Gen Z was born into a dying world. Jenna Grace Piehl speaks to Gen Zers about how climate change affects their fear of the future.
Gen Z was born into a dying world, and we’ve known it for years. For Ruthie Boyd, 23, the first signs came when the snow took longer to blanket the Colorado Mountains. Boyd was 9-years-old and confused as her elementary school teacher blamed global warming and told her that this could be the new normal.
Before Boyd reached her pre-teen years, she was confronted by a rapidly changing world, and not for the better. Her sacred snow-coated ski town was facing a terrifyingly warm future.
These realities of climate change have only amplified since. Hurricane seasons are getting worse year-by-year, the arctic has lost 95% of its ice in 30 years, one-third of all animal and plant species face climate change-related extinction by 2070, last year deadly fires ripped through California and Australia, and last week Texas froze over.
For Northwestern University student Lucy London, climate change intensifies the feeling of uncertainty in her future, it may even affect her decision to become a mother later in life. What kind of world would she be bringing her children into? How many difficult decisions would they have to make? These are the questions London thinks of when asked if she would start a family later in life.
“The future is so uncertain, due to the climate catastrophe that is happening and will continue to worsen,” London said. “That just like the prospect of having kids and bringing more life into the world is -- I don't know what they would experience, and it seems like things would only get worse.”
The Greatest Generation faced World War II and Baby Boomers dealt with the Cold War/bomb shelters, yet Millennials and Gen Zers were born immediately confronted with the possibility of an inhabitable Earth.
London and Boyd are not alone in their fears of climate catastrophe. In an Amnesty International survey of over 10,000 participants aged 18-25 across 22 countries, 40% ranked climate change as the most important issue facing our world today. The issue ranked second: pollution with 36% of participants voting for it.
“There are like 5 million species going extinct every day or something insane because of us,” London said. “I just wish people would understand that the world that we are creating because of our irresponsibility is just gonna be so majorly impacted, and so different than our normal life today.”
Every day, it feels as if the survival of our planet rests on Gen Z’s shoulders and no one is listening. It’s gone so far that in a Fortune opinion piece, a professor of environmental science claimed that one of his students started starving herself to reduce her waste after she learned more about humanity’s abuse of the Earth.
While her story is unique, her reaction to climate-related stress is common among Gen Z.
In response to these harmful coping mechanisms, philosophers, psychologists and environment scholars created new diagnoses, emotions and vocabulary in an attempt to explain new climate-related experiences and emotions. In 2017, the American Psychological Association asserted that patients could be diagnosed with “ecoanxiety” to explain climate-related depression, anxiety, PTSD and immense stress. This is one of many climate-related mental illnesses that have emerged over the last few years.
There is so much happening in the world, especially now as we suffer through a global pandemic, but many Gen Zers feel that if we don’t work to reduce climate change now then nothing else matters. Many generations look to us, activists like Greta Thunberg and the global strikes demonstrated across the globe and admire our motivation for the cause.
Your admiration means nothing if you do not stand up, speak up and help us save our planet.
“Whenever I'm prompted to think about big future things, I was like, well, climate change exists, we don't know that any of this is actually gonna happen,” London said.
We need government officials everywhere to protect our planet as much as we do. We cannot continue to be the sole generation leading the charge. Governmental officials like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are helping, but they too do not have the power necessary to turn the tide. It’s time for climate change to become a bipartisan issue and for our President to make it a top priority issue.
The future terrifies Gen Z. Not because we are afraid of growing up, but because we face an uncertain world. Gen Z is starving themselves, deeply questioning having children and perpetually anxious about how we are harming the planet that gave us life. This is all because of climate change. The future is scary enough as is, yet climate change makes us question if there is a future to be afraid of. We want a future, we want our children to have a world to live in. Yet, if no one listens and steps forward to help, we will continue to fear ours and our planet’s future.
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