By Hudson McKinley-Uss, age 15
Older generations grew up during the time of the Cold War and had a future that was very uncertain—living with the threat of nuclear warfare, hearing things like “mutually assured destruction” frequently on the news. But that conflict was resolved. The youngest generations, from Generation X to Generation Alpha, again have a future that is uncertain, but this threat cannot be solved with a simple peace treaty or some handshakes between world leaders.
Today’s threat is climate change. With youth that are hyperconnected to the internet and media, not only do we feel the impacts of climate change where we live, but we see natural disasters all over the world online. This is bringing to light one of the more unnoticed effects of climate change: anxiety among young people.
The largest-ever study about climate anxiety, conducted by Social Science Research Network, surveyed 10,000 young people ages 16 to 25 across 10 countries. It found that 59% are very or extremely worried and 84% are at least moderately worried about climate change. Over 50% of those surveyed felt sad, angry, powerless and guilty. Over 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning.
Youth Unstoppable, a 2021 documentary by Canadian director Slater Jewell-Kemker, follows the growth of the international youth climate movement over a span of 13 years. Jewell-Kemker began production of the film in 2008 when she was 15 years old. In the film, she attends many climate conferences and visits other climate activists around the world, seeing firsthand the effects of climate change outside of North America.
In the documentary, Jewell-Kemker contrasts the place where she lives with the places she visited around the world where they were experiencing drought, flooding and wildfires. In an exclusive interview with IndyKids, Jewell-Kemker notes the sense of security she felt growing up in Canada is now gone, as they too are now experiencing wildfires and other climate disasters. “When I first started feeling climate anxiety and eco-grief,” she explains, “these terms didn’t exist.”
The issue of climate anxiety looms in Youth Unstoppable. As Jewell-Kemker gained more insight to the climate activist world, she seemed to become increasingly disillusioned about how much impact she and other activists were making. Despite this, she remains somewhat optimistic that activists can make a difference, and that people must continue to fight for what they believe in. “We can’t fall into this narrative of hopelessness and negativity,” she affirmed, “or we won’t be able to save what is still worth saving.”
Toward the end of the film, Jewell-Kemker focuses on becoming a more sustainable person herself, living in a community with other artists and filmmakers in “tiny houses” that they built themselves out of salvaged materials. She says this, and other basic mental health practices, is how she deals with her climate anxiety. “It’s a collective grieving process that we’re all going through,” says Jewell-Kemker, “realizing that we’re in a very different world than the one that our parents grew up in, a world that [is different to the one] they promised us we would be living in.”