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Top 3 Challenges Young Climate Activists Face

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From Australia to Asia-Pacific, Europe to Africa, South, and North America, the youth-led climate movement has captured the world’s attention.

The rise in voice demanding action on climate change has never been louder. The young climate activists across the world supported by ‘Science’ and sheer will to save the planet are raising some very important questions through global/local climate strikes, social media campaigns and other social initiatives.

The amount of awareness generated through these initiatives has been massive, reaching tens of millions of people across the globe. The awareness messages include tips to stay sustainable, how to divest from fossil fuels, embracing political parties with green targets, protecting affected communities, and lots more.

However, the activities of young climate activists also come with their fair share of challenges.

It’s obvious there will be an immense amount of backlash to the idea of young students skipping school/college to go out and protest for a topic that some people think is obsolete or irrelevant. The topic of climate change is a weird and sensitive topic. One that acts as a challenge on itself for young climate activists. This is because it takes an immense amount of work to convince people and provide awareness of the threats it may possess.

Even though there are many challenges that young activists face, we will be covering three of the very important ones here.

1. Mental Health

Our planet, the dirtball, that caters to life is not immortal. But what raises concern is the very life it cater’s ‘Run For Greed’.

“Climate change is overwhelming.”

Millions of youngsters around the world are facing some sort of mental health problems. It has been exasperated in recent years due to a whole bunch of issues. One such issue is ‘Climate Change’.

Being a 21-year-old and young climate activist myself, I have faced the dilemma of a possible future with frequent natural disasters and climate-related occurrences multiple times. It is daunting. The fear of not having a secure future is one reason why we raise our voices. The second being accountable to the future generations. We can sum up those two reasons as Eco-Anxiety.

“Eco-anxiety refers to a fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster. This sense of anxiety is largely based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change. The anxiety around environmental issues may stem from the awareness of a rising risk of extreme weather events, losses of livelihood or housing, fears for future generations, and feelings of helplessness.” — Medical News Today

The anxiety associated with climate issues may originate from the awareness of a rising risk of extreme weather events, loss of livelihood or housing, fear for future generations, and feeling helpless.

However, even though this vulnerability pushes us to protest, it does take a heavy mental toll.

This is not the only mental letdown we face. We face many.

The lack of solid action by those in power and showing ignorance to the millions of students on the streets is heartbreaking. The one thing they don't realize or choose to ignore is that we are fighting for our future, the one they are bound to protect but chose to sell to the gas guzzlers.

Then there is the lack of support by parents which has been a really difficult problem for many. This detrimentally affects their ability to function properly in climate activism-related activities and campaigns, unless digital. Even though this is not a very serious problem for many, some find it hard to cope with. In a lot of cases clearing the questions parents have about the climate issue and the safety surrounding activism can help resolve the problem.

Now, let's talk about peer groups.

Feedback by peer groups or friends can make a definitive difference in the efficiency of ones campaigning activities. Positive feedback or getting validated by those close to us can bring a significant boost to our overall performance. But, the opposite is also true, where bad/negative feedback can influence us to reduce our overall effectiveness or worse. Being bullied is also negative feedback that can significantly affect our performance.

Then there is the abuse from adults. This has also become a very common issue. Abuse takes place usually over factors such as the age of the activist, their gender or the topic they are protesting about. Abuse is often carried out by middle-aged men who think students should stick to studying, not protests. They also believe students being young are deprived of real-world knowledge to undertake such activities.

This doesn’t sum up the problems associated with mental health and climate activism. There are many more issues such as gender-based abuse, cyberbullying (which we are covering in detail below), depression, risk of personal safety, political abuse, threats, etc.

2. Cyberbullying

Social media has evolved to be a platform that caters to division and spreading hatred. It was supposed to be a space to showcase one’s true self and share individual ideas. Each word now gets weighted and scrutinized.

“Social media has become completely divisive and an open arena for idealogical conflicts.”

