Eco-Anxiety: Is Gen Z Afraid to Have Children Because of Climate Change?

We witness climate change statistics in every TV commercial, every textbook, every school lesson, but just how much are we supposed to worry? According to the Woodland Trust, one in four (24%) 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK are unwilling or fearful of having children due to the climate crisis. A feeling is widespread due to the intensifying effects of climate events, including floods, wildfires, storms and droughts. Many of us don’t understand the detrimental impacts of climate change, while others have taken drastic measures to ensure no offspring of theirs lives to experience the detrimental affects.

What is Climate Change?

Climate change is a long-term move in the planet’s average temperatures and weather patterns. This means warmer temperatures, severe storms, rising sea levels and the inevitable consequences this will have on animals, health and food.

A report by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has concluded that the temperature of land and ocean has risen every ten years at a regular rate of 0.06° Celsius since 1850. By 2050, if no changes or no new policies are implemented to revert this, global greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to increase by 50% says The OECD (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

According to the World Health Organization, 3.6 billion people inhabit places highly affected by climate change. “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from undernutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone.”

Credit: Pexels

What is Eco-Anxiety?

The American Psychological Association refers to eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom, ranging from mild stress to clinical disorders like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide”. Eco-anxiety is a neologism, not considered to be a real illness. Conversely, its sister concept, solastalgia is the consequence of a natural disaster on a person.

Anthony Leiserowitz, Senior Research Scientist at Yale School of the Environment, states, “Many people are worried about climate change: 64 per cent of Americans in our last national study said they were at least somewhat worried about global warming. That’s a good and healthy thing because worry as an emotion is a motivator,” he continues, “Where worry becomes a problem is when it becomes overwhelming and debilitating, when it keeps you from living your life. That’s when it’s a serious diagnosis.”

However, eco-anxiety is more likely to impact those who already suffer from anxiety, with the age range not necessarily only affecting younger generations. In fact, the effects of climate change, are felt by individuals of all ages, according to a survey by Yale University.

A Generation Afraid to Have Children

With every year comes new heat records, more severe storms and the looming certainty that every decade will get worse unless we make meaningful steps towards greener solutions.

Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, the minister of the Environment and Energy Security of Italy, was moved by a youth’s question at the Giffoni Film Festival. 

They state, “I must confess that I am very scared about my future. Personally, I suffer from anxiety. Sometimes I think I don’t have a future”. They continue, “In Sicily, everything is burning, and I don’t know if I want to have children.”

“My question is, since you speak of 2030, 2050… are you not scared for your children?” Such concerns have been echoed throughout social media, with various users noting the disastrous events one’s children will live through. However, this poses a potential concern for birth rates, as such effects may have negative effects on the economy and create an ageing population. 

While the effects of eco-anxiety have not yet impacted birth rates, it certainly has raised questions about Gen Z being inclined to say ‘no’ to having children because of climate change. 

How Can I Overcome Eco-Anxiety?

While feeling anxious over climate change is entirely valid, there are ways you can alleviate these feelings by making an active change:

  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Consider living sustainably by donating to charity, buying clothes from thrift stores, reusing bags and bottles, and using compost to grow flowers and vegetables.
  • Volunteer: Sign up for a beach clean-up or go litter picking in your local village or city. Be a part of making a real change.
  • Raise awareness of the problem: Host discussions around the topic and converse with like-minded and open people. Ask yourself- what can we do?
  • Plant trees: Consider planting trees and plants in your garden, or head to your local council to support tree planting missions.
  • Save energy at home: Don’t leave your tap running if there’s no need for it.
  • Walk, cycle or take public transport: Consider walking to work tomorrow or meeting your friend at the bus stop to grab a coffee.

While some worry is certainly needed to overcome the challenges associated with climate change, anxious feelings should be monitored and discussed.

Written by

  • Anaïs Wyder Pivaral

    Anaïs Wyder Pivaral is a Swiss-Guatemalan English Literature graduate from the University of York. With a passion for all things wellness and culture, she seeks to write stories that bring new dimensions and perspectives into the wellness, health and beauty industries.

    View all posts

More Articles