Eco-anxiety and its impacts on younger generations

Click to play video: 'Climate crisis taking emotional toll on young people'
Climate crisis taking emotional toll on young people
WATCH: Eco-anxiety is a term used to describe the uncertainty, fear and helplessness many feel about the impacts of climate change. As Jayme Doll reports, medical experts say it is having the biggest impact on young people – May 5, 2023

As smoke billows across large swaths of Alberta in a concerningly premature start to the annual fire season, fears are being fueled over the changing climate.

“We have fires in the central portion, fires in the north. It’s an indication of the conditions that we are seeing right now, temperatures have been 10 to 15 degrees above normal,” said Christie Tucker with Alberta Wildfire.

“A lesson that can be learned by looking at the type of fire behavior that we saw, is with things like climate change and a large build-up of fuel all across Western Canada, you can see how quickly fires can develop — we’ve seen that all week,” said Jane Park with Parks Canada and Incident Commander of a prescribed burn in Banff that got out of control on Wednesday.

Click to play video: 'Prescribed burn in Banff turns into out-of-control fire'
Prescribed burn in Banff turns into out-of-control fire

While some refuse to point the finger of blame directly at the climate crisis, younger generations are carrying a heavy burden of worry, and it’s not going unnoticed by medical experts.

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“Having all these things happening around me … it’s terrifying,” said Sadie Vipond, a Grade 11 student in Calgary. “It hurts me a lot knowing that my future is going to be so impacted by this horrible disaster (climate change).”

Vipond is not alone. A 2021 study published in The Lancet spoke with 10,000 young people from 10 different countries around the world. Among those polled, 59 per cent were very or extremely worried about climate change; 84 per cent were moderately worried; half said they felt sad, angry, powerless and guilty; 45 per cent said it impacts their daily life and functions; and 75 per cent said that they think the future is frightening.

“I’m 17 years old, going through high school, I feel like this isn’t what I should be spending so much time thinking about. It does fall into hopelessness and despair and anxiety when people in government are not taking the right courses of action to protect my future,” said Vipond.

Click to play video: 'UN report paints bleak picture of climate crisis'
UN report paints bleak picture of climate crisis

Physicians are noticing the impacts of what is being called eco-anxiety and they say it’s a pressing concern.

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“They are afraid of having kids,” said Dr. Christine Gibson, a physician in Calgary who recently wrote a book on how to deal with stress and trauma. “I’m hearing a lot of that rhetoric, teenagers, young adults are saying ‘Why would I have children? This is a scary world we are inheriting, why have another generation of kids have to face this? That isn’t fair.’

“I think that’s a really telling sign of how afraid they are.”

Gibson is a member of the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. They are actively raising awareness about the impacts the climate crisis is having on people’s health.

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment – Alberta Committee

Gibson said it is imperative to give young people tools to cope with the helplessness they feel and to be listened to.

Sadie Vipond said advocating for climate awareness and change has helped her feel less helpless in a time of much uncertainty.


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