Teenagers and people in their early 20s are increasingly worried that older generations and political leaders aren’t doing enough to prevent a climate-change catastrophe. They’re so concerned, in fact, that four in 10 aren’t sure they’ll have children of their own.
That’s acccording to a report called Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon released this week. Its creators argue the release is the largest scientific study yet on climate anxiety and young people. The report quiered 10,000 respondents aged 16 to 25 across 10 countries.
Nearly six in 10 polled were very or extremely worried about climate change. A similar number said governments were not protecting them, the planet, or future generations, and they felt betrayed by the older generation and governments.
Three-quarters agreed with the statement “the future is frightening,” while more than half felt they would have fewer economic opportunities than their parents. Nearly half reported feeling anxious about the climate to a degree that was affecting their daily lives and functioning.
Anxiety may be linked in part to the release of major climate-change reports to hit mainstream news. In a release that many in the environmental field deemed the most significant climate-change update in nearly a decade, the U.N.’s authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report last month set more precise and warmer forecasts for the 21st century than the last time it was issued in 2013. The group called its findings a “code red for humanity.”
“It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” said report co-author Linda Mearns, a senior climate scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, at the time. “I don’t see any area that is safe … Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”
Earlier this month, in an unprecedented joint statement from more than 200 U.S. and international medical journals, medical leaders warned that global warming packs the “greatest threat” to public health, especially vulnerable ages and the developing world.
The “Young People’s Voices” poll talked to people in Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, the U.K. and the U.S. It was paid for by the 14-year-old U.S. activist organization Avaaz. Its findings were also released before peer review, although that process has now begun. The survey was analyzed by seven academic institutions in the U.K., Europe and the U.S., including the University of Bath, the University of East Anglia, and the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.
The poll builds on previous surveys, which have also found high levels of anxiety about the climate crisis around the world, including fears about having children.
A small, though peer-reviewed, University of Arizona study released last Earth Day showed that slightly older individuals, aged 18 to 35, said extreme weather and climate-change trends do indeed play an important role in deciding whether or not to bring the next generation into the world. A larger Morning Consult poll of 4,400 Americans found that one in four childless adults say climate change influenced their reproductive decisions.
Population growth itself does put demands on natural resources, potable water and ostensibly creates more pollution. But the uneven aging within a population raises its own concerns for economic resiliency and caring for vulnerable citizens. In just the U.S., by 2040, about one in five Americans will be age 65 or older, up from about one in eight in 2000, Census data shows.
Because younger people are much more likely than older people to work and pay taxes that finance Social Security, Medicare and all other public-sector activities, population aging could strain government budgets, now and in coming decades. After the baby boomer surge post-World War II, fertility rates fluctuated then increased slightly after 1975. That rate now stands at about 2.1, roughly the minimum needed to maintain population size without any net immigration, the Social Security Administration says.