I’ll start by cutting out beef. Beef comes from cows, cows produce methane, methane accelerates climate change. So I’ll start by cutting out beef. But he’s eating a steak at the table next to me! She’s got beef mince in her supermarket trolley! They’re having roast beef every sunday! My local supermarket has kilograms upon kilograms of beef in it, and that’s just one supermarket, there are thousands more across the country and hundreds of thousands more across the world, me stopping beef consumption will not make the slightest difference in the grand scheme of things, I am powerless, I can’t make a change, climate change is completely out of my hands and there’s nothing I can do about it. I may as well just have a steak and ale pie for dinner and try to forget about it.
Sound familiar? Recent studies have shown that more young people than ever are feeling anxious and depressed about the climate crisis and that they are powerless in making changes. Many national and international surveys are beginning to identify this. One survey, the largest of its kind published in September 2021 asked 10,000 young people in 10 countries how they felt about climate change and government responses to it. The results found that 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’. Across the globe, 45% of participants said their feelings about climate change impacted their daily lives. In Britain, 65% of people believe that the government is failing young people, 61% feel as though the government is lying about the impacts of actions taken and 57% believe that the government is betraying future generations.
A fantastic study produced by a group of scholars suggests that there is an unfair amount of blame placed on individuals when in reality the climate crisis requires collective action. They argue that often we are told to stay resilient and optimistic, doing positive things to cope and practicing faith or mindfulness have all been advocated. They suggest that environmentally friendly mental health promotion guidelines have provided similarly individual-focused recommendations, encouraging people to have good home insulation, a weekly meat-free day, walk or cycle daily and drive within speed limits. Overall they suggest that an emphasis on individual behavior change is linked to neglect of social policy, collective action and an unfair emphasis placed at the individual level.
The upshot of this is that our governments simply are not being fair to their citizens or addressing their concerns about climate change. Whilst, it is still true that individuals can make some decisions such as cutting out meat or flying less, to really tackle this crisis requires governments and international corporations to target all efforts towards mitigating this crisis which is simply not happening. A radical change to the way politics is conducted must happen if we are to have any hope in resolving this issue.