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There’s a word for it — solastalgia: the state of anxiety brought about when people are directly affected by climate change.
The word entered the lexicon in 2005, after researchers studied the effects of persistent drought and large-scale open-cut coal mining on two different populations in New South Wales, Australia.
“In both cases,” a paper in Australasian Psychiatry noted, “people exposed to environmental change experienced negative (effects…) exacerbated by a sense of powerlessness or lack of control over the unfolding change process.”
And it makes sense, really; if your livelihood, way of life — your very life itself — is threatened by environmental change, you would expect to experience anxiety.
And yet when 16-year-old Greta Thunberg speaks passionately about the climate crisis, she is portrayed by some adults as “a child with hysterical views,” a “drama queen,” “brainwashed,” “mentally unstable,” “too extreme,” “a little high school brat that doesn’t know Jack about real life,” and as having a message “full of the same threat of violence and use of state power to force an ideology” as did “Marx, Lenin, Hitler and other totalitarians.”
And that’s just a smattering of comments from Twitter.
These kids aren’t whistling Dixie. Each of them has been — and will continue to be — directly affected by environmental change.
But enough about the detractors, lest they distract us from the importance of the message that Greta and others are conveying so articulately, including Autumn Peltier, an indigenous teenager from Ontario who was at the United Nations last week to advocate for clean water.
Greta is one of 16 members of Children Vs. Climate Change, aged eight to 17, from various countries.
They have petitioned the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to hold five key economic powers — Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, France and Germany — to task for their lack of action in addressing the climate crisis. (Read it here.)
And these kids aren’t whistling Dixie.
Each of them has been — and will continue to be — directly affected by environmental change.
In the Marshall Islands, between Hawaii and Australia in the Pacific Ocean, rising sea levels and recurrent flooding threaten the islands’ viability. Three of the petitioners with Children Vs. Climate Change — David Ackley III, Ranton Anjain and Litokne Kibua — are teenagers from the islands.
“If rising sea levels force the Marshallese to relocate to other nations, they would lose thousand years old cultural practices tied to their islands,” the petition states.
As would Ellen-Anne, a member of the Sami community of reindeer herders in northern Sweden.
Ellen-Anne would like to continue the reindeer herding tradition of her ancestors, but global warming is changing the landscape and threatening the vegetation that is the animals’ food supply.
Raslen Jbelia, who lives in the town of Tabarka, Tunisia, has seen hotter and drier weather lead to deadly fires.
“(He) heard screams one night and saw a wildfire approaching his home,” the petition notes. “He was spared, his neighbors were not.”
So, climate change and the harms it poses are very real, despite the protestations of climate-change deniers. Children are living with it, and will continue to, unless politicians stop paying lip service to the crisis and actually do something to curb carbon emissions and slow the global warming process.
As the petition points out, “The climate crisis is not an abstract future threat. The 1.1° C rise in global average temperature is presently causing devastating heat waves, forest fires, extreme weather patterns, floods, and sea level rise, infringing on the human rights of millions of people globally. Because children are among the most vulnerable to these life-threatening impacts, physiologically and mentally, they will bear the burden of these harms far more and far longer than adults.”
The petitions states what’s at stake quite starkly: “If the respondents, acting alone and in concert with other states, do not immediately take available measures to stop the climate crisis, the devastating effects of climate change will nullify the ability of the Convention to protect the rights of any child, anywhere.”
Activists like Greta Thunberg are reacting quite rationally to the evidence before them.
They’re not the ones suffering under any delusions.
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