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School strikers’ university address raises question of eco-anxiety




Nico Roman, 11; Harry Auld, 10 and Freya Kotter, nine, at the Department of Land Economy for Cambridge Eco Schools Council's first guest lecture. Picture: Helene Kotter
Nico Roman, 11; Harry Auld, 10 and Freya Kotter, nine, at the Department of Land Economy for Cambridge Eco Schools Council's first guest lecture. Picture: Helene Kotter

If there was any doubt that the breakdown of the climate - which involves a daily diet of forest fires, destruction of the Amazon, species extinction and melting glaciers - is causing concern among young people, there won’t be after this week’s guest lecture by Cambridge Eco Schools Council at the Department of Land Economy on Mill Lane.

Eco-anxiety has been diagnosed as affecting large numbers of the population, according to a new report in the medical journal The Lancet.

“The life of every child born today will be profoundly affected by climate change,” says the report. “Without accelerated intervention, this new era will come to define the health of people at every stage of their lives.”

Climate breakdown will bring famines, disease, premature deaths from poor air quality and heat waves, and more wellbeing issues. As is usual with disasters - think austerity multiplied - the most vulnerable will be those who have done least to deserve it: the poor, elderly, young and those suffering from health conditions.

And another report this week, this by Unicef, suggests wellbeing issues for young people may become commonplace - and indeed that may already be the case.

Fine Not Fine collaboration with local schools and other communities to help young people who are struggling with mental health issues, sponsored by local solicitors Ashtons Legal, revealed inventive ways of looking at wellbeing. Picture: Mecha Morton
Fine Not Fine collaboration with local schools and other communities to help young people who are struggling with mental health issues, sponsored by local solicitors Ashtons Legal, revealed inventive ways of looking at wellbeing. Picture: Mecha Morton

The Cambridge Eco Schools Council (November 19) talk to students at the Department of Land Economy’s offices on Mill Lane discussed topics including “useless products” that you shouldn’t be giving anyone for Christmas – these include “products that can’t be recycled”, such as plastic-based items and methane-generating items.

“The children were from the Cambridge group,” said one attendee, “presenting on how children can mobilise a movement on climate change.

“One of the students listening said it was very smart of the pupils to link waste to climate change.”

Presenting the Powerpoint lecture were Nico Roman, 11; Harry Auld, 10 and Freya Kotter, nine.

There was a poignant moment, according to witness Marie-Claire Cordonier.

“One of the professors asked the pupils what they wanted to be when they grew up,” she said. “Nico and Freya said they’d like to be teachers but added: ‘We’re not sure if we’ll be alive then’. Harry said he would maybe become a doctor as we’ll all be alive in an ongoing medical emergency by then.”

Youth Strike 4 Climate Change 'die-in' protest outside King's Parade in March this year. Picture: Richard Marsham
Youth Strike 4 Climate Change 'die-in' protest outside King's Parade in March this year. Picture: Richard Marsham

So what advice might be offered to young people experiencing the incoming emergency? There is an organisation addressing the issue - the Climate Psychology Alliance. Probably the key factor is not to consider eco-anxiety and associated discontents a mental illness. Although it is a psychological phenomenon, a recent report in the Daily Telegraph suggests that the psychological pressure of having to adapt to possible apocalyptic scenarios will - and is - having an effect on us all. Which makes it normal.

Indeed, it is absolutely rational to consider or to speculate on all sorts of possible future outcomes, which takes time, can be exhausting and can also make you feel isolated. In a civilisation which remains insolubly wedded to the engine of its own destruction - the wilful continuation of exploitation of the Earth’s resources including fossil fuels, and the lack of an overarching political will to impose the changes required if sustainability is to be achieved - perhaps it’s OK to be not OK. Or, as the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti said: “It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

The next global climate action day is planned for November 29, assigned by Greta Thunberg, YouthStrike4Climate and UKSCN. Cambridge protesters are invited to wear “black headbands and black armbands and dress up as useless products”.

It will be the sixth Cambridge Schools Eco Strike to take place in the city this year.


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