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Abstract

The environmental challenges and uncertainties facing children and young people can have a profound impact on their mental health and wellbeing. In this two-part mini-series, Stephanie Enson looks at the current dilemmas, necessary changes, and how to prepare young people.
November 2019 Vol 14 No 9 British Journal of School Nursing 449
Public Health
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Climate change and the
impact on young people
The environmental challenges and uncertainties facing children and young people can have a
profound impact on their mental health and wellbeing. In this two-part mini-series, Stephanie Enson
looks at the current dilemmas, necessary changes, and how to prepare young people.
The current ‘climate emergency
presents perhaps the most
profound challenge ever to have
confronted human social, political, and
economic systems’ (Dryzek et al, 2011).
Running parallel to this, humanity also
nds itself within the sixth mass extinction
(we are currently losing 150–200 species
per day). What does this mean for today’s
young people? How will this aect future
generations? Does this violate child/
human rights? And how can we as young
people’s advocates, support and prepare
them for what lies ahead? ese are the
questions which shall be addressed in this
two-part article. Firstly, by reviewing our
climate and biodiversity crises, including
the contributory factors which have led
to their unfolding. Secondly, by analysing
the latest scientic and academic research
ndings, which are currently calling for a
completely new way of thinking, viewing
and behaving toward the natural world
if we are to successfully reverse current
trajectories. en nally, we must ensure
that the knowledge, skills and awareness
gained from these current crises are
rmly embedded within young peoples
health and education programmes to
ensure their successful transference to
future generations.
Current dilemmas
‘e earth’s temperature is rising at
an unprecedented rate… this current
warming trend is of particular
signicance because although the
climate has always changed, humans
Stephanie Enson, young people’s
sexual health and wellbeing
practitioner
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Scientific and academic research calls for a completely new way of thinking, viewing and
behaving toward the natural world if we are to reverse current trajectories.
are now the main driver for the
change’. (Hansen, 2018:3)
e National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA) concurs, stating:
‘Most of the change we are seeing
today is extremely likely (greater
than 95% probability) to be the result
of human activity since the mid-20th
century and proceeding at a rate that
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is unprecedented over decades to
millennia’. (NASA, 2019)
e main driver of climate change is CO2
(which reached 415 parts per million in
May 2019), making CO2 concentration in
the atmosphere 40% higher than it was
when industrialisation began in Europe
(European Commission, 2019). Running
concurrently, society is also under urgent
threat from loss of Earths natural life.
Natural ecosystems have lost about half
their area and a million species are at risk of
extinction, which is all largely as a result of
human actions, according to latest United
Nations report by the Intergovernmental
Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity
and Ecosystem Services (IBPES) 7th
session 2019.
e summary of the report states:
‘e health of the ecosystems… is
deteriorating more rapidly than ever.
We are eroding the very foundations
of economies, livelihoods, food
security, health and quality of life
worldwide.
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published
the Special Report on Global Warming,
which was delivered at the United Nations
48th session of the IPCC.
A key nding from that report includes:
‘Meeting a 1.5ºC target is possible
but, we have only 12 years in which
to reduce carbon levels to 45% from
2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net
zero” carbon levels by 2050.
Despite these ndings, global carbon
emissions continued to hit new record
highs at the end of 2018 and continue to
show no sign of decline. e head of the
International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih
Birol, stated in 2018:
‘Global carbon emissions will rise to
a new record level in 2018, making
the chances of reaching a target to
keep temperature increases to 1.5 or
2°C weaker and weaker every year,
every month.
As our present global economic system
continues its highly damaging trajectory of
innite growth on a nite planet. We must
ask ourselves, what is it within socialisation
(ways of thinking and behaving) that drives
us to continue this highly destructive
trajectory of full steam ahead toward a cli
edge of ecological destruction?
Past mistakes
If we are to a nd a lasting and sustainable
way for all life on earth to ourish and
pass this new-found awareness on to
future generations via the youth of today,
we must rstly understand our ways of
thinking and behaving that have created
our current dilemmas.
