In recent years, there has been a well-documented rise in “climate anxiety” among young people, a phenomenon in which younger generations fear their futures will be doomed by catastrophic climate change. According to a study in Lancet Planetary Health by Elizabeth Marks and Caroline Hickman, nearly half of the respondents reported that “their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning.” But why?
The reasoning among climate activists and academics for such stress in young people is that many do not believe government leaders are doing anything to help their future. For example, Marks and Hickman note that “Qualitative studies show that climate anxiety is associated with perceptions of inadequate action by adults and governments, feelings of betrayal, abandonment and moral injury.”
The most outspoken example of this anxiety is Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish climate activist who burst onto the world scene with her Fridays for Future climate strikes and her emotional rant during an invited speech to the United Nations in 2019. Thunberg has long made clear her lack of patience with those who fail to see the “climate crisis” as seriously as she does. Her relative lack of presence at the recent COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland — and her petulant response to the event — belies a growing distance between her youth movement and the political leadership that claims to agree with her.
While climate alarmists such as Thunberg blame their anxiety on the supposed inability of world governments to address a serious problem, the real source of their anxiety is the disconnect between their perception of how severe climate change is and the reality of how minor it is compared to the more real and immediate problems of poverty, education, and geopolitical conflicts. When governments correctly focus on more important problems, climate alarmists feel left out in the cold.
This perception gap is fueled by activists and the mainstream media, which report every severe weather event with breathless warnings about how climate change will make it worse. Our news sources, especially regarding environment and science news, ignore or actively suppress the fact that there is scant evidence, most of it manufactured from models, that climate change is making severe weather worse. Even if that were true, our energy and wealth are making us far more adept at dealing with climate, as evidenced by the fact that deaths from climate disasters have fallen 98% over the past 100 years.
Young people also make the mistake of looking to actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, politicians like Al Gore, AOC, Bernie Sanders, and teenagers like Thunberg as climate policy leaders. That just tells you how little people know about energy and the environment. Aside from young people shouting their frustrations about things that cannot really be fixed, they never really spell out what would constitute “doing anything.” Their demands are all bluster but no specifics — and they fail to acknowledge the facts.
As a college student, not that much older than Thunberg and in the prime age demographic for climate anxiety, I can say that I have never been fazed by the so-called “climate crisis.” Instead of slamming prior generations for developing our energy resources, I am grateful for the things we deem “necessities” but would seem like rich luxuries to young people in the developing world, like indoor heating, air conditioning, and plumbing — not to mention iPhones and computers. The failure of the Texas electric grid in February and how it personally effected my family showed me how important reliable energy is for modern life and how we must continue investing in it.
The progress we have made in the United States with fossil fuels also means we now have some of the cleanest air and water ever. The United States has cut emissions of criteria air pollutants by 78% since 1970. While U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases have also fallen in recent years, the reductions in harmful pollution are a far more worthy achievement to celebrate because of the immediate and tangible positive impact on human lives.
It’s no wonder countries such as China, India and Russia have made clear they are unimpressed with the tactics of climate activists and have no intention of taking whatever drastic action the “climate consensus” deems necessary to save the planet.
As the foolishness of Thunberg’s amorphous demands becomes increasingly obvious, it seems that she is fading from climate poster child to celebrity has-been. Fortunately, her predictions of climate doom will eventually be proven wrong. We have adapted spectacularly well to the warming world of the past century, and we will be able to cope with whatever challenges a changing climate might bring in the next century. This is why I am optimistic about our future, unlike Thunberg and the other climate hysterics, who are harming our youth by manufacturing anxiety about climate change.