At a time when there is a growing coverage in both mainstream and social media of various environmental challenges the planet faces, eco-anxiety and emotional burnout are becoming more common among teenagers.
Many people have begun adopting appropriate coping mechanisms in attempts to accept or deny climate change.
Carla Magi-Prowse, PhD candidate, is currently researching the effect of eco-anxiety on pro-environmental behaviour at the University of Queensland.
“People are constantly bombarded with these very confronting images and stories; they cope with it by turning away,” the researcher states. “Teens bear a lot of the burden of climate change.”It seems they know it too.
Rhys Andreassen, a Year 10 student, tries his best to be environmentally aware while juggling his assignments and social life. But he concedes that he is both mentally and emotionally exhausted by climate change and its constant media exposure.
“I hear about it so often that I’ve kind of given up on trying to care. It’s been happening all my life, but nothing really gets done.”
This line of thinking may be frighteningly familiar. Research has found that young people are more susceptible to the effects of chronic stressors making them an important population to consider when discussing eco-anxiety.
Helensvale State High School has taken this to heart, working hard to re-engage those under their care with the help of one cute critter.
Their Eco-Mascot, Bruce the Bandicoot, was rescued from the strangling clutches of a Slurpee lid in early 2018. His ordeal resulted in the founding of Helensvale SHS’s Environmental Club, made by students for students. Their tireless efforts resulted in an environmental partnership with 7-11 and SimplyCups, one of the first in the #CupRescue – an astonishing achievement and a testament to their dedication.
For club members, it was a practical expression of something that they could actually do to help the environment, rather than just worry about it.
Helensvale High School principal Karen Lindsay said that since the founding of the Environmental Club and successful set-up of collection points throughout the school, there has been an undeniable transformation.
“Prior to Bruce the Bandicoot, there used to be a Clean-up Helensvale Day at the end of every term, but we have haven’t had the need to like we used to,” Lindsay said.
“I used to get up on assembly and show photos of birds being injured or killed by plastic bags. But I don’t think it impacts until you see it in your own backyard. The students could see that Bruce was a real bandicoot – a rare bandicoot.”
Magi-Prowse attributes this to ‘psychological distance’.
“Many people hyper fixate on international progress in the fight against climate change. This makes it easy to become disheartened by ‘no progress’.
“While none of us can solve the climate crisis as individuals, we can make a change in our local communities,” Magi-Prowse says, “Local action is often overlooked but it’s where people actually have the power to make a change.”
“Schools also present are great pathway to engage students in a more practical sense. But it is especially important for schools listen to their students when they are designing these initiatives.”
InQueensland’s Media Academy is a partnership involving Education Queensland and UQ, teaching high school students about critical thinking and the journalism skills needed to develop the next generation of public interest journalists. Their stories will be published regularly by InQueensland.
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