Modern Australian



The terror of climate change is transforming young people's identity

  • Written by Blanche Verlie, Associate Lecturer, RMIT University

Today, at least 50 rallies planned across Australia are expected to draw thousands of students who are walking out of school to protest climate change inaction.

These Australian students join children from over 82 countries who are striking to highlight systemic failure to address climate change.

Read more: Climate change: young people striking from school see it for the life-threatening issue it is

But the strikes represent more than frustration and resistance. They are evidence of an even bigger process of transformation. My research investigates how young people’s sense of self, identity, and existence is being fundamentally altered by climate change.

The terror of climate change is transforming young people's identity Young people all over the world have taken to the streets to call on world leaders to lower greenhouse emissions. Omer Messinger/AAP

Canaries in the coalmine

Striking children are experiencing “existential whiplash”, caught between two forces. One is a dominant culture driven by fossil fuel consumption that emphasises individual success, encapsulated by Resources Minister Matt Canavan’s remarks that striking students will never get a “real job”:

The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that’s what your future life will look like […] not actually taking charge for your life and getting a real job.

On the other hand is the mounting evidence that climate change will make parts of the planet inhospitable to human (and other) life, and fundamentally change our way of life in the future.

Children are up to date with the facts: The Earth is currently experiencing its 6th mass extinction; Australia has just had its hottest summer on record; and experts warn we have just 11 years left to ensure we avoid the misery of exceeding 1.5 degrees of planetary warming.

Read more: New UN report outlines 'urgent, transformational' change needed to hold global warming to 1.5°C

Meanwhile many Australian adults have been living what sociologist Kari Norgaard terms a “double reality”: explicitly acknowledging that climate change is real, while continuing to live as though it is not. But as climatic changes intensify and interrupt our business-as-usual lifestyles, many more Australians are likely to experience the climate trauma that school strikers are grappling with.

Greta Thunberg’s speech to UN Climate Change COP24 conference.

Climate challenged culture

Confronting the realities of climate change can lead to overwhelming anxiety and grief, and of course, for those of us in high carbon societies, guilt. This can be extremely uncomfortable. These feelings arise partly because climate change challenges our dominant cultural narratives, assumptions and values, and thus, our sense of self and identity. Climate change challenges the beliefs that:

  • humans are, or can be, separate from the non-human world
  • individual humans have significant control over the world and their lives
  • if you work hard, you will have a bright future
  • your elected representatives care about you
  • adults generally have children’s best interests at heart and can or will act in accordance with that
  • if you want to be a “good person” you as an individual can simply choose to act ethically.

Faced with these challenges, it can seem easier in the short term to turn away than to try to respond. But the short term is not an option for young people.

The terror of climate change is transforming young people's identity Young people around the world are demanding action. Gustave Deghilage/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

A sign of the times

Striking students are calling out that simply standing by means being complicit in climate change. The school strikers, and those who support them, are deeply anguished about what a business-as-usual future might hold for them and others.

Striking students’ signs proclaim “no graduation on a dead planet” and “we won’t die of old age, we will die from climate change”. This is not hyperbole but a genuine engagement with what climate change means for their lives, as well as their deaths.

The terror of climate change is transforming young people's identity Young people are worried about their lives on a dying planet. GEORGIOS KEFALAS/AAP

Notably, they are openly discussing and promoting engagement with climate distress as a means of inspiring action. As Greta Thunberg — who started the school strikes for climate — said in January:

I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.

They know certain possibilities have already been stolen from them by the older generations. Rather than trying to hold onto dominant cultural narratives about their future, striking students are letting them go and crafting alternatives. They are enduring the pain of the climate crisis, while labouring to generate desirable and possible, though always uncertain, futures.

By connecting with other concerned young people across the world, this movement is creating a more collective and ecologically attuned identity.

The terror of climate change is transforming young people's identity Thousands of students marched in Germany in early March. EPA/FOCKE STRANGMANN

They are both more ambitious and humble than our dominant (non)responses to climate change. This is palpable in signs like “Mother Nature does not need us; We need Mother Nature” and “Seas are rising, so are we”.

