Essay by Eric Worrall
“… when I discuss climate change with people who are older than me, the general response is to … feel angry and betrayed by their lack of involvement, considering that they contributed to the world we now live in.’ …”
‘Listen to me!’: Young people’s experiences of talking about emotional impacts of climate change
Charlotte A. Jones
Chloe Lucas University of Tasmania School of Geography, Planning, and Spatial Sciences, Australia
Received 23 December 2022, Revised 21 July 2023, Accepted 30 August 2023, Available online 16 September 2023, Version of Record 16 September 2023.
- •Results of a large national Australian survey of young people (15–19 years)
- •High concern, worry, powerlessness, and frustration about climate change.
- •Respondents most commonly talked to friends about climate change feelings.
- •Feeling listened to predicted talking about climate change feelings.
- •Differences in emotions when talking to different generations were evident.
- •Young people need respect, opportunities to act, and shared understanding.
The emotional significance of climate change for young people is becoming recognised. However, their experiences of talking about these feelings are not well understood, despite being acknowledged as an important avenue for support and social change. This article reports on a survey of 1,943 young people aged 15–19 years living in Australia. The survey examined their level of concern about climate change, the feelings they associate with climate change, whom they talk to about these feelings, under what conditions, and with what effects. Respondents reported a high level of concern about climate change, most associated with feelings of worry, powerlessness, and frustration. Friends were most trusted to share these feelings with, followed by parents/guardians and then teachers. The most important predictor of young people talking about their climate feelings was whether they felt listened to. Respondents were more likely to feel comfortable having climate conversations with younger or same-aged people and associated these conversations with hope. In contrast, climate conversations with older people were most often associated with betrayal, uncertainty, and worry. Through open-ended responses, the young people surveyed called for further respect and consideration of their views, opportunities to drive action and lead climate conversations, and a need for shared understanding of the issues at stake. Our findings highlight opportunities for those who care about and interact with young people to help them come to terms with the challenges of living in a changing climate through listening and creating safe spaces for what can be difficult discussions.
When talking with older people about climate change, nearly half of respondents expressed they felt betrayed (49.4%). This was supported in respondents’ open-ended reflections with one stating ‘when I discuss climate change with people who are older than me, the general response is to nod and smile and then change the subject which makes me feel angry and betrayed by their lack of involvement, considering that they contributed to the world we now live in.’ 38.5% of respondents said that when they talked to people older than them they felt uncertain, and 32.4% said they felt worried. This uncertainty and worry could be directed towards climate change, or about the direction and form of the conversation. As one participant described, ‘talking with people older than myself can be a mixed bag, it’s unsettling.’ Only a small percentage of respondents felt encouraged (15.3%), comfortable (13.5%), hopeful (11.9%) and safe (6.1%) when talking with older people. For those who did experience these feelings, open-ended responses indicated this was related to being supported and learning from older people: ‘I feel when talking about climate change to older people, I become more informed of the situation.’.
One key avenue through which the findings of this study could be enacted is within education structures, offering opportunities for changing intergenerational relationships through student–teacher interactions. While less than half of the respondents of this study shared their feelings about climate change with their teachers, it was clear from our findings that participants who felt regularly listened to by their teachers were more likely to talk to them about their emotions. Further, high perceived teacher concern about climate change was also a significant factor in increasing the likelihood of these conversations. …
Studies have demonstrated how cultures of silence and silencing work to produce and cultivate maladaptive behaviours and denial (Verlie, 2022, Norgaard, 2011). Conversely, to offer young people the opportunity to talk about climate change in open, non-judgemental conversation, and most importantly to listen, rather than seek to reframe their perspective, is to offer them power to adapt and respond to the crisis they face. …
…Read more: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378023001103?via%3Dihub
To her credit, the author admitted that the sample in her study was possibly biased, because “… the survey was based on a non-representative and convenience sample which may have led to a higher proportion of respondents who are concerned about climate change and engaged in climate action.”.
What does the study tell us?
I get a strong impression that young people who participated in the study think talking to older people about climate change is intolerable, if the older people do anything which remotely challenges their climate beliefs. Even nodding, smiling and trying to change the subject is enough to arouse feelings of betrayal. Young climate fanatics demand complete attention, submission and enthusiastic affirmation, otherwise they “feel betrayed”.
Nobody, including the author, asked why older people are frequently so dismissive of climate concerns, why they don’t express concern at the same intensity as young people, and the most absurd precept, the implicit believe that the climate education process is only supposed to go one way, from the younger people to the older.
The author and the participants appear to have completely ignored or discounted the possibility they might learn something new, if they do some listening, instead of insisting on doing all the talking.
One thing is very clear, this intense anger and sense of betrayal seems about as far as you can get from mutual tolerance and respect for others, which underpins Western democracy and civil society.
We all have fun laughing at the climate snowflakes getting offended at their own shadows, but then I had a disturbing thought.
Was the Chinese Communist Revolution an explosion of mob violence perpetrated by a group of left wing Maoist snowflakes?
Did the students who stormed the schools and universities, dragging teachers into the street and beating them to death, genuinely believe they were delivering righteous justice to traitors? “Traitors” being defined as anyone who gave the slightest hint of less than absolute devotion to the Maoist ideals embraced by the students?
How do we convince today’s young fanatics that they don’t have all the answers, that sometimes they need to listen to the experience and opinions of others? How do we convince them to not blind themselves with irrational feelings of hurt and betrayal, when in the presence of someone who doesn’t completely share all of their beliefs?
How do we shore up the foundations of our freedoms, by ensuring our young people learn tolerance and respect for others? Values which were so universal in our youth, it never occurred to us such values might be lost to future generations?
I think we need answers to these questions, and fast, before something terrible happens.