Social media campaigns are one of the most effective and most sought out ways by which young climate activists spread/share their message. This however comes with the risks of being cyberbullied.

Cyberbullying can have really devastating impacts on the receiver. It can lead them to feel overwhelmed, powerless, humiliated, worthless, vengeful, disinterested and isolated. This can also lead to depression, getting physically sick, or feel suicidal.

Young climate activists get bullied online on a wide range of topics. Most commonly it's due to their age or gender.

Usually, middle-aged/elder communities take it out on Twitter and other social media to put down young activists by saying things like ‘You don't know anything’ or ‘Go back to school’ and try to convince them about not being old enough to protest. Young female activists have reported far more cases of being cyber-bullied than their male counterparts. Gender-related abuse is also visible in offline climate strikes but not as much as it is online.

Gender and age-based abuse, however, is not universal. It is tied down to certain parts of the world, their ideologies, and their communities.

As mentioned before, social media is an arena for ideological conflict. Young activists who try to spread awareness can experience a barrage of criticism from the idealogical opposition. The criticism can come in the form of abuse, coerce or bad language and much more. This form of backlash can drastically affect the mental health and overall well-being of the young mind.

We need strong cyber policing on cyberbullying to maintain healthy conversations in the digital realm.

3. Lack of Results

Even with such significant amount of work carried out by young activists, the results tend to be small.

Climate Change is seen as far less of a threat than other challenges humans face. For example, the media attention garnered by COVID-19 (which is a very serious global issue nonetheless) was really all over the place with minute to minute updates, debates, active discussions, etc. However, for a climate issue such as ‘Air Pollution’ which is estimated to cause around 4.5–7 million pre-mature deaths across the world, it rarely makes on to any top headlines.

It is interesting to note that if our response to climate change is as dynamic as our response to COVID-19, we can definitely make the transition to a zero-carbon future within the next couple of decades or so.

“The only justification for this gap in response would be because of the difference in how we perceive time. While the effects of climate change only add up in decades of time, coronavirus outbreak is immediate and right in front of us.” — Our Changing Climate

Even with our relentless efforts to change the status quo, the results of our efforts are far less than what it should have been. But, sure we have been able to generate a great amount of awareness in the public and enhance the view towards eco-conscious behaviour. The true scope of change comes with political and economic reforms.

One of the major reason for lack of change is ‘Capitalism’. Those in power falls prey to the clutches of capitalism or use their power to protect capitalistic ideas.

One such example could be the rise in ‘Astroturfing’.

“Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. It is a practice intended to give the statements or organisations credibility by withholding information about the source’s financial connection.”

While our climate strikes raise awareness to climate change and the damage fossil fuel industries create to our planet, astroturfing campaigns run by the fossil fuel companies do the opposite. Climate strikes are supposed to put pressure on the government to take action on climate change and transition to sustainable economies. But, this pressure can be thwarted by running astroturfing campaigns which spreads messages such as ‘Energy for Jobs’, ‘Energy for Development’, ‘Fossil Fuels for our Economy' etc. These fake campaigns provides an excuse for politicians to not take significant action and label climate activists as ‘Anti-Development Activists’. An example for the astroturfing movements can be the well-known ‘I Love Canadian Energy’ campaign.

These limitations have put a significant pressure on young climate activists. But we are trying to find new unique ways to pressurise the government and those in power to change the way they operate. Social media campaigns are very effective and people are taking notice. The pressure is building up for those in power, but, will they take necessary action is what we have to question.

We barely have scratched the surface. The challenges young climate activists face are vast and unexplored.

If you wish to support their initiatives and want the momentum to grow, you can do the following:

  1. Raise your voice for the cause, may it be online or offline
  2. Say no to abuse and support the climate movement
  3. Vouch for politicians who support the climate movement
  4. Take eco-conscious decisions in your daily life
  5. Spread the message

The young activists are doing a stellar job tackling such hurdles and fighting for a global cause. They are unstoppable. And, if we can do our part properly, the change shall come pretty soon.



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