Four out of 10 Young people around the world are reluctant to have children because of the climate crisis and fear governments are doing too little to prevent the climate catastrophe, a survey of 10 countries has found.
Nearly six in 10 young people aged 16 to 25 are very or extremely concerned about climate change, according to the largest-ever scientific study of climate anxiety and young people released on Tuesday. A similar number said governments were not protecting them, the planet or future generations and felt betrayed by the older generation and governments.
Three quarters agreed with the statement “The future is scary” and more than half said they had fewer opportunities than their parents. Almost half reported feeling concerned or anxious about the climate in a way that interfered with their daily life and functioning.
The survey of around 10,000 young people included Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, the UK and the US. It was paid for by the campaign organization Avaaz.
Young climate activists said feelings of fear about climate are common among today’s youth. Mitzi Tan, 23, from the Philippines said: “I grew up afraid of drowning in my own bedroom. Society tells me this fear is an irrational fear that needs to be overcome, one that meditation and healthy coping mechanisms will “fix.” At the root of our climate anxiety lies in this deep-seated sense of betrayal by government inaction. To really address our growing climate anxiety, we need justice.”
It’s now common for young people to worry about having children, according to Luisa Neubauer, a 25-year-old climate activist who is a co-organizer of the school strike movement in Germany and helped achieve the court victory that forced the German government to reassess their climate policies.
She said: “I meet a lot of young girls who ask if it’s still okay to have children. It’s a simple question, but it says so much about the climate reality we live in. We young people have realized that worrying about the climate crisis will not stop us. So we turned our individual fear into collective action. And now we’re fighting everywhere: on the streets, in courts, inside and outside institutions around the world. Yet governments are still failing us as emissions soar to record levels. The appropriate response to this study would be for governments to start acting as they promised.”
Earlier this month, Unicef noted that children and youth around the world are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, with 1 billion children “extremely vulnerable” to the effects of climate change.
The study, titled “Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon,” was prepublished by the scientific journal Lancet Planetary Health while it is under peer review. The survey was conducted and analyzed by seven academic institutions in the UK, Europe and the US, including the University of Bath, the University of East Anglia and the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.
The poll complements previous polls that have also found high levels of concern about the climate crisis around the world, including fears of having children.
Caroline Hickman, of the University of Bath, Climate Psychology Alliance and co-lead author of the study, said: “This study paints a chilling picture of the widespread climate anxiety among our children and young people. It suggests for the first time that high levels of mental distress among youth are linked to government inaction. Our children’s fear is a perfectly rational response to the inadequate responses to climate change they see from governments. What else do governments need to hear to take action?”
Francois Hollande, who was President of France when the Paris Agreement was forged in 2015, urged governments meeting in Glasgow for the UN’s Cop26 climate summit in November to take note. “Six years after the Paris Agreement, we must open our eyes to the violence of climate change, to its impact on our planet, but also to the mental health of our youth, as this alarming study shows. We must act urgently and do everything we can to give younger generations a future,” he said.