Ignoring young people’s climate change fears is a recipe for anxiety


Rachael Sharman, University of the Sunshine Coast and Patrick D. Nunn, University of the Sunshine Coast

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.


Thousands of school students across Australia are expected to join in the global protest today calling for action on climate change.

This isn’t the first time students in Australia have rallied against climate change – many took to the streets in March. But today is expected to be one of the biggest protests as they’ll be joined by others, including many workers.




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The participation of our school students is a sign of how seriously they see climate change. As the organising website says:

We are striking from school to tell our politicians to take our futures seriously and treat climate change for what it is – a crisis.

By the end of this century, average temperatures on the surface of our planet are predicted to be more than two degrees Celsius or higher than today. The average level of the ocean surface could be more than a metre higher. Such changes will challenge the ways we live now.

There are plenty of evidence-based projections of future climate readily available, such as the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But then there are denial, scepticism and misconceptions about climate change that confuse people and create unnecessary fear and anxiety, especially in school-age students.

Young people are still developing their ability to critically reason, contextualise and realistically assess risk. They are vulnerable to emotion-charged information and less likely to understand the possible agendas of people with differing ideas.

Fear and anxiety about climate change

Anxiety is a form of fear we experience when a threat is not immediate or catastrophic but has the potential to be so. It can be useful when it mobilises us to act on a problem.

Two important criteria underpin both fear and anxiety. You find yourself faced with a potentially dangerous situation that appears to be uncontrollable and unpredictable.

Either unpredictability or uncontrollability on their own can lead to a fear or anxiety response. In concert together they form a perfect storm of stress and confusion.

Looking at climate change through this emotional lens, we can certainly see the element of uncontrollability. Some climate scientists and activists believe we have started a chain reaction that is almost irreversible.

Most climate scientists are careful not to talk about predictions of future climate and favour model-informed projections. That still gives us an idea of the nature of our future world, at least for most of the rest of this century.

This knowledge encourages the perception that we can control or mitigate certain aspects of climate change. From a human point of view, this brings us some relief.

But the anxiety related to the impending climate change should not be underestimated. Some researchers list it as a top concern for population mental health.

It is therefore not surprising that many of our younger generations feel particularly anxious about the impacts of climate change.

On the one hand, teenagers are especially sensitive to fear-based messages as they have a tendency to catastrophise – they imagine the worst possible outcome.

For example, in the last century, it was the threat of a nuclear war that caused anxiety in many children.

Fast forward to today and climate change is seen as the next big threat for future generations.

How to ease the anxiety

Today’s school students know they will inherit the fallout of climate change. They will live to see their children and grandchildren doing the same. So they have reason to be concerned, and anxiety may mobilise useful action.

So what can we reasonably say to teens who are feeling shut out of the debate and experiencing heightened anxiety about their future?

Adaptation is one of the most valuable skills of the human species. Understand that we can and must adapt to the impacts of climate change.




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Climate change isn’t new so we will need to work together to care for the Earth and one another. Importantly, taking an interest in understanding why and how things happen helps us to manage them (rather than sticking our collective heads in the sand and engaging in denial).

While there is genuine cause for some anxiety, a fear reaction that is out of place or disproportionate to the actual threat serves very little actual purpose other than leaving a person in great distress.

Listening to the valid concerns of school students, and engaging them in discussions about the mitigation and adaptation strategies we will need to adopt, will go some way towards easing their fears and anxieties.The Conversation

Rachael Sharman, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of the Sunshine Coast and Patrick D. Nunn, Professor of Geography, School of Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why attending a climate strike can change minds (most importantly your own)



Young people around the world are joining the climate strike movement.
EPA/SHAWN THEW

Belinda Xie, UNSW and Ben Newell, UNSW

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.


This Friday in the lead-up to the United Nations climate summit, children and adults worldwide will go on strike for stronger action on climate change. However, you may ask, is striking effective? What can it really hope to achieve?

Our research, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, suggests striking can promote the psychological factors most important for fighting against climate change.




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If you’re wondering what you, as an individual, can do to support action against climate change, joining a strike (and asking your friends, family and colleagues to come with you) is a very good start.

