mental health is used by those in power to discredit us for calling for the end of climate change. Our generation is considered too emotionally stunted to understand that we’re facing a climate emergency, and too unreliable to lead the uprising against the continued use of fossil fuels and deforestation of carbon sinks across the world. Our mental health problems often make us appear as people who are unable to see the bigger picture, especially on global issues.

The irony of supporting mental health in a dying world seems lost on the people elected to make the most difficult decisions, in the same way it’s ignored by University officials. With a global climate emergency and constant reminders that the Earth’s future is uncertain, it is impossible to treat depression and anxiety. As “the leaders of the future,” young people understand too well the desperation to change world leaders’ perspective before our situation becomes irreversible.

The collective effect of politicians and those in power is created by the people. Narrative that the mental health crisis is the biggest threat to young people’s lives in order to challenge the validity of our calls to action against climate change. Greta Thunberg, who is often a victim to this narrative, is simultaneously villainized Victimizedby the media. Thunberg is so evocative of our fear for the future, she is an allegorical target representing all young people. She makes it painfully clear: we’re out of time. She is the perfect example of the world’s need to not only blame young people for the climate emergency, but also to suggest that our mental instability clouds our judgment and that the world is, in fact, not dying.

Focusing on the mental health crisis facing our generation is a tactic to paint a narrative of ‘youth hysteria,’ suggesting that our opinions are blinded by chemical imbalances and mood disorders, that we exaggerate and cry wolf, that we’re childish and blindsided, that we don’t understand how the stock market works, and that the fossil fuel industry actually saves lives.

Presenting young people as mentally ill places us in a category of uneducated conspiracists, which makes it easier for governments, politicians, and those in power to not only ignore our perspective on the climate crisis, but also to suggest that we have no claim over decisions made regarding the future of our planet, the planet we’re supposedly meant to lead.

As young people, it’s difficult to separate our collective responsibility to reverse global warming and climate change from our own personal struggles. How can we maintain our mental health and well-being when the world is dying? When our perspective on global issues is ignored, it’s hard to not become disillusioned with the systems created and upheld (supposedly) for our benefit.

While Princeton’s choice not to divest is a small decision in comparison with those taken by extremely powerful governments worldwide — notably the United States — as a globally renowned institution currently contributing to the planet’s poisoning, we are complicit in this harmful decision-making. If the market for fossil fuels were not divested on a large enough scale and by large numbers of investors, it would collapse. Eventually, it would be redundant to invest in dying industries, which would lead to a shift of investment to more sustainable, renewable energy. The solution to the mental health crisis is easier when we can be sure that our generation and planet will have a bright future.

Without small-scale improvements, which eventually lead into larger changes, we will continue to lead a dying planet. How can we take responsibility for industries we didn’t create, emissions we aren’t responsible for, and decisions we didn’t make? How can we remedy an irreversible situation when we aren’t given that power, or the access to those who do have that power? What are we supposed to do with a dying planet?

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Emilly Santos, a first-year contributor columnist, is from London, England. She plans to concentrate in Physics. Emilly can reached at emilly.santos@princeton.eduOr on Instagram @emillllysantoss

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