How we talk about climate change impacts on our young people. Much of the narrative is generated by those of us who may die before severe impacts arrive, but young people have decades of uncertainty ahead. And it is scary for them.
The Royal Society identified a broad range of climate change health impacts in their 2017 report Human Health Impacts of Climate Change for New Zealand. Mental health impacts are significant.
Health impacts of climate change (Royal Society of New Zealand)
The prestigious Lancet Journal provides a global perspective of the vulnerability of youth to climate change.
Youth depression is a burgeoning illness that may be uniquely sensitive to changes in global climate. Young people might be particularly vulnerable to climate-induced depression when faced with parental injury. Although the literature is still developing, several studies now suggest that fluctuations in climate affect both the onset and severity of depression at a population level. We believe that researchers and clinicians treating young people with mental illness should familiarise themselves with the potential ways in which climate change has already impacted mental health outcomes. Finally, researchers should identify ways to fortify the societal structures necessary for mental health that climate change threatens to erode (The impact of climate change on youth depression and mental health)
Messages of hope and action
In Drawdown, Paul Hawken claims that climate change is happening for us, because it forces us to re-examine and transform the way we do things. The great contribution of the Drawdown project is that it democratises climate change action. Before I read Drawdown, I focused on climate change fixes accessible to those with lots of money, such as electric cars. Drawdown provides a huge range of actions, with 31% of them based on how we grow and consume food – actions accessible to everyone who eats. Indeed we are not limited by the technology available to us, we are limited by the quality of our thinking. Solutions-focussed thinking opens the window to possible futures.
Science provides us with alternative futures based on the quantum of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. So we have options. We can choose our future and choose the actions we take to realise that future.
Climate change is the greatest challenge that humanity has faced, and I can’t make much difference myself, but together we can.
What actions can we take to communicate a message of hope and action to young people in Tai Tokerau. How about we engage secondary schools about a video contest, asking groups to create a video about climate change? The Climate Change Tai Tokerau Northland Trust is now a charitable trust, so we can raise money for prizes. What do you think?