What will eventually happen – in terms of both cultural and climatic change – is of course, unknowable. But it is promising that children are already forging new identities and cultures that may have a chance of survival on our finite blue planet.

Read more: Career guidance for kids is our best hope for climate change

As adults, we would do well to recognise the necessity of facing up to the most grotesque elements of climate change. Perhaps then we too may step up to the challenge of cultural transformation.

Authors: Blanche Verlie, Associate Lecturer, RMIT University

Read more http://theconversation.com/the-terror-of-climate-change-is-transforming-young-peoples-identity-113355

NEWS

why Commissioner Hayne wants mortgage brokers to charge fees

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NDThe Royal Commission recommendation that mortgage broker commissions, currently paid by lenders, should be replaced by up-front fees paid by borrowers, has been controversial to say...

Frydenberg should call a no-holds-barred inquiry into superannuation now, because Labor won't

The Coalition is running out of time to do worthwhile things.Facing overwhelming odds of defeat in the election due within weeks, one of its last throws of the dice should...

Aussie parents are under pressure to buy their kids academic advantage too

Allegations of parents cheating and bribing top-tier universities in the US to secure their children’s admission have caused a media storm in recent weeks. Those indicted included members of the...

Missed something the doctor said? Recording your appointments gives you a chance to go back

It's often hard to comprehend complicated medical information from your doctor – particularly if you've just received bad news.From shutterstock.comYou’re in a consultation with your doctor and you’ve just been...

young people need better parks to get out and play

Poor quality and access are common barriers to young people using parks. FamVeld/ShutterstockWho wants to play sport in the mud and muck? Or have to climb a fence to play?...

Stowaway mozzies enter Australia from Asian holiday spots – and they're resistant to insecticides

We might not be able to use common insecticides to kill mosquitoes that arrive from other countries. from www.shutterstock.comPlanning a trip to the tropics? You might end up bringing home...

women's masturbation in early England

Battita Dossi, Nymph of Spring (16th century).Wikimedia CommonsIn our sexual histories series, authors explore changing sexual mores from antiquity to today.In the 18th and 19th centuries, masturbation was thought of...

NSW result gives federal Liberals a boost in the mind games

Scott Morrison couldn’t wait for NSW opposition leader Michael Daley’s concession speech on Saturday night. Morrison leapt to the stage at the Liberals’ function, speaking ahead of Gladys Berejiklian, to...

NSW Coalition scrapes back in as minor parties surge – but delivering on promises will not be easy

Having been returned to power, the Berejiklian now has to deliver on its big promises.AAP/Lukas Coch“It’s not a game of SimCity,” NSW treasurer, Dominic Perrottet assured viewers on the ABC’s...

Coalition wins a third term in NSW with few seats changing hands

Gladys Berejiklian has led the Coalition to a third term in office in NSW.AAP/Dean LewinsWith 54% of the vote counted at the New South Wales election held today, the ABC...

Funding boost for policing finance sector, in budget that warns of economic softening

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will deliver the 2019 budget on April 2.LUKAS COCH/AAPThe April 2 budget will provide about A$600 million to pursue wrongdoers and help restore trust in Australia’s financial...

Silver moss is a rugged survivor in the city landscape

Silver moss can survive almost total dehydration. HermannSchachner/Wikipedia, CC BY-SASign up to Beating Around the Bush, a series that profiles native plants: part gardening column, part dispatches from country, entirely...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

How to encourage healthier eating for your kidsEarly Bird Fall Fashion Trends5 Shaving Mistakes Most Men MakePreparing Your Car for a Road Trip in 5 Steps5 Top Offbeat Things to do in Hong KongExploring Whakatane NZNewly launched EyeHealth1st unites the majority of Australia’s independent optometristsDental Health at an Older AgeExpert Reveals Why You Can Remember Pizza Hut's 481 1111, and not Your Mum's NumberImportance of a Great Smile for Self-ConfidenceHow To Find A Wedding Dress On A Budget5 meditation tips for beginnersGet the Best Out of Garden Reticulation: Perth Expert Advice5 Smart-Home Upgrades You Should Invest InMeet a Car Wrecker as unique as a South Australian accent is