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution
Charles Darwin’s 1859, ‘Theory of
Evolution by natural selection’ had a huge
inuence on the world, specically in the
sciences, particularly psychology. e
theory of evolution by natural selection
was also adopted as a foundation for
various ethical and social systems, such
as social Darwinism, an idea that ‘the
survival of the ttest’ explains and justies
dierences in wealth and success among
societies and people. Darwin’s theory
helped create a mindset that humans were
all powerful and set a trajectory view of the
natural world as mere matter for man to
use and abuse (Stanford Encyclopaedia of
Philosophy, 2019).
The Industrial Revolution
Without doubt, with the dawn of the
industrial age and the burning of fossil
fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil,
humans began to substantially add to
the amounts of carbon dioxide and other
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,
enhancing the planet’s natural greenhouse
eect and causing higher temperatures
(Hansen, 2018). At that time, manual
labour was also replaced by fast and
ecient machinery, fuelled by new sources
of energy. Wood was replaced by coal as
the primary energy source (coal provided
a more concentrated source of energy, as
well as being more mobile and eective).
en came mechanisation (commencing
in the English textile mills, around 1850),
followed by steam power (as a way to use
coal energy more eciently).
As a result, the use of fossil fuels
skyrocket, as did the rate of
destruction of forests and land, as
machinery became mechanised and
more ecient. By the end of the 20th
century, the world was completely
dependent on and rapidly depleting
the planet’s fossil fuels’. (Climate
Policy Watcher, 2019)
e latest IPCC Special Report of 2018
concurs, stating:
‘Human activities have caused
an estimated 1.0-degree Celsius
increase in global warming above
pre-industrial levels’. Headline
Statement from the Summary
for Policymakers.’ (IPCC Special
Report, 2018)
Patriarchy
Patriarchy is a system of society or
government in which the father or eldest
male is head of the family and descent
is reckoned through the male line. e
dominant ideology of this is that men
hold the power and women are largely
excluded from it (Stanford Encyclopaedia
of Philosophy, 2019). Cherry (2017) states:
‘We have arrived at an age in which
patriarchy—aided by racism and
global neoliberal capitalism—is,
quite literally, destroying the planet’
e eects of climate change are not
gender-neutral—men and women are
dierently aected. is results not from
biological dierences due to sex, but from
the social construction of gender norms,
roles and relations, which aect the
accepted behaviours of men and women.
United Nations gures indicate that 80%
of people displaced by climate change are
women, their role as primary care-givers
and providers of food and fuel make
them more vulnerable when ooding and
drought occur. When women are unable to
access education and decent employment
opportunities, they are far less likely to be
able to access information and support
that could help them to better manage the
impact of climate change (United Nations
Climate Change, 2016). e 2015 Paris
Agreement made specic provision for
the empowerment of women, recognising
that they are disproportionately aected
(Halton, 2018).
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Research shows that patriarchal
behaviour contributes directly to climate
change by silencing women’s voices and
other voices that, in a patriarchal world, are
essential to averting climate catastrophe
(Cherry, 2017). During the 2019 United
Nations Human Rights Council panel
discussion on womens rights and climate
change, delegates stressed that climate
change was not gender-neutral stating:
‘Entrenched and systemic
discrimination could lead to various
gender-differentiated impacts
of climate change… especially
when women were excluded from
political participation and decision-
making processes.’ (UN Human
Rights, 2019)
Söderström (2015) states in the
discussion paper ‘Men, Masculinities and
Climate Change’:
‘Understanding the inuences of
patriarchy—a system that upholds
men’s power over women as well as
unequal power dynamics among men
and women—is critical to identifying
causal relationships and developing
solutions to tackle climate change.
Unheeded warnings
In 1962, the former marine biologist Rachel
Carson documented the detrimental eects
indiscriminate use of pesticides (including
DDT) was having on the environment—
particularly on birds, at that time—in
her environmental science book ‘Silent
Spring’,. Heavily contested by the pesticide
industry, Carson’s book nevertheless drew
widespread attention to the dangers of
insecticide use and is now viewed as a
landmark work of environmental writing
(NRDC, 2015).
