I Am Scared. I Am Fearful. But Yet, I Hope.
By G. E.
In August 2017, when I was 15, I chose to complete a school assignment on renewable energy as part of a ‘Future Studies Unit’. I outlined that, as we know, coal and fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource that will expire by approximately 2070. I, as a youthful idealist, set out to ‘solve’ our ‘energy crisis’, and determined that we could power the whole council area where I go to school and provide new jobs and with two wave power machines that cost only $300,000. (compared to the Adani mine project’s original cost at $16.5 billion over its lifetime)
In September 2018, I downloaded the NSW Royal Fire Service App. I set four watch zones around the state- my house, both my grandparents’ places, my school. I watched the fires come and go, always going over our fire plan.
In October 2018, I heard about Greta Thunberg for the first time. Her name was mentioned on this Instagram post that came up on my ‘for you’ page. I researched her, and her message, and was instantly inspired.
In January 2019, I lay at home in my bed with my mum, while our phones lit up with text messages warning us of a bushfire in our area. We had our bags packed at the door, but I was too scared to sleep. I, a big, strong independent 16-year-old, held her hand all night.
In August 2019, I told my dad about Greta and her activism, and told him that I wanted to be more active to fight for the environment we live in. My dad, who I had always admired and respected, responded “Oh, don’t worry, that’s all a hoax. Global Warming isn’t real- it’s all cyclic. There were more greenhouse gases in the air after Pompeii, and that didn’t change the climate. And it’s definitely not anything to do with human impact”. I wanted to yell at him.
In September 2019, I attended my first climate strike. I wasn’t technically given parental permission to go, but by this point, I’d realised that something was up, something was wrong, and we needed to fight. I chanted, I shouted, I held up my sign with pride.
In January 2020, my country burned. In the same month, It flooded.
I know I can give you a timeline of my experience with the Climate Crisis, but it doesn’t really help. We know this. We know, as 97% of climate scientists agree, that irreversible damage is occurring to our planet right now as a result of human impact, and, if we don’t change our behaviours, will destroy the liveability of our world forever. We know that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls for “urgent and unprecedented changes” to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions of 45% by 2030 (10 years from now), if we want to keep the increase in global warming to 1.5C, as to not see the damage of catastrophic results including flooding, extreme weather events, drought and famine. We know this.
But, what doesn’t get talked about enough, is the impact it has on the individuals, the people like you and me. We know that the climate crisis will and already is damaging the environment, but what we don’t talk about enough, is that we should be petrified.
Extreme droughts and floods are taking a significant psychological toll on farmers, who feel their sense of place and identities are under threat, and additionally, we’ve seen increasing rates of suicide among rural communities.
Internal and external displacement due to the changing climate will impact on the global refugee crisis, as communities are forced to flee due to unliveable conditions such as extreme heat and climate disasters, for example the severe drought in Afghanistan, Tropical Cyclone Gita in Samoa, and flooding in the Philippines, which has resulted in acute humanitarian needs. Furthermore, rising sea levels threaten low lying islands like those in the Torres Strait in the north of Australia, who are already being externally displaced.
Professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster, Ohio, Susan Clayton co-authored a 2017 report titled ‘Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance’, in which she states that: "We can say that a significant proportion of people are experiencing stress and worry about the potential impacts of climate change, and that the level of worry is almost certainly increasing.”
The Australian Medical Association declared the climate crisis a health emergency, following similar declarations taken by a growing list of medical bodies around the world.
The American Psychological Association in 2017, defined eco-anxiety or climate anxiety as "a chronic fear of environmental doom." It describes it as a source of stress caused by “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations”. It adds that some people “are deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness and frustration due to their inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change.”
So here we are. I am 17. I wake up every morning and check the news, check my social media, waiting, for someone to tell me what the people in power are doing about the global climate crisis. I go through my day, wondering why I’m going to school, studying for a future that - apparently - the government doesn’t really care about. I wonder whether Prime Minister Morrison’s children believe in climate change, whether they know its impact on every facet of our life. I wonder about the sustainability of my future, wondering if and how our consumerist society will adapt to the need for reusable products.
And yes, I’m only 17, but I lie in bed at night stressing over my future. Whether it’s an ethical decision to bring children into this world, a world which we have completely ruined. Whether I’ll get to be a mother, to raise a child, have a family, and see them grow and prosper, to enjoy the world.
A world that we have taken for granted, chewed up and spat out again.
I am scared. I am doubtful. I’m full of dread and nerves. And I know there are things I can do to take control of my feelings. I have made climate change a factor in the decisions I make around eating less meat, using public transport, and purchasing reusable or sustainable products. I joined a social justice group, where we have a safe space to talk about the climate crisis and open up the conversation and create a training ground for action. I will continue to demand that politicians and companies make it easier and cheaper to do the right thing for the climate, by striking, by supporting those that are making a difference.
I hope that one day, I will smile when I see no plastic on the beach. That one day, I will laugh with joy when I see renewable energy across the country and the globe. I hope that one day I will see a world in which we came together, not as nations, but as people, part of a global community, to create a safer, better future. I hope that one day, I will look down into my arms to see my child smiling back at me, and feel at peace, because finally, I know, that our children do not have to worry about the climate, because we fought, we protested, and we won.
I am scared. I am fearful.
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* Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
**The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.