From belief to action

In our recent research, we surveyed a large sample of Australians. We asked them how willing they would be to personally act on climate change (for example, pay more for electricity), support social interventions (such as using public funds to give rebates to households that install renewable energy), or take advocacy action (such as send an email to government officials encouraging them to support mitigation policies).

We integrated previous research which suggests that a range of factors influence people’s willingness to act, so we could target the most important variables. These included socio-demographic factors, amount of climate change-related knowledge, personal experience with extreme weather events, and moral values.

Predicting who will act

We found that the three most important variables in predicting an individual’s willingness to act were affect, mitigation response inefficacy, and social norms.

Affect refers to how unpleasant climate change is to you. The influence of affect is well demonstrated by Tongan Prime Minister Samuela “Akilisi” Pohiva shedding tears in front of other leaders during the recent Pacific Islands Forum.

Feeling more negatively about climate change was strongly associated with a greater willingness to act – so should we just try to feel worse about climate change? We already know most Australians are worried about climate change, and the helplessness associated with eco-anxiety suggests that making Australians feel worse would cause more harm than good.

The second most important predictor was mitigation response inefficacy, or “inefficacy” for short. This is the belief that we should not or cannot effectively mitigate climate change, as reflected in statements such as:

Whatever behaviour we, as a nation, engage in to reduce carbon emissions will make no real difference in reducing the negative effects of global warming.

This sentiment is echoed in frequent reminders that Australia accounts for only 1% of global emissions. By suggesting that we cannot have an impact, while conveniently ignoring Australia’s very high per-capita emissions rate, these beliefs put the brake on mitigation action.

So how do we get past the idea that we can’t make a difference?

One way might simply be to remind people how effective collective action can be. For example, compare these two statements:

  • If one person for a week reduced their TV usage by 20%, then, in total, they would prevent 0.5kg of CO₂ being released into the environment.

  • If 1,000 people for a week reduced their TV usage by 20%, then, in total, they would prevent 500kg of CO₂ being released into the environment.

Recent research found the second statement is more persuasive and leads to greater pro-environmental and pro-social action. Although individual action alone is just a drop in the bucket, aggregating actions over more people makes the same individual action seem more bucket-sized and thus more effective.

This aggregation effect speaks to the power of the school strike. You may not feel like your voice is heard if you carry a sign alone, but this action becomes much more powerful when you are surrounded by tens of thousands of people doing the same.

Our study found the third most important predictor of willingness to act was social norms. Social norms capture the extent to which people important to you are acting on climate change (descriptive norms) and the extent to which you think those people expect you to act on climate change (prescriptive norms).

For example, the Uniting Church recently passed a resolution to support students and teachers striking. This may signal to these students and staff that attending the strike will be both common and endorsed, increasing their willingness to go along.

Earlier this year, a Lowy Institute poll found Australians rank climate change as the top threat to Australia’s vital interests. But for many of us, it is difficult to think of how we personally can reduce that threat.

Participating in the school strike would be an effective start.




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By attending the strike, you will increase the effectiveness of the strike for you and the others around you. And by encouraging your friends and family to go with you, you will promote the social norms that support climate change action.The Conversation

Belinda Xie, Scientia PhD Scholar, School of Psychology, UNSW and Ben Newell, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Everyone’s business: why companies should let their workers join the climate strike



A climate rally in Sydney in March 2019.
AAP

Ian McGregor, University of Technology Sydney

Multinational ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s will close its Australian stores for this month’s global climate strike and pay staff to attend the protest, amid a growing realisation in the business community that planetary heating poses an existential threat.

It is one of hundreds of business in Australia and many more overseas that plan to support the strike on Friday, September 20.

Millions of people around the world are expected to take part in the schools-led civil action, led by 16-year-old Swedish student and climate activist Greta Thunberg.

A young child holds a sign as part of a climate strike in Sydney in March 2019.
AAP



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The strike will call for decisive global action on climate change ahead of a major United Nations summit in New York on September 23.

Scientists themselves recently urged their colleagues to embrace political activism, even civil disobedience, arguing that using peer-reviewed research to influence policymakers has not brought about the radical change needed.

Ben & Jerry’s will close 35 shops across Australasia for the duration of the strike. The company’s Australian arm has declared that business as usual “is no longer a viable plan” in the face of a climate emergency. Or as the company says in its values statement: if it’s melted, it’s ruined.

