Young activists sound the alarm on the climate crisis


As thousands of delegates converged at the COP26 summit in Glasgow to discuss ways to deal with the environmental emergency, AFP interviewed three young activists from around the world who spoke candidly about their experiences with climate anxiety.

In Bangladesh, ranked seventh for countries most affected by extreme weather conditions, activist Sohanur Rahman said he felt overwhelmed with concern over what he sees as a lack of political will to stop the destruction.

“(The) climate crisis is for me a mental stress, a trauma and a nightmare,” says the 24-year-old, who now lives in the town of Barisal and remembers a 2007 super cyclone that killed thousands of people in Southeast Asia. nation.

“It’s killing me inside,” he said softly, adding that he fears for his parents who live in the village of Nathullabad which was razed by the cyclone.

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“Environmental doom”

The American Psychological Association has described climate or eco-anxiety as “chronic fear of environmental disaster.”

As with other forms of anxiety, living with it over the long term can interfere with people’s daily ability to function, while exacerbating underlying mental health issues.

Researchers have warned that children and young people are particularly vulnerable, as they envision a future mired in scorching heat waves, devastating floods and storms, and rising seas.

A recent report led by researchers at the University of Bath in Britain, interviewing 10,000 young people in 10 countries, found that 77% saw the future as frightening because of climate change.

About half of those polled told researchers that their fears about environmental changes affected their daily lives.

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Fear, anxiety, anger

Speaking to AFP in London, activist Dominique Palmer said: “I look to the future, and what we are facing in the future, and there is a lot of fear and anxiety. there is anger.

“Young people, myself included, feel betrayed by world leaders,” the 22-year-old said during a climate protest ahead of the COP26 summit.

To deal with her anxiety, she is campaigning.

“Sometimes it can feel pretty hopeless until I get back and organize myself with my community,” she said.

In Johannesburg, clinical psychologist Garret Barnwell showed sympathy and understanding for young people facing difficult emotions as a result of the crisis.

“It is a reality that children are faced with this changing world. They experience fear, anger, despair, helplessness,” Barnwell said.

The pressures of climate change also amplify pre-existing social injustices, he said, so that younger generations are not only concerned about the environment but also, for example, access to healthcare.

Yet despite this, when young people express their fears to adults such as teachers, they often find that their feelings are “invalidated,” Barnwell added.

He welcomed the growing global awareness of climate anxiety, adding that while therapy can ultimately be helpful, what is needed is political action.

“We carry the burden”

But in the eyes of many young activists, this concrete action is lacking.

At the COP26 summit, dozens of countries this week joined a commitment by the United States and the European Union to reduce methane emissions.

The initiative, which experts say could have a powerful short-term impact on global warming, follows an agreement reached by 100 countries to end deforestation by 2030.

But a latent diplomatic row between the United States, China and Russia over their climate action ambitions has shown the fragile nature of the talks.

“The previous COP, COP25, really brought out this eco-anxiety that I was feeling,” eco-feminist Jennifer Uchendu, 29, said in Lagos.

She said she believes climate anxiety is particularly a problem for young people growing up in countries disproportionately affected by climate change.

“We carry the burden of climate change, even if we have contributed the least to it,” she said, a frown creasing her face.

Uchendu said that rather than bury her fears, she tries to accept them as valid.

“It’s okay to feel overwhelmed,” she said.

“It’s good to be afraid, to be afraid and even to be anxious about something so big and so overwhelming.”

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