In 1979, James Lovelock introduced
us to his ‘Gaia Hypothesis’ also known
as the Gaia Principle or Gaia Theory
in 1979. Gaia Theory proposes that
living organisms interact with their
inorganic surroundings on Earth, to
form a synergistic and self-regulating,
complex system that helps to maintain
and perpetuate the conditions for life on
the planet (Harvard University 2019).
In 2009, Lovelock followed this with
‘The vanishing face of Gaia: A Final
Warning’, in which he describes the
Earth’s feedback effects—some that can
damp down climate change and others
that accelerate it—predicting a threshold
above which there could be a five degree
increase in temperature on (the then)
present trajectory (Highfield, 2009).
e cultural historian omas Berry,
in 1990s, warned that civilisations
which grow quickly, at the expense of
their ecological foundations, would also
collapse quickly. Berry pointed out how
law controlled by corporate interests was
being used to legitimise the destruction
of nature and the commons. He called for
the urgent need to return to the original
human understanding of law, as rules
which govern life processes in which we
are all bound, stating:
‘e destiny of humans cannot be
separated from the destiny of Earth’.
(e Gaia Foundation 2019)
Clearly blinded by the glory of the
scientic and industrial era, oblivious to
the long-term consequences of our actions
at that time, we also neglected to heed
the warnings issued by later visionaries,
thinkers and scientists of their day. Time
has now run out for any further delay in
this regard. We are now being called to
take swi and decisive action to correct our
current destructive trajectories. is will
require creating new ways of thinking and
relating toward the natural world around
us. Interacting with Earth as the living,
breathing biosphere it is, an interdependent,
interconnected ‘web of life’, in conjunction
with the non-living elements—including
the atmosphere, oceans, fresh water, rocks,
and soils—which is currently in urgent
need of our protection.
Eradicating ecocide
Ecocide is the extensive damage to,
destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s)
of a given territory, whether by human
agency or by other causes, to such an
extent that peaceful enjoyment by the
inhabitants of that territory has been
or will be severely diminished (Ecocide
Law, 2018).
In 2010, the proposal to amend the Rome
Statute to include an international crime
of ecocide was submitted by barrister
Polly Higgins into the International Law
Commission (ILC). e inclusion of an
ecocide law as an international law would
prohibit mass damage and destruction of
the Earth and would create a legal duty of
care for all inhabitants that have been or
are at risk of being signicantly harmed
due to ecocide. e case remains ongoing,
Polly herself died earlier this year.
Socialisation
If we are to successfully overcome the
inherent negative behavioural patterns,
which are impeding our ecological
wellbeing today, then we must rst explore
their underlying drivers.
Socialisation is the process beginning
during childhood by which individuals
acquire the values, habits, and attitudes of
a society (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
Burrowes (2013) states that a general
disintegration of the human mind occurs
as a result of how we are socialised.
A disintegrated nature of the
human mind is a state in which the
various parts of the human mind
are no longer capable of working
as an integrated unit. at is,
each part of the mind… function
largely independently of each
other, rather than as an integrated
whole… e immediate outcome
of this dysfunction is that human
behaviour lacks consideration,
conviction, courage and strategy, and
is simply driven compulsively by the
predominant fear in each context’.
Burrowes further claries that this
disintegration’ occurs to the majority of
people without their conscious awareness,
as a direct result of the socialisation process
they experience. Consequently:
‘e child learns to suppress their
awareness of how they feel by using
food and material items to distract
themselves. By doing this, the child
rapidly loses self-awareness and
learns to consume as the substitute
for this awareness’ (Burrowes, 2013).
is may oer one explanation as to why
our present-day consumer society emerged
and why so many of its citizens remain
inactive or unaware of the environmental
crises unfolding.
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Impact of climate crisis
on youth mental health
Children, already susceptible to age-related
insecurities are now facing signicant
ecological uncertainty at a vulnerable stage
in their development.
