The terror of climate change is transforming young people's identity

March 15, 2019 by Blanche Verlie, The Conversation
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Today, at least 50 rallies planned across Australia are expected to draw thousands of students who are walking out of school to protest climate change inaction.

These Australian students join children from over 82 countries who are striking to highlight systemic failure to address change.

But the strikes represent more than frustration and resistance. They are evidence of an even bigger process of transformation. My research investigates how young people's sense of self, identity, and existence is being fundamentally altered by climate change.

Canaries in the coalmine

Striking children are experiencing "existential whiplash," caught between two forces. One is a dominant culture driven by fossil fuel consumption that emphasises individual success, encapsulated by Resources Minister Matt Canavan's remarks that striking students will never get a "real job": "The best thing you'll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that's what your future life will look like […] not actually taking charge for your life and getting a real job."

On the other hand is the mounting evidence that climate change will make parts of the planet inhospitable to human (and other) life, and fundamentally change our way of life in the future.

Children are up to date with the facts: The Earth is currently experiencing its 6th mass extinction; Australia has just had its hottest summer on record; and experts warn we have just 11 years left to ensure we avoid the misery of exceeding 1.5 degrees of planetary warming.

Meanwhile many Australian adults have been living what sociologist Kari Norgaard terms a "double reality": explicitly acknowledging that climate change is real, while continuing to live as though it is not. But as intensify and interrupt our business-as-usual lifestyles, many more Australians are likely to experience the climate trauma that school strikers are grappling with.

Climate challenged culture

Confronting the realities of climate change can lead to overwhelming anxiety and grief, and of course, for those of us in high carbon societies, guilt. This can be extremely uncomfortable. These feelings arise partly because climate change challenges our dominant cultural narratives, assumptions and values, and thus, our sense of self and identity. Climate change challenges the beliefs that:

  • humans are, or can be, separate from the non-human world
  • individual humans have significant control over the world and their lives
  • if you work hard, you will have a bright future
  • your elected representatives care about you
  • adults generally have children's best interests at heart and can or will act in accordance with that
  • if you want to be a "good person" you as an individual can simply choose to act ethically.

Faced with these challenges, it can seem easier in the short term to turn away than to try to respond. But the short term is not an option for young people.

A sign of the times

Striking students are calling out that simply standing by means being complicit in climate change. The school strikers, and those who support them, are deeply anguished about what a business-as-usual future might hold for them and others.

Striking students' signs proclaim "no graduation on a dead planet" and "we won't die of old age, we will die from climate change." This is not hyperbole but a genuine engagement with what climate change means for their lives, as well as their deaths.

Notably, they are openly discussing and promoting engagement with climate distress as a means of inspiring action. As Greta Thunberg—who started the school strikes for climate—said in January: "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 then I want you to act."

They know certain possibilities have already been stolen from them by the older generations. Rather than trying to hold onto dominant cultural narratives about their future, striking students are letting them go and crafting alternatives. They are enduring the pain of the climate crisis, while labouring to generate desirable and possible, though always uncertain, futures.

By connecting with other concerned young people across the world, this movement is creating a more collective and ecologically attuned identity.

They are both more ambitious and humble than our dominant (non)responses to climate change. This is palpable in signs like "Mother Nature does not need us; We need Mother Nature" and "Seas are rising, so are we."

What will eventually happen – in terms of both cultural and climatic change – is of course, unknowable. But it is promising that children are already forging new identities and cultures that may have a chance of survival on our finite blue planet.

As adults, we would do well to recognise the necessity of facing up to the most grotesque elements of . Perhaps then we too may step up to the challenge of cultural transformation.

Explore further: 'Make love, not CO2': Swiss students march for climate action

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27 comments

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Anonym
2.5 / 5 (8) Mar 15, 2019
The Children's Crusade, redux. Because it's easy to scare the kids.
guptm
1 / 5 (5) Mar 15, 2019
The use of the word 'terror' is laughable. Terror is always human-generated, not caused by nature. Nature brings calamity, disasters, or hazards.
Da Schneib
3.7 / 5 (12) Mar 15, 2019
No surprise here. They're the ones who are going to have to live with it.
Solon
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 15, 2019
I'm glad the kids are making the effort to save the world. It won't be easy or too enjoyable getting by without a gas or diesel powered car, no heating or air conditioning in the schools or at home, no flying, cutting back drastically on all consumerism including all those disposable fashion clothes now plugging the landfill sites, living in tiny houses or apartments. All the jobs lost as we wind down our excessive, destructive lifestyles will mean much less wasteful commuting of course, and lots of free time to contemplate the next major threat to humanity. We should all follow their examples.
V4Vendicar
3 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2019
Moooooooorrrrrrrooooooonnnnnnnn

"Terror is always human-generated, not caused by nature." - guptm.

Do you usually say the first stupid thing that appears in your head?

https://www.youtu...OmMH4WHA

V4Vendicar
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 16, 2019
"It won't be easy or too enjoyable getting by without a gas or diesel powered car" - Moron

Tesla has a solution for that, as do all major auto manufacturers.

"no heating or air conditioning in the schools or at home" - Moron

Geothermal, solar passive, nuclear, etc.

"no flying" - moron

Virgin Atlantic has completed the first ever commercial flight using LanzaTech's innovative new sustainable aviation fuel – a huge cause for celebration.

https://www.virgi...able-jet


"cutting back drastically on all consumerism including all those disposable fashion clothes now plugging the landfill sites" - Moron

Products designed, to fail is only something a complete moron would want.
V4Vendicar
3 / 5 (6) Mar 16, 2019
"living in tiny houses or apartments" - Moron

You mean well insulated houses and apartments.

