A global survey of climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change

Caroline Hickman, Elizabeth Marks, Panu Pihkala, Susan Clayton, Eric Lewandowski, Elouise Mayall, Britt Wray, Catriona Mellor, Lise van Susteren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background
Climate change has significant implications for the health and futures of children and young people, yet they have little power to limit its harm, making them vulnerable to increased climate anxiety. Qualitative studies show climate anxiety is associated with perceptions of inadequate action by adults and governments, feelings of betrayal, abandonment and moral injury. This study offers the first large-scale investigation of climate anxiety in children and young people globally and its relationship to perceived government response.
Methods
We surveyed 10,000 children and young people (aged 16-25 years) in ten countries. Data were collected on their thoughts and feelings about climate change, and government responses to climate change.
Findings
Respondents were worried about climate change (59% very or extremely, 84% at least moderately worried). Over 50% felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. Over 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning, and many reported a high number of negative thoughts about climate change. Respondents rated governmental responses to climate change negatively and reported greater feelings of betrayal than of reassurance. Correlations indicated that climate anxiety and distress were significantly related to perceived inadequate government response and associated feelings of betrayal.

Interpretation
Climate change and dissatisfaction with government responses are widespread in children and young people in countries across the world, and impact their daily functioning. Perceived government failure to respond to this crisis is associated with increased distress. We argue these are psychological stressors that threaten health and wellbeing, and could be construed as morally injurious and unjust. There is a need for increases in research on the emotional impact of climate change on children and young people and for governments to validate their distress by taking urgent action on climate change.
Funding
Costs of the survey were funded by AVAAZ.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLancet Planetary Health
Publication statusAcceptance date - 13 Sep 2021

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