‘The term eco-anxiety, a “chronic
fear of environmental doom” is
now being used more frequently
within mainstream media…Youth
mental health already rising, will
no doubt be further impacted…
(Gate-Eastly, 2019)
Majeed and Lee concur, stating ‘Young
individuals with depression and anxiety
might be at a disproportionately increased
risk for worsening symptoms in the face of
changing climate (Majeed and Lee, 2017).
e United Nations Envoy on Youth
(2015), states:
‘Climate change potentially
represents a major threat to the
health and socio-economic stability
of youth—particularly in developing
countries, where 80% of young
people live’. (Oce of the Secretary-
General’s Envoy on Youth, 2015)
e American Psychological Association
(APA, 2017) published a report on ‘Mental
Health and Our Changing Climate’ in
2017, in which, it identies that, although
health impacts are oen considered when
discussing climate change:
‘Connections with mental health
are not oen part of the discussion,
acknowledging the need to “expand
information and action on climate
and health, including mental health.’
(APA, 2017; Mental Health and Our
Changing Climate, cited by Gate-
Eastly, 2017)
e evidence is clear that young
people’s mental health and wellbeing
will be negatively aected by further
ecological uncertainties (for those already
psychologically compromised, additional
strains will undoubtedly be incurred). Early
intervention strategies for young people
via educational provision is vital not only
to prepare them for what lies ahead but in
o-setting some of the inevitable fallout.
‘Building emotional resilience and self-
esteem, developing ‘communication skills
and conict resolution’ should be oered
now via National Curriculum programmes
and will be further explored within part 2.
A radical change
of consciousness
A rising number of leading academics
and government leaders, believe a radical
change of consciousness is required if
we are to successfully tackle our present
climate emergency.
‘Without a global revolution in the
sphere of human consciousness
the catastrophe toward which the
world is headed will be unavoidable.
(Vaclav Havel, past president of the
Czech Republic, addressing the US
Congress)
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Dr Engell, from the Harvard Advanced
Leadership Initiative, concurred. While
addressing the 2018 Climate Change Deep
Dive he stated:
‘we cannot rely on market forces
to save us from the consequences
of climate change… A change of
consciousness is needed… humanity
needs a transformation of belief– a
drastic reshaping of human values…
International
climate change and
consciousness
In the spring of 2019, the International
Climate Change and Consciousness
(CCC19) conference was held at the
Findhorn Foundation in Scotland.
Bringing together cutting-edge visionaries
and change-makers, including eminent
scientists, activists, entrepreneurs,
indigenous leaders and young people,
with the aim to envision and merge
collective works and ideas about the
joint future. I myself was honoured to
participate in the conference and it is
my intention here to disseminate some
insights and wisdom gained from the wide
range of participants, in particular the
international youth sector. Representing
youth from all areas of the globe, their
view was steadfast—their voices must be
heard and their views validated in all
future climatic plans at both national and
international level.
‘e biggest challenge we face is
shiing human consciousness (not
saving the planet), because the
planet doesn’t need saving—we do!’
(Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 2017 and
Guest Speaker at CCC19 Conference)
Young people are key
Young people have shown that they are fully
aware that the old ways of thinking and
acting are no longer working and we must
nd innovative, eective and sustainable
solutions to our current dilemmas. ey
are also fully committed to doing so, as
demonstrated in the recent global Youth
Strike 4 Climate/Fridays for Future (which
will be explored in Part 2). Young people
are our future and we must ensure their
brilliance, enthusiasm and creativity is
included into all aspects of dealing with
this emergency.
NASA states
‘Young people are a highly important
group when considering the future
impact of climate change and species
Extinction, as this group comprises
the future leaders of society (besides
being citizens of today) and they
will be the ones handling the future
negative consequences of these
global problems.’ (NASA, 2019)
Youth engagement and public
mobilisation was also a key area of debate
within the 2019, United Nations Climate
Action Summit. e key aim being to:
‘Mobilise people worldwide to take
action on climate change, and ensure
that young people are integrated
and represented across all aspects
of the Summit, including the six
transformational areas.
