In February 2020 the Australian Institute for Disaster Relief joined with World Vision to complete the largest ever Australian youth survey on climate change and disaster risk: “Our World, Our Say” (see below).
Age and gender of participants in the ‘Our World, Our Say’ survey of Australian youth in February 2020 (Source).
More than 80% of participants over 16 said they were concerned or extremely concerned about climate change, compared with <60% of those aged under 12.
Most young people clearly understand the link between climate change and the risk of natural disasters such as bushfires and floods. More than 90% of participants in a 2020 survey of 740 Australian youths (aged 16–25) in New South Wales had experienced a natural hazard event in the 3 years prior.
There is a conclusive link between climate change and feelings of anxiety and depression in young people. The term ‘ecoanxiety’ has been used to describe the feeling of stress and despair experienced when thinking about the worsening state of the global environment. It’s a growing problem, felt most strongly by those living in areas prone to climate-change related disasters, such as Australia. Adding to this problem is the fact that only 13% of young people believe their views were listed to by governmental leaders.
The main concerns Australian youths have about climate change are
- extinction of plants and animals
- livability of the planet
- natural hazards and extreme weather
- increased temperatures
- air pollution
- water shortage or drought
- impacts on agriculture and food
- sea-level rises
Ella Simmons (15) was Australia’s Youth Delegate for the pre-COP Youth4Climate event held in the lead up to the United Nation’s global climate summit (COP26). Ella became involved in the Australian Youth Climate Coalition after attending a School Strike 4 Climate rally in 2018. Attendees at rallies held in March this year called for
- net zero carbon by 2030
- 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030
- funding for a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel workers and their communities
Ella says, ‘What I’ve learnt over this journey is that my story is not unique. There are so many of us worried about what the future holds if we can’t control our emissions to 1.5°C. I am not alone. You are not alone. There are thousands of people across the globe that understand us, and they can’t wait to join the fight’.
Alice Cotter attended in Darwin, and said, ‘this [climate change] is a big issue and it should be addressed a little earlier than 2050’.
Alice Cotter at the School Strike for Climate in Darwin (Source: ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-25/nsw-floods-highlighted-school-strike-for-climate/100938942, accessed 7 May 2022)
The most important climate issues that young Australians think need to be addressed include
- transitioning away from fossil fuels to cleaner, more renewable energy sources
- listening more closely to scientists’ advice on climate change mitigation,
- supporting disaster-affected communities
- ensuring young people are provided with knowledge to prepare and deal with natural hazards
Levels of climate distress among young Australians are typical of those felt in other developed countries, but higher than those of older Australians. In 2019, the ‘Climate of the Nation’ report showed that 83% of 18–34-year-olds are concerned about climate change compared with 67% of people aged 55 or older.
However, among ‘Generation Z’ minors (age 16 or 17) 21.7% agreed the media has exaggerated climate change. This was significantly higher than 16.1% for ‘Generation Z’ adults (aged 18–20) in the same survey, or 17.2% for ‘Millennials’ (aged 21–38) who were asked the same question in a separate survey in January. To counter this problem, Associate Professor David Holmes (Director of the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub) says effective climate communication should combine the warnings about the risks with the solutions about how to fix it.
Young Australians concerned about climate change are encouraged to get involved in one of the many climate groups around the country (and indeed, the world) in making sure their voices heard. To quote anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Judi Walters
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