This week a major study of 10,000 young people from 10 different countries published in The Lancet Planetary Health Journal made clear what my boss, OneGreenThing Founder & CEO Heather White, has been saying for years: eco-anxiety is real, widespread and the kids know it.
According to an article by CNBC's Vicky McKeever, the study, led by academics from the U.K.'s University of Bath and the Stanford Center for Innovation in Public Health, revealed respondents, aged 16-25, feel a fear of environmental doom at staggering levels.
45% said eco-anxiety plays a role in their daily lives;
64% feel governments aren't doing enough; and
75% feel the future is frightening.
The only reason I'm not shocked by these numbers: because 100% of the kids who sit at my dinner table each night already told me they feel this way.
Let me take a step back. Hi - I'm Emily, the Chief of Startup here at OneGreenThing, and like so many of you, I'm navigating my way through a world I care deeply about, want to help, and often wonder if it is already too little, too wrong, or too late. Ironically, I'm an unapologetic optimist. So to share such a doom & gloom statement about my perceived lack of contributions to abating the climate crisis is actually super uncomfortable. But keeping it real might be the most important contribution I can make to climate action. And the person who invited me to do that is none other than our Founder, Heather.
A little secret: Heather is the first environmental scientist (and lawyer to boot) I met who didn't make me feel ashamed of my climate shortcomings. She's as warm as she is brilliant, never falling into the big, scary stereotypes of climate activists. But she is an advocate for honesty - always ready to calmly, clearly explain the threats and reality of the climate crisis. She is also the one who - after years of hearing me say, "perhaps YOUR kids have eco-anxiety because YOU made them so aware of it," gave me a task: ask your kids if they ever experience eco-anxiety.
"Sure," I responded, certain my conscientious but rather typical kids would clap back with an emphatic, "What are YOU talking about, Mom?"
You know the funny thing about kids? They are truth tellers. Sometimes more than we are ready for. And that night, almost exactly a year ago when we had nowhere else to be but together, the lessons in eco-anxiety truth were mine to learn.
I teed up the question casually during dinner.
"Hey guys, Heather wants me to ask you a question to help her research," I led.
"Sure, what does she want to know?" asked my oldest, who spent most of his elementary years talking about becoming a marine biologist to protect sharks and sea turtles.
"Heather wants me to ask if you ever experience a thing called eco-anxiety?" I said, not anticipating the response.
My oldest son put his fork down. He is not a dramatic human nor was he even aware of how a decision like putting the fork down told me the answer before he spoke a word. Once the fork was down, the truth came pouring out.
"Oh, you mean the awareness that the world is pretty much on fire or flooding or has NO water and that maybe we aren't going to get to live a full life like you guys much less older generations?"
Pause. My husband and I looked at each other and didn't say a word. Then, the youngest piped up.
"Yeah, thanks to all the other generations for leaving a mess for us to clean up," said our child who gives regularly to National Parks and global organizations with the mission of protecting the future of nature.
The topic continued through the rest of the meal. As usual, the kids told the truth swiftly and clearly and without apology. The study released this week tells the same story at scale.
That night, the conversation changed in our home forever, and there is no doubt it is time for conversations to start changing at dinner tables around the world.
The data & the kids don't lie.
PS - One goal Heather & I have is to never leave you hanging with doom or gloom. . .no one needs MORE anxiety. So we aim to give you suggestions for simple actions, a #onegreenthing, based on YOUR Service Superpower. If you haven't yet, please take the assessment & share your results. I'm a Philanthropist! We would LOVE to hear from you. See below some #onegreenthing ideas for action based on my dinner conversation:
Adventurer: go on a hike with someone from Gen Z & ask about eco-anxiety
Influencer: ask Gen Zs on social media how they feel about eco-anxiety
Philanthropist: talk to Gen Z about volunteering to help their eco-anxiety
Sage: give someone from Gen Z time & space to share their eco-anxiety
Spark: follow Gen Z climate activist OneGreenThing Board Member Maya Penn
Wonk: read the study about eco-anxiety & connect to a member of Gen Z