"All the jobs lost as we wind down our excessive, destructive lifestyles will mean much less wasteful commuting of course, and lots of free time to contemplate the next major threat to humanity." - moron

Leisure is the ultimate luxury.

The rat race is fundamentally destructive to the environment and those who participate in it.
guptm
1 / 5 (3) Mar 16, 2019
The Children's Crusade, redux. Because it's easy to scare the kids.


@Anon
99% people on the planet have kids' mind, including a lot of scientists. All of them can be scared easily. Enlightened scientists are less than 1% of the planet's human population. Older kids are scaring younger kids disabling them to understand the real cause of the danger.
julianpenrod
2 / 5 (4) Mar 16, 2019
Among other things, as for students in demonstrations not "getting a real job", for many, demonstrations are just excuses for not attending school. In pictures for these rallies, many are smiling and laughing. They only care about making pithy comments, then going home and getting stoned.
Many don't even think about the fact that political leaders have always been self involved and, if there really was such an eminent threat, they would have acted!
Not that there isn't a situation, but it's chemtrails, not "fossil fuels" that are changing the weather. Anyone who really cared would look into that issue. They wouldn't dismiss it out of hand.
And the idea of political leaders working for the people, that already is out of the question for many. But, then, can they trust anyone who mouths the "climate change' propaganda, or, for that matter, the "scientists" who push it?
EyeNStein
5 / 5 (5) Mar 16, 2019
These "easily scared" kids are next terms voters. They are motivated to get themselves well informed on the issues which threaten their future.
Coal miners and gas/energy guzzlers beware. Your industries will be threatened by an electorate who cant be bought off with promises of jam tomorrow or shiny beads in their pockets.
EyeNStein
5 / 5 (3) Mar 16, 2019
What will eventually happen – in terms of both cultural and climatic change – is of course, unknowable
Do you remember the Vietnam protests? These school kids are about to likewise become radicalised university students: Backed up by retreating ice, key animal extinctions and predictable bush fires making parts of California and Australia uninhabitable/uninsurable, their protests will become a force to recon with, which cannot be ignored. (I'd say that is fairly predictable actually.)

What is less predictable is which administrations will try to turn on them with teargas? (As per Vietnam protests.)
antigoracle
2 / 5 (4) Mar 16, 2019
The acts of an AGW Cult, desperate for religion status.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2019
It won't be easy or too enjoyable getting by without a gas or diesel powered car

Ya know, I got my EV yesterday. Already tested it long range. This thing is easy in every imaginable way possible (especially to 'refuel')...and - dear mother of god - is the acceleration enjoyable.

Doing a bit for the environment can actually be fun!
snoosebaum
1 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2019
want something to worry about ? try the destruction of species in the name of saving the planet

https://www.youtu...ALPEpV4w

it might power your EV
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Mar 16, 2019
try the destruction of species in the name of saving the planet

What good is saving a species when you're destroying the planet?

(Hint for the braindead: It's a trick question)
snoosebaum
1 / 5 (1) Mar 16, 2019
sicko
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2019
No..The real sicko is the one who wants to destroy the planet because he's too to change.
snoosebaum
1 / 5 (1) Mar 16, 2019
No..The real sicko is the one who wants to destroy the planet because he's believed a load of BS
snoosebaum
1 / 5 (1) Mar 16, 2019
your EV runs on extinct bats and dead condors ,

my gas eating lambo spews delicious CO2 that feeds life.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2019
my gas eating lambo spews delicious CO2 that feeds life.

Well, hook that tailpipe up to your mouth and see how that goes.

Seriously. Climate change is killing off species left and right. We are in the most drastic extinction era of recent geological history. and you're promoting its excacerbation?

Some people will just happily sell out the human race for a couple of bucks, I guess? Doesn't speak well for humans, tho.
snoosebaum
1 / 5 (1) Mar 16, 2019
no , people are killing off species left and right , tragedy of the commons
Mayday
not rated yet Mar 16, 2019
I grew up in middle-class middle-America in a 1100 sq/ft house with no air conditioning. We wore our jeans, simple t-shirts, and sneakers till they wore out. Our cars were maintained to last ten years or more. My school had no air conditioning. The TV screen was 17 inches. The single phone hung on the wall. We flew just one time on a family vacation in two decades. One car. And fixed it ourselves. No SUVs or minivans. And we were happy as could be. Are these kids ready to turn back to a simpler life? Let's all go.
V4Vendicar
not rated yet Mar 17, 2019
"it's chemtrails, not "fossil fuels"" - JuleanNimrod

You were born stupid, but you have chosen to die a fool.
V4Vendicar
not rated yet Mar 17, 2019
LOL!

"Are these kids ready to turn back to a simpler life? " - Mayday

What form of stupidity do you use to conclude that they need to?

Advanced technology is completely compatible, even essential to halting global warming.

Whydening Gyre
3 / 5 (2) Mar 17, 2019
The article lost me at "The Terror of..."
EyeNStein
not rated yet Mar 17, 2019
@WG Just because as adults we can distance ourselves from horrors happening around the world to get on with life, don't assume children are as fear free and passive: Children seeing awful circumstances they feel powerless to do anything about react very differently.
PTSD in children near to the events (like bush fires) is well documented; and via social media their peers are curious to share the feeling long after its dropped off the mainstream adult media's radar.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Mar 17, 2019
@WG Just because as adults we can distance ourselves from horrors happening around the world to get on with life, don't assume children are as fear free and passive: Children seeing awful circumstances they feel powerless to do anything about react very differently.
PTSD in children near to the events (like bush fires) is well documented; and via social media their peers are curious to share the feeling long after its dropped off the mainstream adult media's radar.

You were a child once. What were your fears? They shaped who you are now...
Mine caused me to dislike the use of fear mongering words...

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