The Earth Is Spinning Faster Than The Youth's Minds Can Handle


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The future of our planet and the future of the youth go hand-in-hand, as the climate crisis continues to break down the Ozone layer and the minds of the next generation.


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The Earth is literally on fire, close to drowning and spinning faster than normal; all dangerous results of the climate crisis. And yet, there’s been a delay in action when it comes to solving the very real issue of the planet’s deterioration. 

For decades, people all over the world have been warned about the impending climate crisis, except now it’s right on our doorsteps and not something “on its way”.  

The way Governments have been addressing (or rather failing to address) climate change is directly affecting the mental health of young people, and now, they will be the one’s left to deal with the aftermath of the harmful systems put in place by older generations, as well as that delay in action. 

It’s crucial to recognize that the consequences of climate change, while definitely affecting everyone, will have a more drastic impact on the livelihoods and minds of those living in low-income communities, which mainly house Black South Africans and people of colour.

We’ve already seen extreme consequences of climate change, and South Africa’s youth (and youth all over the world) are bearing the weight. 

The April floods in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) can be attributed to global warming, which made these floods twice as likely to occur than if the planet wasn’t going through a climate crisis. 

The heavy rainfall left 400 people dead (including 60 children), more than 40 000 people displaced without basic water and sanitation, and about 600 schools damaged, destroyed or made inaccessible. 

In an interview with Careers Portal, Mariska Pienaar, Lecturer and Counselling Psychologist at the University of the Western Cape (UWC),  says one of the most devastating consequences of extreme weather events is property damage or loss. 

Living through a flood like the one in KZN leaves traumatic after-effects and is difficult to bounce back from if you were already economically and socially disadvantaged to begin with. 

The makeshift housing that characterises many informal settlements in South Africa are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as floods, due to the lack of planning that went into building these makeshift homes as a result of the apartheid regime. 

“A family who has lost a home, for example, due to a flood, may literally be physically misplaced for untold periods of time, especially if they additionally do not have the finances to temporarily rent accommodation,” explains Pienaar. 

South Africa has been identified as a “climate hotspot” and a recent report by global change expert Nicholas King predicts that climate impacts in the country will include not only floods, droughts and heat waves but also crop failure, food insecurity, water stress and various forms of economic collapse and social conflict.

Pienaar also mentions that the loss of a home also includes the loss of personal history, including photographs, letters, sentimental belongings and sometimes even a loved one. 

In a 2021 report, The Climate Crisis is a Child Rights Crisis, UNICEF estimated that one billion children globally are at "extreme risk" from climate impacts.

Youth unemployment will continue to sky-rocket, inter-generational inequity and inequality will increase, crime and violence would start to climb, and with the overarching drought and food insecurity, as well as the worrying mental health crisis, it would be a fight for survival. 

Future generations are vulnerable to the severe impacts of climate change because their quality of life and health will be affected, and their economic opportunities will be significantly reduced. 

The youth is under pressure to find employment, complete school, and provide for their families; add the uncontrollable changes in the weather to the existing fear of the future, and it becomes a crisis of its own. 

A child’s immediate living environment can directly influence their ability to learn and progress in school, says Pienaar. 

The youth residing and attending school in these low income communities are already at risk of developing mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

A smaller home that is overcrowded, noisy, and/or lacking in electricity, will make it challenging for a child to carve out a space and time for favourable studying conditions.  

Mental health services such as counsellors or psychiatrists aren’t always accessible, especially in communities where local clinics are sub-par, don’t offer those services or require a hefty fee to receive treatment.

The general public has tried to reduce our personal carbon footprint as much as we can, but it’s not as simple for those in low income households. 

A family with a sustainable flow of income might be able to switch to vegetarianism, therefore reducing the amount of methane (a greenhouse gas) produced by cattle; but with the cost of living being so steep, it would be unfair to expect the same from a family surviving on a significantly lower income. 

The latter family would buy what is affordable to them, as well as what will sustain them. 

Climate anxiety (also known as eco-anxiety) is "a chronic fear of environmental doom", which has been found in children who are aware of the climate crisis; this awareness has caused the youth to “respond, psychologically, in troubling ways,” says Pienaar. 

To manage some of this climate anxiety, Pienaar suggests actively involving the youth in processes that work towards solving the climate crisis. 

Activities such as teaching children about small everyday behaviours they can implement at home and in school to help decrease the progress of climate change, can create a “psychological protection” by gaining a bit of control and generating a feeling of hope within the youth. 

 








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