During the 2019 Climate Action
Summit, 16 child petitioners presented a
landmark ocial complaint to the United
Nations Committee on the Rights of the
Child to protest lack of government action
on the climate crisis. e child petitioners,
aged between 8 and 17 years, alleged
that member states’ failure to tackle the
climate crisis constitutes a violation of
child rights. In response to which the
Deputy Director of UNICEF, Charlotte
Petri Gornitzka stated:
‘e climate crisis is a child rights
crisis… it threatens childrens rights
to protection and education… ere
is perhaps no greater threat facing
the rights of the next generation…
We have to listen to children, to stand
with them and to take action. I can
think of no better way of giving child
rights a voice’.
e 2019, World Childrens Day, will
coincide with the 30th anniversary of the
United Nations declaration of the Rights
of the Child. In response to which the
executive director of UNICEF Henrietta
H. Fore, oers an open letter to all the
world’s children
An open letter to the world’s
children—eight reasons why I’m
worried, and hopeful, about the
next generation.
It is clear that young people will be
key participants to resolving our current
dilemmas, not only through their
innovative ideas and creative energy, but
through ensuring the insights and wisdom
gained are safely passed on to future
generations to come.
Conclusions
In part one of this two-part article we have
explored the key relevant factors of our
present-day climate and biodiversity crises,
including the negative patterns of thinking
and behaving which have contributed to
their development and the social drivers,
which underpin them. e new concept,
of a ‘change of consciousness’, has been
introduced (which some leading, scientists
and academics, predict will be essential to
the resolution of our climate and species
crises. Future negative impacts on youth
mental health have also been explored.
In part two we shall review the recent rise
of grassroots environmental movements
such as Extinction Rebellion and Youth
Strike 4 Climate (also known as Fridays
for Future) and their potential for creating
hope among youth. We shall also review
our role as facilitators, to ensure the vastly
changing knowledge, skills and awareness
young people will need for what lies ahead
of them, is rmly embedded within their
health and education programmes today.
BJSN
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sacredecology.com/earth-guardians/ (last
accessed 09 October 2019)
... Adolescents living in high-temperature zones are more likely to be restless or fidgety, unable to effectively learn in school, and display expressions of anger and aggression. 26,27 Older adults are at increased risk for experiencing panic attacks when faced with climate change 28 and are more prone to symptoms associated with delirium and other cognitive impairment when experiencing physiological heat stress. 17,29 Sleep Disturbance ...
Article
Climate change is the most critical public health crisis of the 21st century. Physical and medical sequelae of climate and weather-related events are well documented and may be addressed in clinical practice. Mental health impacts of climate change are increasingly addressed in the literature but remain underrecognized by clinicians. This report focuses on mental health impacts of climate change through the theoretical framework of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It offers a broad overview of mental health impacts, particularly for vulnerable populations, and introduces screening, assessment, and treatment considerations for the nurse practitioner.
Article
Full-text available
We assess climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data. We use Earth's measured energy imbalance, paleoclimate data, and simple representations of the global carbon cycle and temperature to define emission reductions needed to stabilize climate and avoid potentially disastrous impacts on today's young people, future generations, and nature. A cumulative industrial-era limit of ∼500 GtC fossil fuel emissions and 100 GtC storage in the biosphere and soil would keep climate close to the Holocene range to which humanity and other species are adapted. Cumulative emissions of ∼1000 GtC, sometimes associated with 2°C global warming, would spur "slow" feedbacks and eventual warming of 3-4°C with disastrous consequences. Rapid emissions reduction is required to restore Earth's energy balance and avoid ocean heat uptake that would practically guarantee irreversible effects. Continuation of high fossil fuel emissions, given current knowledge of the consequences, would be an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice. Responsible policymaking requires a rising price on carbon emissions that would preclude emissions from most remaining coal and unconventional fossil fuels and phase down emissions from conventional fossil fuels.
Book
The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society presents an analysis of this issue that draws on the best thinking on questions of how climate change affects human systems, and how societies can, do, and should respond. Key topics covered include the history of the issues, the social and political reception of climate science, the denial of that science by individuals and organized interests, the nature of the social disruptions caused by climate change, the economics of those disruptions and possible responses to them, questions of human security and social justice, obligations to future generations, policy instruments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and governance at local, regional, national, international, and global levels.
Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance
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The Disintegrated Mind: The Greatest Threat to Human Survival on Earth
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