Photo: Jay Mather.

Kids and climate anxiety

Feb 10, 2022 by Sarah Mowry
Climate change is impacting the next generation in new and troubling ways. Learn more about climate anxiety and how to channel that worry into climate action.

Questions? Contact our team!

Do you have questions, kudos, or other feedback? Let us know:

by Sarah Mowry

The Mowry family plants along Spring Creek. Photo: Land Trust.
The Mowry family plants along Spring Creek. Photo: Land Trust.
I’ve lived in Oregon since I was five and have a fierce love for this state and Central Oregon in particular. We are so lucky to have amazing mountains, clean rivers, abundant farms, and serene forests to sustain us all physically and emotionally. I’ve spent most of my adult life protecting these places, and now share this love and desire to protect our precious natural world with my two children. But climate change is upping the game, and it weighs heavily on my mind (and body!) as I try to help my kids understand the world they are poised to inherit. How do I explain heat domes, fire storms, 65 degrees in January, and the choices adults are making to NOT act on the science we know? I don’t have the answers, but I do know I can’t let my worries get the better of me and force me into inaction which is why I’m looking forward to the Land Trust’s next Nature Night on Climate Anxiety on March 2, 2022.

Climate anxiety is the mental stress “related to the climate crisis—an overwhelming sense of fear, sadness, and existential dread in the face of a warming planet.” It’s the next layer beyond the physical impacts that climate change is having on our planet. It’s the background strain we feel physically in our bodies when we hear about another flood, extreme storm, or bird or butterfly in danger of disappearing. It’s the sadness we feel when our favorite forest burns, when it’s too smoky to go outside, or when we realize our children will never be able to experience the outdoors we love in the same way.

Unfortunately, climate anxiety is impacting our children in new and troubling ways. A study published last fall, asked young people 16-25 how they felt about climate change and their governments’ response to it. The results were eye opening:

  • most respondents were concerned about climate change, with nearly 60% saying they felt ‘very worried’ or ‘extremely worried’.
  • Many associated negative emotions with climate change — the most commonly chosen were ‘sad’, ‘afraid’, ‘anxious’, ‘angry’ and ‘powerless’.
  • 45% of participants said their feelings about climate change impacted their daily lives.

I asked some Land Trust kids their thoughts on climate change, and, though they are a little bit of a biased audience, their feedback rings true with the study. In their own words:

  • “To me, climate change means 109 degree summers, when it is too smoky to go outside. Climate change means winters without snow. No snow to build snowmen, throw snowballs, or sled down the hill at the end of the street. Climate change makes me feel sad and frustrated. I am sad because animal homes are being destroyed and our planet is no longer the perfect temperature. I am frustrated because there are so many solutions, yet we still haven’t used them. We are moving too slowly!” ~Zoe, 12

  • “Climate change has become such a divisive topic. Why are we still be talking about whether or not it’s real?! It makes me feel scared and worried for our future. Even if we do big things to make a difference, I feel like we can’t reverse what’s already been done.” ~Lucy, 15

  • “To me, climate change means that the earth is sick. It makes me feel sad that the ocean has pollution and starfish are dying. I wish grownups would fix it.” ~Marley, 6

  • Eli and a butterfly soak in the sunshine. Photo: Land Trust.
    Eli and a butterfly soak in the sunshine. Photo: Land Trust.
    “Climate change is a serious problem that has turned into a political thing, and I think if we don’t do something big about it, we’ll die. Small changes won’t fix it. Only big ones will. It makes me feel hopeless and disappointed. Hopeless because the people that have the power aren’t using it to make positive change. Disappointed in the lack of action.” ~Eli, 13

  • “To me, climate change means the loss of snow to ski on, the destruction of our earth, and the ruin of our future. It makes me feel kind of hopeless for the future, as it seems like things are going to keep getting worse and worse.” ~Will, 14

  • “The younger generation has been put under a lot of pressure to fix the problem. The responsibility shouldn’t be placed entirely on us, it should be SHARED. We don’t want older generations to push us to do something to fix it, we want them to stand up WITH us. We have a voice, but they have the power.” ~ Lucy and Eli

Olive, age 2, loves to go outside. Her drawing shows her favorite things in nature: animals, flowers, and trees.
Olive, age 2, loves to go outside. Her drawing shows her favorite things in nature: animals, flowers, and trees.
Even little Olive (age 2) who (luckily!) can’t quite see her climate future, shared this drawing and her love of the outdoors, the animals, flowers, and trees. So how do we keep that love and desire to protect the natural world alive and well in spite of climate change and our collective anxiety?

Tune into the Land Trust's March 2 Nature Night: Is Climate Anxiety Bad for the Planet to learn more. Dr. Sarah Jaquette Ray, a professor and leading researcher on the topics of climate anxiety, youth activism, and environmental justice, will share some coping skills to help us all manage our anxiety and channel it into climate action!

Learn more: