Stop Telling Children They Will Die From Climate Change

Climate change the greatest threat to humanity? Many would say that. Young people in particular feel hopeless. A recent survey asked 10,000 16- to 25-year-olds in 10 countries about their attitudes about climate change. The results are devastating. More than half say “humanity is destroyed”; three-quarters said the future was dreadful; 55 percent said they had fewer opportunities than their parents; 52 percent said family security was threatened; and 39 percent were skeptical of having children as a result. These characteristics are persistent in rich and poor countries, large and small: from the United States and the United Kingdom to Brazil, the Philippines, India, and Nigeria.

It’s perfectly legitimate that young people feel this way. I was there. Today, much of my work focuses on researching, writing, and thinking about climate change. But it was a field I was about to leave. New to university with a degree in environmental science and climate change, it’s hard to see that I can contribute anything. I was torn between anger and despair. Any effort seemed futile, and I almost quit. Fortunately my perspective has changed. I’m glad it worked out. Not only do I continue to work in climate, I am also sure that my work will have many times a positive impact if I stick to my old mindset. And so I am convinced that if we are to improve the climate, we need to remove this cloak of pessimism.

Let’s be clear: Climate change is one of the biggest problems we face. It comes with a lot of risks – some sure, some uncertain – and we’re not going anywhere near enough to reduce emissions. But there seems to be a breakdown in communication as to what our future will mean. None of the climate scientists I know and trust — who are more aware of the risks than almost anyone — have resigned to the future of oblivion. Most of them have children. In fact, they usually have a lot. Young people too. Today, having children does not automatically qualify for rational decision -making. But it signals that those who spend day-to-day studying climate change are hopeful that their children will have a life worth living.

That’s why I’m worried about how most young people feel today they there is no future. Many may no longer have children as a result. This mentality is not only reflected in the survey data, it also depends on my personal experience. I am about twenty years old and I always hear from friends. The dilemma of whether to lead children into a world on the path to destruction is a real one.

One of the most recent and alarming examples of this thinking in the last days comes from a group of young activists before the German election. The group, calling themselves the Last Generation, has been on hunger strike for almost a month. Many were hospitalized. One told his parents and friends that they would never see him again. Another told a journalist that hunger “is nothing compared to what we would expect if the climate crisis caused famine here in Europe in 20 years.” I don’t know where this claim came from. Not from scientists. No credibility makes this claim. Climate change will affect agriculture. In some regions — especially in some of the poorest countries in the world — this is a cause for concern. That’s why I spend a lot of time working on it. But hunger across Europe? For 20 years?

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