That’s what scares her the most. “I know what it looks like, and I know it will get worse,” she told The Washington Post. “And it’s like, ‘Will people care? Will they react?’ ”
She’s not alone. From school strikes to the halls of power, young activists have turned the world’s focus toward climate change. They have rallied the largest protests in decades for the environment and brought it to the forefront of elections.
But growing up in an era of disasters like never before, people in their teens and 20s are also wrestling with another challenge: anxiety about the burning, flooding planet.
A summer of floods in Germany, wildfires in Turkey and record heat in America have raised alarm about the need to act on climate change, and about its impact on mental health. Experts warn of the emotional toll that will come from the warming of the planet, which for many people, now feels a lot more up close.
In a survey across 17 countries on Tuesday, the Pew Research Center found that more and more people saw climate change as a looming threat. The study found that young people tend to worry more about it harming them than older adults.
“I think it’s because there’s our whole future ahead,” Tan said. “We’re always told, ‘Oh, you’re so young, there’s so much you can still do.’ And then it’s like BAM, is there?”
The environmentalist has tried to channel the uncertainty into her work, talking about the environment at schools, helping farmers get irrigation equipment and joining fishing communities fighting new casino projects.
“A lot of my anxiety really stems too from the knowledge that this isn’t just happening, people are doing it actively … world leaders, the fossil fuel industry,” she said.
For many young people, the feeling that governments have betrayed them fuels a sense of doom, according to Caroline Hickman, lead author of a study into how 16-to-25-year-olds feel about the response to climate change.
In India’s Maharashtra, where monsoon rains and landslides killed dozens of people this summer, Jahnavee Palsodkar is fighting to reverse river pollution in her city, but says adults often dismiss her distress. “Right now, we’re seeing out-of-control wildfires and heavy rains,” said the 18-year-old student. “If things are so bad now, what kind of world will I have to grow up in?”
That fear also drives most of the people Dominique Palmer meets at protests she helps organize. One thing that particularly strikes the British university student is how many protesters are in their early teens.
“People younger than me, like 14 and 15 years old … it’s just incredibly sad that so many feel like they have to act, otherwise they won’t have a future,” Palmer, who is 21, added. “A lot of people call us inspiring, but it’s also just really heartbreaking.”
The climate activist has long worried about her relatives in the Caribbean, where the rising sea is eroding the coast.
“But even here, when a lot of the flooding happened, it just showed how much we are not well equipped,” she said. “That’s really scary for me. The pace at which we’re hitting tipping points. We’ve been seeing it in Europe, and it could be right here again. And we are not equipped to deal with it.”