Climate anxiety threatens the wellbeing of young people but GSL can help to reduce anxiety, reshape the narrative and turn it into a catalyst for positive change.

News | 4th March 2024

What is Climate Anxiety and why is it on the rise?

Climate-anxiety (short for ecological anxiety and also known as eco-distress or eco-anxiety) is a challenging emotional response to climate change and other environmental issues.

In recent years google searches for “climate anxiety” have risen exponentially. In 2021 a survey by UNICEF found that 9 in 10 children are worried about climate change, their principal fears being animal extinction, extreme weather events, food and water scarcity and pollution. The same report found that 81% of young people felt their concerns weren’t being listened to, with evidence showing that this leads to them feeling overwhelmed, worried about the future and less likely to act on the issues they care about.

With news of wildfires, flooding and droughts seemingly constantly reported in the media it’s easy to see why climate anxiety is on the rise, and why left unchecked this can seriously impact the mental health and wellbeing of young people both in and out of the classroom.

How we can empower young people around these issues and mitigate the negative impact on their well-being and mental health?  

The key to tackling this is the understanding that whilst it is a normal, human response to feel concerned and saddened by the impacts of climate change, the most effective way to address these feelings is to share your worries with others, find a community of like-minded peers and take positive action. And whilst it’s a great first step to commit to living a greener lifestyle a 2022 study led by Yale showed that collective, rather than individual action holds the key to combating symptoms of anxiety and depression as it ‘can foster a powerful sense of hope, community connection and social support’.

Ultimately, helping young people to turn their anxiety into action helps them cope better with the stresses caused by climate change as well as other the many other stresses that will come their way throughout their lives as students and beyond.

There are many excellent resources to help guide schools in their approach to tackling climate anxiety.

  1. Create a safe space for informed discussion: The Economist Educational Foundation lesson plans provide a framework for the discussion of world events and help young people to better understand challenging topics which may be causing distress. Cambridge University Press and Assessments has also published practical advice to help educators identify and talk about climate change specifically, with the overriding message to ‘turn climate anxiety into action’.
  2. Tune into good news: Climate Anxiety can bring about feelings of hopelessness and pessimism, Help your students to understand the global effort and progress being made to combat climate change by sharing the Global Social Leaders Project Library, which details impactful and inspiring social action projects led by young people as part of the Global Goals Competition. Direct students to platforms like the Good News Network or recommend a hopeful podcast to them. From What if to What Next with Rob Hopkins or Jane Goodall’s Hopecast are other great places to start.
  3. Get outside: Spending time in nature is inherently good for us – for our bodies and for our minds. Even a few minutes outside a day can help to alleviate symptoms of depression, improve our mood, reduce blood pressure and boost the immune system. ‍Take your lessons outdoors, wherever possible.
  4. Take Action: Global Social Leaders Membership is a unique global community of values-driven schools following a project based learning programme that inspires young people to take collective action. Students work in teams, designing and leading social action to address the UNs Sustainable Development Goals in their communities. This years’ Membership includes schools from 23 countries, representing every continent. Young people receive project planning toolkits, feedback and live virtual training, making meaningful connections and sharing best practice with like-minded changemakers globally. Additionally Member schools’ students are invited to participate in the Global Goals competition and receive recognition for their efforts.

How can Global Social Leaders help?

Here at Global Social Leaders we have seen a shift towards environmental issues as a key theme for youth social action. Last year, with 17 Sustainable Development Goals to choose from, more than half of GSL Member School teams focussed their projects on Climate themes.

GSL is founded on the principle of building a global community of social conscious young people equipped with the skills to take action and solve real world issues. We have seen first-hand the impact of a project-based learning model through which young people can not only improve their well-being but also gain many of the social, emotional and practical skills they need to lead positive change and thrive in their life beyond school.

Watch a TedX talk given by Future Foundations’ CEO Jon Harper on the way in which we are transforming education and tackling world issues in the process.

Over the past decade we have used the framework of the United Nations Global Goals to support over 10,000 student to lead their own social action projects. We now offer a GSL School Membership programme which enables students and teachers to access resources, virtual training and connect with peers from around the world to collaborate on social action projects.

As climate anxiety and its symptoms threaten the wellbeing of young people we believe education plays a key role in reducing anxiety, reshaping the narrative and turning it into a catalyst for positive change in the world. Global Social Leaders looks forward to working together with our Member schools, both new and returning for 2024-5 to empower the next generation of socially responsible leaders.