“Ongoing, abrupt climate change is rooted in human behavior underlain by natural selection. Ongoing, irreversible climate change is rooted in human behavior underlain by natural selection. These young people have no more control over abrupt, irreversible climate change than bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The same applies to you. Even if we could somehow gather together in a united front to battle climate change, it’s too late.”—Dr. Guy McPherson
By Dr. Guy McPherson
BELLOWS FALLS Vermont—(Hubris)—January 2024—The headline of a story on Medium published on 11 November 2023 reads: “When It Comes to Climate Change, the Kids Are Not All Right.” The subhead is: “They worried they have no future.”
The author, Theresa Ann Story, opens with this anecdote: “Not long ago, a science teacher at a local middle school graciously gave me some time at the end of her day to discuss what students are learning about climate change.
“When I arrived, two students were still in the classroom—young girls who were laughing and chatting as they helped tidy up the desks.
“‘Looks like you’re still working,’ I said, standing in the doorway. ‘Is this still a good time to talk?’
“‘Yes, come on in,’ she said, smiling and waving me in. ‘We’re just waiting for my daughter. I told them you were coming, and they might be interested in our meeting since the topic affects them, too.’
“‘Great!’ I enthusiastically replied. I turned to the girls and blurted out, ‘So, what do you think of climate change?’
“They froze like deer in headlights.
“Their laughter abruptly stopped. An expression of unease washed over their faces as they shifted their gazes toward one another. After a moment of awkward silence, they drifted back to futzing with the desks.
“In a low voice, the teacher explained, ‘It’s a scary subject for them. They don’t feel like they can make a difference, so it’s hard for them to talk about it.’
“Crap, I thought. What have I done?”
And then, beneath the subhead “Young People are Terrified of the Future,” she continues: “A teenager’s weightiest worries should be along the lines of ‘How am I going to pass math?’ or, ‘I wonder if Tommy likes me?’
“They shouldn’t be asking themselves ‘How am I going to survive global warming?’ And yet, they are.”
The article in Medium refers to a peer-reviewed, open-access paper in “The Lancet Planetary Health” published in December 2021. Written by Caroline Hickman and eight other scholars, the title of the piece is, “Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey.”
According to the summary of this paper, “Children and young people . . . have little power to limit [the harm of climate change], making them vulnerable to climate anxiety. This is the first large-scale investigation of climate anxiety in children and young people globally and its relationship with perceived government response.”
The peer-reviewed paper is based on a survey of 10,000 people (between the ages of 16 years and 25 years, inclusive) in ten countries. Respondents in all countries were worried about climate change. In fact, 59 percent were very or extremely worried and 84 percent were at least moderately worried. More than half the respondents reported feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. Three-quarters indicated the future is frightening and 83 percent said that “they think people have failed to take care of the planet.”
I agree with their concern, obviously. However, I think it’s tragic that young people feel guilty about climate change. Again, with feeling: It’s not your fault! Our behavior, underlain by natural selection, dates back to the Cognitive Revolution of more than 70,000 years ago.
Ongoing, abrupt climate change is rooted in human behavior underlain by natural selection. Ongoing, irreversible climate change is rooted in human behavior underlain by natural selection. These young people have no more control over abrupt, irreversible climate change than bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The same applies to you. Even if we could somehow gather together in a united front to battle climate change, it’s too late. Even the politically motivated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that climate change is abrupt—the most abrupt even in planetary history, in fact, exceeding the power of the meteor that struck the planet about 66 million years ago and drove dinosaurs to extinction—and also irreversible. Yes, these conclusions were reached by the IPCC, an organization designed to fail when it was created during the Reagan administration.
Earth is in the midst of abrupt, irreversible climate change. This is not surprising, considering we have surpassed the 2 C mark above the 1750 baseline that we were warned about for many years. Of course, 2 C was invented by an economist and was never relevant to our continued well-being, much less our continued survival. Rather, as pointed out by the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases in 1985, 1 C above the 1750 baseline was a cause for concern. As pointed out by many scholars over the last several decades, our behavior is inconsistent with stopping or even slowing abrupt, irreversible climate change. But, in response to my citing peer-reviewed literature, I am accused of “giving up.”
We never talked about death, dying, or other important issues when I was a kid. As a result, the death of friends and family members was always unexpected, regardless of how old or sick they were. Imagine my pain when, at the age of eleven, I realized I was mortal.
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, but death and dying need not be categorized as “surprises.”
After delivering a presentation about near-term human extinction to high-school students, I was chatting with members of the audience. A couple of the teenaged students skipped by us, resembling children in a schoolyard. A few minutes earlier, they had learned they would die in the near future. They understood, and they responded with appreciation for their ability to live happily today.
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