From anxiety to activism: Eco-anxiety as a call for climate action

COP26 Day 9. Time is running short for agreement to be reached. A vital dimension of climate justice is generational justice. Psychology lecturer Maria Fernandes Jesus urges policymakers to move beyond empathy with young climate activists’ eco-anxiety, to actually act upon their demands. 

The impacts of climate change on mental health have started to become increasingly visible, especially among children and young people. Whilst the connection between climate change and young people’s mental health is complex, and may be seen as hard to capture, there has been evidence showing that young people all over the world are feeling worried, powerless, angry, and in panic regarding the climate crisis. For example, a recent study involving 10,000 young people (aged 16-25) in several countries, including the UK, indicates that young people are responding mentally and emotionally to the climate crisis and that eco-anxiety is associated with a perceived lack of governmental responses to climate change.

The recognition that climate change impacts on people’s mental health is an important step towards the development of more just and inclusive responses to climate change. However, young people have also been giving signs that eco-anxiety should not be addressed only from an individual and mental health perspective. Recent mobilisations around climate change (e.g., Fridays For Futures) and current youth presence in the COP26 clearly indicate that young people are calling for structural change and governmental action.

Despite their levels of eco-anxiety, young people have been able to galvanise their negative feelings into action. They have been showing that they are and want to be involved in climate change debates and solutions. How well we address eco-anxiety will necessarily involve designing and implementing effective governmental responses to climate change and the creation of critical spaces of dialogue with young people. Activism may be a way of coping with eco-anxiety, but more than that, the growing problem of eco-anxiety calls for urgent climate action.


Over the next two days we will hear from YSJU students who are taking action on climate, both within and outside the university.