No one will be spared from the effects of unmitigated climate change, and that includes the business community. That’s why I argue that all businesses should support the climate strike any way they can.

There is no escape

The Department of the Environment and Energy has warned of the pervasive effects on Australian business of higher temperatures, altered rainfall patterns and more frequent or intense fires, heatwaves, drought and storms.

The department says the changes will be felt “by every person and every organisation, public or private, and at all levels, from strategic management to operational activities”.

Firefighters battling a bushfire on the Sunshine Coast on September 9, 2019. Bushfires are expected to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change.
John Park/AAP

Many in the business sector recognise the looming challenge, including the Business Council of Australia which has called for a bipartisan energy and climate change policy framework.

So who’s already on board?

Ben & Jerry’s Australia and New Zealand marketing manager, Bert Naber, confirmed to me in an interview that the company would close its stores for several hours on September 20.

Staff will be paid while the stores are closed. The company is strongly encouraging staff to take part in the strike but their attendance is not compulsory.

A photo from June 2019 showing dogs hauling a sled over a rapidly melted ice sheet during an expedition in northwest Greenland.
Steffen M. Olsen/Danish Meteorological Institute/ EPA

The company will also close its US stores for the strike, joining other retailers such as Patagonia, Lush Cosmetics, and personal care firm Seventh Generation.

Australian marketing agency Republic of Everyone is closing its business for the day. Founder Ben Peacock is encouraging his staff to attend the event and perhaps even take a volunteer role.

Other large organisations such as software giant Atlassian are making it as easy as possible for staff to attend.

Atlassian chief executive Mike Cannon-Brookes.
HOWORTH

Atlassian chief executive Mike Cannon-Brookes said the climate crisis “demands leadership and action … But we can’t rely on governments alone.”

Cannon-Brookes co-founded Not Business As Usual, an alliance of progressive Australian companies pushing for greater action on climate change. As of September 9, more than 230 companies had joined the alliance and pledged to allow employees to strike including Future Super, Canva and Bank Australia.

On climate, business is a broad church

Calls from the Australian business sector for climate action have grown louder as the threat worsens. The sector has also demanded long-term certainty to assist with investment decisions – particularly energy businesses and large power consumers such as manufacturers.

Operations at Ravensthorpe nickel mine in Western Australia, owned by BHP. The firm has called for stronger climate action.
BHP

However across the business community, research indicates that views are split on the need for stronger climate action.

Some parts of the business sector, such as insurance, reinsurance, financial services, renewable energy and energy efficiency have advocated for strong climate action early since the 1990s.




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Fossil fuel extraction industries, fossil fuel-driven electricity generation and vehicle manufacturers have, however, traditionally opposed strong emissions reduction targets.

There are exceptions. [Global mining company BHP], for example, is now calling for stronger action because it recognises that climate change is a huge global challenge that requires an urgent collaborative market and policy response.

Climate-aware investors are also calling on companies to act. They include superannuation giant HESTA, which recently demanded that Australian oil and gas companies Woodside and Santos link executive pay to reducing their emissions.

Advice for employees wanting to attend the strike

Of course, many employers will not be closing their doors for the climate strike and some workers will have to seek leave from their jobs to attend. The exact rules surrounding this will depend on individual awards or enterprise agreements.

In some cases employees may be able to negotiate an arrangement with their manager to enable them to participate in the strike.

Swedish schoolgirl and climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has inspired climate strikes around the world.
ALBA VIGARAY/EPA

While I strongly support the strike, I do not recommend “chucking a sickie” or not turning up for work so you can take part. That approach is likely to make your employer unhappy and leave them in the lurch.

I recommend that employees providing vital services, such as paramedics and the like, support the strike in ways other than leaving their duties. Supporting events in the lead-up to the strike can be found here.




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At the time of writing, 26 unions were listed on the Schoolstrike4climate website.

National Tertiary Education Union president Alison Barnes told me in an interview on September 4 that “the time for urgent action is now … we encourage people to take appropriate leave or make necessary arrangements with their employers to attend [the strike]”.The Conversation

Ian McGregor, Lecturer in Management, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.