My son was born in the same year that Greta Thunberg held her first climate strike outside the Swedish parliament holding a sign with “School Strike for Climate”. Her goal is to pressure the government to meet carbon emission targets as written in the Paris Agreement 2015. Her one-person campaign went viral a couple of weeks later and inspired young people across the world. The first global climate strike in March 2019 brought millions of young children in 125 countries onto the streets to demand action for greenhouse gas reduction in our atmosphere. The latest global climate strike was on Sept 24th, 2021 which was the first worldwide rally since the pandemic started and the qathet region was part of this global movement known as Fridays for Future.
The young people raised my awareness about human impact on the climate and I started to be worried. I wondered in what kind of a world my son will grow up? With so little time left to reduce carbon emissions to avoid an ecological collapse and leaders who just talk and don’t act, it is getting harder and harder to stay positive. We have to stop using fossil fuels and need to restore our planet as the lifetime carbon dioxide emissions (or carbon budget) of the average young person today will need to be eight times less than that of their grandparents in order to restrict global warming to 1.5°C, as the limit set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 (Wu et al., 2020).
A recent survey by Marks and colleagues asked 10,000 young people in 10 countries how they felt about climate change and the government responses to it. They found that
“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.”
In an article published in 2020 about Climate Anxiety in young people, symptoms associated with climate anxiety where described as panic attacks, insomnia, and obsessive thinking. Feelings of climate distress might also compound other daily stressors to negatively affect overall mental health.
If you feel worried about the climate, it is true that your feelings are justified. The global concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide is the highest it has been in 3 million years, sea levels are continuously rising, and global temperatures are the hottest ever recorded. The changing climate from anthropogenic or human activity has been identified as one of the greatest challenges the world community is facing, and will continue to affect business and citizens over future decades.
There are many actions that can help you to overcome these feelings and we want to explore together actions that you can take in your daily life to reduce your personal carbon footprint. Actions can be small or large as long as they mean something to you and shift the internal stress towards a positive outlook. An action can be planting an insect friendly and native plant in your backyard, taking the bus or bike instead of the car, growing vegetables in your garden or the installation of solar panels on your roof.
As a mother and nutritional scientist, I believe that food is one of the most powerful individual climate actions we can take in our daily lives to increase human health and environmental sustainability on Earth. Food impacts all parts of our daily life. We can start to bring our planet back into an ecological balance by changing our consumption behaviour which also means eating good and healthy food. A planet-friendly diet is rich in plant-based meals and gives enough flexibility to include modest amounts of fish, meat and dairy foods. Seeing our daily food choices as daily action opportunities to reduce carbon emissions can simply be achieved by eating more plants.
In this time of climate emergency and biodiversity loss, food can move our social and environmental transformation towards a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Learning about my consumer power turned my worries into actions.
Judy Wu, Gaelen Snell, Hasina Samji Climate anxiety in young people: a call to action. September 9, 2020 https://doi.org/10.1016/ S2542-5196(20)30223-0
Survey: 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.