A 2021 survey across ten countries (involving 10 000 participants aged 16-25) led by Bath University revealed that 60 per cent of the young people approached felt worried/extremely worried about climate change. This ‘eco-anxiety’ was not only attributed to fears of environmental destruction but also dissatisfaction with government inaction on climate change.
We are the first generation to feel the pressures of climate change seriously. Climate discourse pervades the media channels- news and social- that we absorb daily. But how much are we actually engaging with the topic? Are the ways we speak about climate change- with our friends, families, and peers- adequate?
One of the problems is the abstract relation many people, especially in countries like the UK, have with Climate change. We are physically distanced from many of its effects. Arguably, many students, especially those who haven’t yet come face to face with the effects of climate change ( i.e. in the forms of sudden catastrophes or slow-onset natural disasters), push the subject matter aside with ease in their daily lives.
Additionally, climate change is a non-linear problem. When consequences aren’t consistent, when implications gradually build and are predicted to increase suddenly, people find it difficult to apprehend the urgency of issues. A naff comparison, though this might be relatable to many students, is smoking. Smokers will often continue their habit for years, relatively unaffected by the harms of smoking. However, with a gradual build-up, health problems typically sneak up on them at some point. Ultimately, people are more motivated to tackle obvious threats, and so the problem with our climate change engagement is linked to our perception of it as a future problem.
For most of us, climate change lurks at the back of our minds and is all too seldomly acknowledged. We may have brief discussions on our personal impacts when a friend ‘goes vegan’ for environmental purposes or if flatmates clash on the importance/triviality of recycling, but in the grand scheme of things, discussions on climate change/action are neither as prominent nor holistic as they might and should be.
Worse, I have a bad feeling that though many of us ultimately know that governments and big corporations are the main culprits, we undermine this understanding and speak in outdated terms that indicate all humans, on individual levels, are forces of evil.
This perception is linked to the Anthropocenic discourse that has pervaded our understanding of climate change since Paul Crutzen coined the term in the 1980s. The Anthropocene refers to the current geological era in which human activity has significantly shaped the Earth’s ecosystems and geology. This concept recognizes that human activities such as industrialization, urbanization, and agriculture have significantly impacted the planet’s natural systems. The Anthropocene is often associated with the negative impacts of human activity on the planet, such as deforestation and pollution.
Significantly, this concept has political implications as it overlooks structural drivers of environmental change. On the other hand, Jason W. Moore’s concept of the Capitalocene focuses on the capitalist world system’s role in shaping the relationship between humans and the environment. The concept emphasizes that capitalism’s expansion and accumulationist agenda have driven much of the Anthropocene’s negative impacts. Moore argues that capitalism’s emphasis on economic growth and consumption has led to the overexploitation of natural resources, environmental degradation, and social inequality, all of which ultimately contribute to the climate crisis. In other words, it develops the Anthropocene’s oversimplification of human-environment relationships.
Ultimately, I’m not saying we should stop quitting meat, sorting our bins, shopping second-hand, or making any other individual, everyday choices. All I’m saying is that we need to talk about climate change. We need to be wary both of avoiding it and getting caught up in oversimplifications of the problem. We must bring climate change closer psychologically to engage with it while remaining aware of the capitalist ecological regime that we currently live in. For now, this can involve,
Educating yourself: Learn about the science behind climate change, its causes and impacts, and what actions can be taken to mitigate its effects. Familiarise yourself with reports and predictions. Some reputable sources providing reliable information on the topic:
- (Yale Climate Connections) https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/.
- (UN Climate Change Learning Partnership) https://unccelearn.org/.
- (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) https://www.ipcc.ch/
- (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) https://www.climate.gov/education.
Getting involved in climate activism: Join a local or national environmental group or organization focusing on climate change or participate in climate strikes and rallies. A few environmental groups in Edinburgh to get involved with:
- Edinburgh University Climate Society
- Edinburgh University Sustainable Development Association
- People and Planet Edinburgh
- Youth in Resistance
- Friends of the Earth Scotland
- Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council (ELREC)
- Edinburgh Sustainable Development Partnership
- Transition Edinburgh
Advocating for policy changes: Write letters or emails to your elected officials, urging them to take action on climate change and vote for political candidates who prioritize climate action. Some current UK politicians known for their work on climate change and environmental issues: Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Ed Miliband (Labour), Caroline Lucas (Green), Alok Sharma (Conservative), Lisa Nandy (Labour).
At the end of the day, people don’t speak about or engage enough with climate change because of a lack of awareness about its impacts (the science behind it) and urgency, discomfort with change (in behaviour, policy, societal norms) or fear of negative emotions. Climate change is daunting, but we must ensure we are actively engaging with the topic. Hopefully, this edition of The Student will inspire you to do so.