Reuters produced a widely reprinted story on “7 terms that took off in 2019” and it’s striking that three were dismal phrases about climate. (The other four were about political correctness: “Canceled”, “They (singular)”, “Self-partnered” and “Girly Swot”.) It’s even more striking that the 6th term was “Eco-anxiety”, along with “Flygskam or Flight Shame” and “Climate Emergency”. Not only is alarmism doing grave harm to the economy and indeed the environment (by massively diverting resources from real problems). It’s apparently having a very bad effect on young people’s mental health.
It's been 50 years since Stephanie Mills, a young valedictorian at Mills College in California looked at the state of the environmental crisis, declared “The future is a cruel hoax” and vowed as a result never to have children. Her remarks went as we would now say, viral, ironically leading to her enjoying a lucrative and rewarding future as an environmental campaigner and activist.
Now Greta Thunberg isn’t satisfied merely being miserable herself, she wants all young people to be stressed and unhappy like her: “Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.” And you can see why, if you think the world is about to end, it makes sense to be worried though not to plunge into depression and paralysis. But while it’s easy to mock snowflakes, mental health is no joke.
As Walter Bagehot, whose mother suffered periodic bouts, later said, “Every trouble in life is a joke compared to madness.” So it is no joke to read of the chairman of BP saying some of his daughters’ friends take powerful antidepressants because of climate change or that a prominent Australian drug rehabilitation expert warned last September that fear of climate change was a significant factor driving youth to take illegal hard drugs.
Possibly there are other factors and a self-identified fear of climate change should not be taken as a definitive diagnosis. But young people certainly seem to be feeling it. One poll last fall found that 29% of American voters thought it was “at least somewhat likely that the Earth would become uninhabitable and humanity will be wiped out” in the next 10 to 15 years, and that the figure shot up to 51% for those under 35. And while, again, these claims should be taken with a grain of salt, possibly even a rolling of the eyes, there is nothing amusing about Grade 2 and 3 kids wailing “I don’t wanna die” during state school climate indoctrination sessions.
NBC praises Sweden for having been up to this sort of thing since 1969, with the environment part of the core curriculum, and interviews one of those surprisingly articulate youths reporters love to locate, an 11-year-old, saying “I have two different visions of the world. It’s either a beautiful world and we fixed everything and we saved the climate and the environment, or it's just getting worse and we can’t do anything and everyone thinks they’re going to die because we didn’t do anything earlier.” You’d think the student and his teachers would ask whether, if the alarm has been ringing since 1969 and the crisis hasn’t arrived, maybe it’s the alarm not the planet that’s broken. But no such critical thinking is to be found. As a professor of education at Örebro University says, “We tried to create green revolutionaries, make them think in a specific way”. Which is surely the very definition of indoctrination. And also you’ve made them think they’re going to die.
Judith Curry writes of receiving a letter from a 20-year-old in the UK saying “I genuinely have the fear that climate change is going to kill me and all my family, I’m not even kidding it’s all I have thought about for the last 9 months every second of the day. It’s making my sick to my stomach, I’m not eating or sleeping and I’m getting panic attacks daily. It’s currently 1 am and I can’t sleep as I’m petrified.”
As Charles Rotter wrote back in December, “There is a special place in the underworld for those who promote anxiety, desperation, and terror in the most vulnerable.” And he illustrated his point with illustrations from the Seattle Times of burning forests and someone with a burning world for a head, before noting that “Some local Seattle therapists are specializing in climate grief therapy” and that the University of Washington had sessions for students afflicted by it. There’s also a doctor in Britain fighting to get her treatment of atmospheric apocalyptic anxiety listed by the National Health Service. And last October Science magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, published a call for grief and post-traumatic stress therapy for climate scientists so they could get back to driving everyone else round the bend.
Even some alarmists argue that lightening up a bit will help communicate the message given that the American Psychological Association warned that “ecoanxiety” tended to produce a depressed, anxious “inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change.” And maybe it would. (The New York Times also commendably urges parents to focus their children on positive solutions. But the pledge by Japan’s Environment Minister to make fighting climate change “sexy” and “fun” is, like Al Gore’s macarena, something we just don’t want to see.)
More fundamentally, scaring people into mental collapse is a mean and irresponsible thing to do especially when the targets are children too young to understand the issue or do anything about it even if they did understand it. (And apparently there’s some kind of online brawl going on between those who insist on fighting climate change and “doomers” who say it’s too late we’re all going to die and then get called “deniers” for refusing to embrace action, according to a guy who broke up with his girlfriend because she refused to sink into hopeless gloom over it.)
Again, it’s easy to laugh. But scaring young people literally out of their wits isn’t funny.