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Young People's Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon

23 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2021

See all articles by Elizabeth Marks

Elizabeth Marks

University of Bath

Caroline Hickman

University of Bath

Panu Pihkala

University of Helsinki

Susan Clayton

College of Wooster

Eric R. Lewandowski

New York University (NYU) - Langone Health Center

Elouise E. Mayall

University of East Anglia (UEA)

Britt Wray

Stanford University

Catriona Mellor

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust

Lise van Susteren

Independent

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Abstract

Background: Climate change has significant implications for the health and futures of children and young people, yet they have little power to limit its harm, making them vulnerable to increased climate anxiety. Qualitative studies show climate anxiety is associated with perceptions of inadequate action by adults and governments, feelings of betrayal, abandonment and moral injury. This study offers the first large-scale investigation of climate anxiety in children and young people globally and its relationship to government response. 

Methods: We surveyed 10,000 young people (aged 16-25 years) in ten countries. Data were collected on their thoughts and feelings about climate change, and government response.  

Findings: Respondents were worried about climate change (59% very or extremely worried, 84% at least moderately worried). Over 50% felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. Over 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning, and many reported a high number of negative thoughts about climate change. Respondents rated the governmental response to climate change negatively and reported greater feelings of betrayal than of reassurance. Correlations indicated that climate anxiety and distress were significantly related to perceived inadequate government response and associated feelings of betrayal.  

Interpretation: Climate change and inadequate governmental responses are associated with climate anxiety and distress in many children and young people globally. These psychological stressors threaten health and wellbeing, and could be construed as morally injurious and unjust. There is an urgent need for increases in both research and government responsiveness. 

Funding: The costs of the survey were funded by AVAAZ.

Declaration of Interest: None to declare.

Ethical Approval: The study was approved by the University of Bath Psychology Ethics Committee (#21-090).

Keywords: climate anxiety, eco-anxiety, climate crisis, children, young people, global, mental health, moral injury, government inaction

Suggested Citation

Marks, Elizabeth and Hickman, Caroline and Pihkala, Panu and Clayton, Susan and Lewandowski, Eric R. and Mayall, Elouise E. and Wray, Britt and Mellor, Catriona and van Susteren, Lise, Young People's Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3918955 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3918955

Caroline Hickman

University of Bath

Claverton Down
Bath, BA2 7AY
United Kingdom

Panu Pihkala

University of Helsinki ( email )

University of Helsinki
Helsinki, FIN-00014
Finland

Susan Clayton

College of Wooster ( email )

Wooster, OH 44691
United States

Eric R. Lewandowski

New York University (NYU) - Langone Health Center ( email )

NY
United States

Elouise E. Mayall

University of East Anglia (UEA) ( email )

Norwich Research Park
Norwich, Norfolk NR4 7TJ
United Kingdom

Britt Wray

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Catriona Mellor

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust

Oxford
United Kingdom

Lise Van Susteren

Independent

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