This post is by Rebecca Newman who is studying for a BA in human geography and is a member of NAEE’s blog team. As ever with our blogs, Rebecca’s views are not necessarily those of the Association.

Young people are consistently portrayed as those who will determine the future, those who are responsible for saving our exploited earth. But how does this truly affect young people? The burden of the future, the rapid onset of climate change and the incapability of global change is ever growing. 

In 2018, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that policymakers have just 12 years to avert the worst consequences of climate change[1]. Yet, in the past few months we have seen temperatures skyrocket in Canada causing the deaths of over 1 billion marine species and 500 people[2]. The Gulf of Mexico has burst into flames and wildfires in California are already far outpacing 2020 rates[3]. This is the immense responsibility we place on our young people. 

Young people have understood the gravity of this situation, they have inspired millions to protest and stand up in the global climate movement. They are angry, but they are also anxious. How can we inspire and educate a generation properly when there is such uncertainty about their future?

Eco-anxiety is a rapidly growing phenomenon amongst young people. It is closely connected with many challenging emotions, such as anger, grief and despair. However, it is also connected with expectation, motivation and hope. The paralyzing form of eco-anxiety and climate depression pose a considerable obstacle to our young people’s futures. Fundamentally however, they emerge as an adaptive response to the vast socio-ecological problems we are currently experiencing[4].

The most famous definition is by social psychologists in a report by the American Psychological Association (APA) is that eco-anxiety is a “chronic fear of environmental doom”. This brief but powerful definition is incredibly poignant[5]

A national survey in Finland in 2019 assessing climate anxiety and emotions revealed that 25% of the population felt climate anxiety, the highest recorded in 15–30-year-olds at 33%. In a Washington Post poll in 2020 of American teens, 57% said climate change made them feel scared, 53% said angry. Both of these were considerably higher than adults. Mental health concerns are increasingly becoming a prominent impact of climate change[6]

Thus, eco-anxiety and climate anxiety emerge as both potentials and problems for environmental education, depending on their manifestations. This poses a complex situation for educators. Where is the line between undue alarmism and responsible education?

The fact remains that a person in a position of power, such as an educator holds a responsibility for their own actions to maintain the balance between despair and empowerment. It is important for educators to build an understanding of eco-anxiety, realising that eco-anxiety and tough ecological emotions can transfer from educators to students or back to educators without them knowing or realising. It then often goes unspoken between them – with educators or students believing they are keeping it to themselves. However, action and feelings of efficacy are proven to help people cope with eco-anxiety[7]

The student campaign group, Teach the Future believe that climate change should be a mandatory subject for all young people. They found only 4% of students felt they knew a substantial amount about the climate crisis[8]. As a geography student myself, it is shocking to see others lacking the knowledge I feel is so critical. 

Educators can assist their students in addressing their climate-related emotions and offer information and options for climate action. For example, educators who joined their students in the Fridays4Future protests. Supporting students and young people is of the utmost importance. 

It is important to highlight that eco-anxiety also encompasses hope. We must not lose faith in our young people, but we cannot place the burden solely with them. As educators, you are raising our future. Educators are and will continue to be the pillars of young people’s development and have the responsibility of inspiring hope for a future that increasingly appears more unknown.


Jason Plautz, ‘The Environmental Burden of Generation Z’, The Washington Post [website]  (Accessed 2 July 2021)

Joanna Taylor, ‘More than a billion seashore animals may have been cooked to death in Canada heatwave’, Independent (website)  (Accessed 3 July 2021)

Laura Bundock, ‘Youngsters suffering from ‘eco-anxiety’ as campaigners demand more climate change teaching in schools’, Sky News [website] (Accessed 3 July 2021)

Maria Cramer, ‘Leaky Gas Pipeline Sparks an Inferno in the Gulf of Mexico’, The New York Times, (website)  (Accessed 2 July 2021)


[1] Jason Plautz, ‘The Environmental Burden of Generation Z’, The Washington Post [website]  (Accessed 2 July 2021)

[2] Joanna Taylor, ‘More than a billion seashore animals may have been cooked to death in Canada heatwave’, Independent (website) (Accessed 3 July 2021)

[3] Maria Cramer, ‘Leaky Gas Pipeline Sparks an Inferno in the Gulf of Mexico’, The New York Times, (website) (Accessed 2 July 2021)

[4] Panu Pihkala, “Eco-Anxiety and Environmental Education”, Sustainability, 2020 ,pp. 1-38

[5] Pihkala, “Eco-Anxiety and Environmental Education”

[6] Pihkala, “Eco-Anxiety and Environmental Education”

[7] Pihkala, “Eco-Anxiety and Environmental Education”

[8] Laura Bundock, ‘Youngsters suffering from ‘eco-anxiety’ as campaigners demand more climate change teaching in schools’, Sky News [website] 3 July 2021)


Rebecca can be contacted at: rebecca2001newman@gmail.

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