Climate Anxiety

Student shares how the climate crisis impacts their mental health
Climate Emergency – Families facing Climate Change // Photo JOHN ENGLART

75% of young people are afraid of the future of the climate, according to a study by the University of Bath.

Young people are faced with an looming climate crisis that they didn’t create, and it’s negatively impacting their mental health. Students at Georgia Tech are feeling the heat as well.

The Earth has already warmed about 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 19th century. While the increase may seem small, it can have a monumental impact, leading to rising sea levels and other environmental concerns. Some climate scientists warn that we may not be able to reverse damage already done to the environment, but we can prevent future damage. According to a 2021 United Nations Climate report, we are locked into 30 years of worsening climate regardless of action that the world takes.

Vanna Scott, a 4th year Aerospace Engineering major, said anxiety about climate change is a large presence in her life. “At this point, to fully revert and how there’s things that we can do but it won’t fix all of the problems, but we’re not doing them anyways. So that’s where my anxiety comes from is that we’re at that point where there’s no return. However there’s stuff that we can be doing to slowly try and bring it back but we’re just not,” she said. She added that thinking about climate change can “keep her up at night.”

Scott is far from alone, as 45% of survey respondents said that worry about climate change is affecting their daily lives. The survey was over 10,000 people in 10 countries including United States.

She is primarily concerned about impending worsening climate crisis due to global warming.

The UN Climate Report noted that ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica will likely continue to melt through the end of the century regardless of government action because of damage already done to the environment. Global sea levels will rise somewhat for the next 2,000 years.

“I’m feeling hopeless about it,” she said.

However, she chose to take action.

NYTimes: change in climate from 1981 to 2009

“When I fully like got actually really stressed out about it it was when I went vegetarian. Because, and so I was two summers ago so like summer 2019,” she said, adding that a friend first told her about the impacts a vegetarian diet can have on the environment. Although she was skeptical at first, she decided to take the plunge and cut out meat.

“When I was just really thinking about it and I was like, to do something I guess like, I just got like was just like sitting there was like, I can do nothing right now but I’ll do this and say it’s good enough,” she said.

Scott also said that a primary motivation for her decision to adopt a vegetarian diet was to preserve the environment for her future children.

“I feel like I can’t bring somebody into the world, if I’m not doing what I can to protect it,” she said.

However, she and many other young people don’t think governments are doing enough to protect the environment. 33% of survey respondents asserted that the response from governments was “not protecting me, the planet, future generations.”

Scott is particularly frustrated with the political holdup in US Congress over the infrastructure bill. The bipartisan deal would dedicate tens of millions of dollars to increase climate resiliency. The money would be dedicated to protect against flooding, find new sources of drinking water, and even relocate some communities, according to the New York Times. It also included non-climate action like increasing access to internet in rural areas. The bill passed in early October, 2021, but the debate still disheartened Scott.

She also feels like solutions for environmental crises are being ignored by lawmakers. “When I drove across the country. This year I saw so many wind farms and they were in the same fields that livestock and the cows were in so I’m just like, we have plenty of farms that we could throw these on probably like, why aren’t we doing more of this? There were some areas in California that my dad was telling me that they usually have to turn them off because it overpowers too much. There’s our answer more of these,” she said. The Biden Administration announced in October 2021 that it plans to install offshore wind farms along most of the eastern coast of the United States.

However, she has not fully lost hope.

“I wouldn’t say it feels totally hopeless because we’re talking about it more now, and it’s at least on the bill, but within like the next few years, 10 years I feel pretty helpless about. But, I feel like once more of our younger like this generation gets into politics. It will hopefully start to see a change them. But that’s what also stresses me out because again, at that point, kind of too late,” she said. She is concerned that by the time her generation is able to hold office, climate change will be past the point of help. Time Magazine estimates that the Earth will be 3 degrees warmer by 2100 if nothing is done to reduce global emissions. AP estimates that as many as 200 million people could be displaced by climate change in the next 30 years.

So, for Scott, the pressure is on to do her part to reduce climate change. “I feel a little bit of pressure, but I also like it feels good knowing that I do these things as well, like I’m doing it like for myself and hopefully to have a better, greener future,” she continued, adding that she would like to see people do more to reduce their impact, “I think nobody has to go vegan or vegetarian because it’s a big step but doing things like meatless Mondays are like buying organic meat instead of meat that’s the process from the store like buying it from an actual butcher shop,” she said. However, she wishes that it were easier to make more eco-friendly choices. She points out that fast-fashion is often cheaper and more accessible than sustainable clothing, and McDonalds is often less expensive than a local, sustainable restaurant.

“I feel like if there was more access to information and also more options to be able to make the kind of green swaps that we need to like make as individuals ourselves, that would really help,” she said.

She has also found that shopping at thrift stores is also a sustainable swap she can make, calling it “good cost and the good impact on the environment.”

Scott says her friends share the same anxieties about the environment, and the often talk about it and what they are doing to reduce their impact. “We go thrifting together and we also talk about our stresses,” she said.

In overwhelming times, she chooses to think about what she can do to control her impact, and not get lost in the big picture. She said, “I just tried to think of like the little things that I do and I’m like, well at least I’m doing it, and it seems like other people in my generation are starting to do it. And I’ve seen like, you know, like with more vegan options and restaurants and stores like over the years, it’s growing so I just try and think of the positives right now.”

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