It's no wonder young people have 'eco-anxiety'

8 October 2021

9:29 AM

8 October 2021

9:29 AM

Is it any wonder that children and young adults are going down with ‘eco-anxiety’ , as claimed in an opinion piece in the BMJ this week? One of the pieces of evidence it cites is a survey published in 2020, which claimed that 57 per cent of child psychiatrists had dealt with patients who were feeling anxious about climate change.

It would be easy to dismiss this as another case of the ‘snowflake generation’ lacking the toughness of their forebears. But even if it is true that earlier generations of children, such as those brought up during the second world war, seemed to cope much better with the genuine threat of being wiped out by the nightly bombing of British cities, I think we ought to take it seriously as a mental health issue. When you listen to the pronouncements of activists, MPs, TV presenters and many others, and try to imagine it from a child’s point of view, it is easy to see why so many might feel anxious and depressed.

To take one example, an organisation called the Climate Coalition has placed a double-page advert in the Times and the Telegraph today demanding more action from the Prime Minister on climate change. Given that the government has legally committed itself to getting to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 (at untold cost to the UK economy), it is hard to see what more the group – which includes the Co-op, the National Trust and numerous charities – would really like the government to do. The advert certainly doesn’t provide much in the way of ideas beyond imploring the PM to deliver “an historic climate deal that respects the contract between this generation and the next” (which generation? What kind of deal?).What it does do, on the other hand, is to repeat the often-repeated but unsubstantiated claim that man-made climate change is an ‘existential threat’ – in this case asserting that it is the ‘biggest existential threat since World War II’, something which might come as a surprise to people who lived through the Cold War, particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis when the world stood hours from potential nuclear war.

If children are suffering from ‘eco-anxiety’, there ought to be a pretty easy cure – namely for government, media, schools and everyone else to dial down the scaremongering and offer more reasoned coverage, rather than parroting the language of environmental activists.

I have tried to deal here with misreporting of extreme weather events. No, it is not fair to say that July’s floods in the Rhineland were made nine times more likely by climate change. No, Met Office data does not show that climate change in Britain is “accelerating”. No, we are not facing apocalyptic flooding. No, our weather is not becoming more ‘violent’ – actually, the incidence of damaging winds is on a downwards trend. No, Hurricane Ida was not a portent of a future of more frequent and more powerful hurricanes (although the IPCC does detect an increase in rainfall at the point hurricanes make landfall in the US).

But it feels like fighting a very lonely battle. I don’t see any of this genuine observation reflected in reporting of adverse weather, nor in speeches by government and opposition politicians, still less in the pronouncements of activists given free rein to spout their own propaganda. Anyone even slightly sceptical of climate change claims seems now to be effectively banned from the BBC, for example, yet there is no such restriction on people who exaggerate, like Zoe Cohen of Insulate Britain, who gave a long interview on the Today programme on 22 September claiming that climate change will lead to “the loss of all that we cherish, our society, our way of life and law and order”. Evidence, anyone?

Against a tirade of that sort of stuff you can’t really expect impressionable children not to develop anxiety and depression. But it isn’t climate change which is causing it – it is hysteria.

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