In coping with those feelings, many young people are figuring out ways to find meaning and purpose. Here’s some of their advice.
1. Talk to a friend about what’s up
Nagel and his family evacuated during the wildfire in Boulder, Colorado, but luckily his house came out unscathed. After that, he began noticing how wildfires seemed to be happening more often across the West, especially with the long-running drought.
“I know other people through not just that fire, but other fires across Colorado who have lost their homes,” he says.
Nagel started learning more about climate change and began taking action in his daily life, like biking more and eating less meat. But it was joining the sustainability club at his high school in Denver that made the biggest difference. There, he met other students working to help their community, like planting trees and encouraging his school to start composting
He also joined another student group, DPS Students for Climate Action. Over the course of almost two years, the group pushed Denver Public Schools to pass its first climate policy, adopting goals to reduce emissions and use clean energy district-wide.
“Being surrounded by people who are equally passionate and have the same amount of optimism about the future can be really uplifting and kind of motivating,” he says.
When he feels overwhelmed by the future of the planet, he meets up with a friend, Mariah Rosensweig, whom he got to know through the sustainability club. They go on walks and hikes together, venting about whatever is on their minds.
“It sometimes feels like what I’m doing will never be enough,” Nagel says. “And part of that is true. Like one person isn’t going to be able to change the fate of this planet, of climate change. But I think at the same time, I also do have hope that by working together, we can actually resolve this crisis.”
2. Get out in nature
As a kid, Rosensweig’s deep love of nature grew from being outdoors all the time.
“I was always one of the few girls that would be dirtier than all the boys,” Rosensweig says. “My grandpa nicknamed me the ‘tree panther,’ because I would always be in a tree and he wouldn’t know where I was.”
In high school, she became a beekeeper. For her, working on climate change is about reminding people of their connection to the natural world. But seeing the damage to the natural world can be disheartening.
“Now the conversation isn’t: what can we do to prevent climate change?” she says. “It’s: how are we going to live with it? As I’m still so young, to hear that shift is frustrating because it’s like – we’ve known about this for so long.”
When she feels that way, Rosensweig says it’s simple: go outside.
“I’ll sit myself down on the ground and really connect to my senses, especially breath,” she says. “That will make you more aware of the world around you. And then the more that you’re aware, the more you’re going to care. The more you care, the more likely you are to do something about it.”
3. Join people doing something in your community
When 15-year-old Tanish Doshi first moved to Tuscon, Arizona, the extreme heat was a shock, especially as rising summer temperatures broke records year after year.
“It feels like your skin is on fire,” he says. “A lot of people have access to safe places to stay, to air conditioning, to water, stuff like that. When you look at our unhoused populations and different people, they don’t have that access a lot of the time here in southern Arizona. So the heat is really, really bad.”
When climate change seems daunting, Doshi’s advice is to find someone who cares about it and ask how to help in your community.
When Tucson’s Habitat for Humanity office was hit with flooding during heavy monsoon rains, Doshi rallied his friends to do something. They designed a flood control system around the building, putting in drainage pipes, holding basins and rerouting water to absorbent areas with plants. Around 20 people helped out with construction, including his nine-year-old brother.
“For me, advocacy and action has alleviated some of my climate anxiety because it shows me success is possible, right?” he says. “If a group of teenagers here in Tucson can have this success and if teenagers across the country are having similar success, that can really lead to reforms on the national level.”
Helping out in your community doesn’t need to be a big project, psychologists like Hudson say. It can be as simple as planting a pollinator-friendly flower. The key thing is to find meaning in the action and build social connections in the process.
“We can think about: what does it look like for young people to find a sense of meaning and purpose in this crisis?” Hudson says. “Connect with like-minded others and build some agency through connecting with climate engagement or action.”
4. Don’t be too intimidated to speak out
When Sabal Dangi was 11 years old, he took a trip to Nepal where his family is originally from. He saw how vulnerable people are to climate impacts, like hotter temperatures that are making water supplies more unreliable.
“We would see how climate change is really affecting them at those high altitudes,” he says. “They use all of their water from all the glacier melt and the Himalayas. And so now they’re really trying to adapt and conserve.”
Dangi was homing in on something that resonates with many young people: the global inequality of climate change. Extreme storms, floods and droughts can be more devastating in lower-income countries where people have few safety nets.
“Last year, my climate anxiety started really getting to its peak,” he says. “It was just the feeling of not being able to do something.”
Dangi, now 16, wasn’t sure he knew enough about climate change to get involved. But after going to a few climate protests, he started a Fridays for Future chapter where he lives in Fresno, California. The youth-led movement has chapters around the world that lead climate strikes, where students walk out of school or protest after school.
At first, it was just Dangi and a couple friends, but the group grew in size the more he kept at it. Discussing and engaging people about climate issues has helped him feel more positive.