Why climate change is making young Australians hesitant about having children

Two out of five young Australians are hesitant about having kids because of climate change, while Australia has ranked 30th of 39 countries on environmental conditions that affect the wellbeing of children.

A survey of 10,000 16- to 25-year-olds in six rich countries – Australia, Portugal, United States, Britain, Finland and France – found one in four young Australians is extremely worried about climate change, second only to Portugal.

Eighty-two per cent of Australians in this age group are at least moderately worried about climate change, and only 6 per cent are not worried at all.

The survey results were published in The Lancet Planetary Health last year and republished in the Unicef Innocenti Report Card 17, which compares the environment and environmental impact of 39 OECD countries and the impact on under 18-year-olds.

The results on young people’s eco-anxiety were no surprise to Luci Crompton, a student at International Grammar Sydney, and Kaya Ozen, at Epping Boys. Both 14, Luci and Kaya were friends in primary school and recently bumped into one another at the School Strike 4 Climate, which Kaya helped organise.

I’m pretty scared for me, future generations and all my friends, Kaya said. We’ve seen firsthand around places in Australia, the floods, fires, droughts, all the effects of climate change, and there’s just been no action taken and we need that action all around the world, all around the country and the time for action is now.

Luci said: I’m extremely worried, but I’m not really thinking about how it’s affecting me at the moment. I’m more thinking about other countries and future generations.

Kaya said he understood why people might be hesitant about having children.

If no action is taken, then yeah, I’d probably think about not wanting to bring children into this world, Kaya said. But at the moment, I think there’s still a chance for us to make things right.

Both teenagers felt that organising and attending the protest had a practical effect by helping shift the public debate, and also gave them a sense of purpose that made them individually feel more hopeful.

The Unicef report ranked Australia 10th for the world of the child, which includes air pollution, water pollution and lead poisoning, and 20th for the world around the child, which covers overcrowding, urban green space and road safety.

Australia was brought down by a low ranking for the world at large, which includes the country’s ecological footprint, electronic waste generation, and consumption based CO2 emissions per person.

On this measure, Australia ranked 37th only behind the United States and Canada, with Unicef finding we would need 4. 6 Earths if every person on the planet lived like the typical Australian.

The top-five scoring countries were Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and Finland.

Unicef Australia head of child rights policy and advocacy, Katie Maskiell, said young people were engaged and passionate about climate change.

Young people have seen this, they’ve experienced it, and because of their experiences with drought and bushfires and floods, they can see if we don’t do something specifically about our carbon emissions, this will keep happening, Maskiell said.

She said it was important for young people to have their voices heard and Unicef was pushing for a Youth Advisory Council to report to parliament.

Will Hazza, 20, a Gindungurra man from the Richmond area, is one of the founders of the Macquarie Alliance, which raised climate change as an issue in the marginal electorate in the Hawkesbury-Blue Mountains area.

Hazza said they had 100 volunteers who led 10,000 conversations raising climate change as an issue in the area, which has been rocked by bushfires and four floods in three years.

Hazza said he made a conscious choice when he was 16 to try to do something about climate change because he learnt about it at school and felt alarmed by how everyone seemed to accept it as normal. His efforts had ramped up since the 2019-2020 bushfires.

You feel so much more hopeful when you are making change and you can see people making change around you, Hazza said.

It was very clear that climate was really impactful this election and I think that is what making people feel hopeful, not necessarily that it was a Labor win, but definitely that it was a climate win.

Hazza said his sense of disconnection and imbalance was shared by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike, but he felt solidarity with people in the Torres Strait and across the Pacific who were facing coastal inundation, and Aboriginal people opposing fracking in places like the Beetaloo Basin.

Australian Psychological Society president Tamara Cavenett said anxiety was a natural reaction to climate change and she expected it to increase among young people and all age groups. She also predicted an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression from natural disasters.

It is normal to feel anxious when the science is clear that on current trends Australia and the world will be far less habitable and that the window to stop this is rapidly closing, she said.

Activism can give people a sense of control, instil hope and a sense of community. Action in a meaningful way is a great way to reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Kids Helpline: Kidshelpline. com. au; 1800 55 1800

A guide to the environment, what’s happening to it, what’s being done about it and what it means for the future.

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