Climate Change Anxiety: What’s the big deal, kids? We had it much worse and just danced through it

May 03, 2024
Source: Supplied.

Anxiety has been with us since our days in the cave.

As we huddled around the fire at night planning the hunt for the following day, we were anxious about being stalked by saber-toothed tigers, getting trodden on by giant woolly mastodons, and having yet another encounter with extraterrestrials.

We learnt back then that anxiety was, by and large, healthy. It kept us on our toes about the dangers of the world we were about to inherit, once all the tigers and mammoths died off and the aliens went home.

Fast forward a million years and we find that anxiety is one of our fastest-growing industries, especially among our precious, beleaguered youth.

We’re not talking here about legitimate causes for anxiety, things that have immediate impact on young folk such as student debt, getting a house, getting a job, and getting decent customer service from a bank.

Yet we now have a generation of young people who possess an unparalleled – and seemingly limitless ability to reprocess any inconvenience, complaint, or quibble about modern life into a cry of anguish worthy of being immortalised on Tik Tok.

Debilitating anxiety now exists over such things as studying; sitting exams; daylight saving; heavy traffic; circus clowns; theme park rides; cloud formations; bad television; apps that won’t load quickly enough; the moon; werewolves; and turning up on time each morning as a condition of paid employment (i.e. a job).

Some have even complained about stress anxiety. That’s right, folks. Kids today have anxiety about anxiety.

Yet of all the causes of anxiety besetting the young, one ranks above them all: climate change.

Our future leaders have fixated on the issue and appear so distressed they require therapy, medication, and plenty of panic-inducing media coverage.

Bless them all, for we know what it was like growing up with the threat of climate change hanging over our heads. Only our climate change offered a slightly more intimidating scenario than their climate change.

And we didn’t call it climate change. We called it thermo-nuclear war.

Never mind global temperatures increasing by two degrees over the next century. How about the temperature increasing several hundred million degrees in a nanosecond as a nuclear missile detonates over your favourite milk bar?

And that’s in Celsius, not Fahrenheit. Hot enough to void the warranty on your novelty thermometer.

Growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, the threat of imminent annihilation from a nuclear exchange between bickering nations was everywhere.

In music Chrissy Amphlett sang about how she “never thought that we’d last this long; You know, always thought that they’d drop the bomb” (pronounced, boh-omb) while The Escape Club were busy “sitting in the back room, waiting for the big boom”.

When peroxide punk rocker Billy Idol sang about it being Hot in the City he might have been overtly referring to the ready availability of morally flexible young women, yet the ominous music video was full of missile launches and mushroom clouds. (Check it out on YouTube.)

We all remember Ray Davies telling us how he’d much rather live in a tree and eat bananas all day just like an ape man because “I don’t feel safe in this world no more; I don’t wanna die in a nuclear war”.

Even Sting lamented “How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy”, pleading that “I hope the Russians love their children, too”.

At the movies the threat of nuclear obliteration was huge.

The Day After. Threads. Testament. WarGames. Bond films were full of villains trying to acquire nukes. The Terminator taught us how SkyNet took but an instant to decide the world would be better off without humans and so nuked us into oblivion (well, almost).

We had the life frightened out of us by The War Game – so horrifying the BBC didn’t air it until 1985, 20 years after it was made – and in Fail Safe we watched, petrified, as President Henry Fonda tried to persuade Russia not to start a nuclear war.

And while Dr Strangelove had us laughing with its satire about the politics of the atomic age it issued a stark reminder that those with their fingers on the button were only human and, quite possibly, crazy.

We also watched those old American Civil Defense films from the 1950s like Duck and Cover, cheerfully informing us how the destructive power of a 10-megaton atomic bomb could be negated by simply hiding under your desk.

Yet somehow the fear of nuclear extermination never got to us. Sure, it was real, it just failed to sink in.

We didn’t grow up with any deeply embedded dread or debilitating trauma preventing us from functioning in society or at school or at the disco.


Perhaps it was the cold comfort that in the event of an all-out nuclear strike, we’d be instantaneously vaporised before we knew what was going on.

Maybe it was because we suspected that a very rich America had tricked a not-so-rich Russia into a very expensive arms race and so drive their economy and standard of living into the ground. Which pretty much worked.

Most likely, though, our refusal to subscribe to any angst over the prospect of thermo-nuclear doom was because we were preoccupied with more pressing matters, such as mastering the intricacies involved in doing The Bump.

So, how best to alleviate the contagion of climate change anxiety presently afflicting our beloved young?

Try looking on the bright side.

If the temperature goes up a bit, melts the ice caps and the sea levels go up a few inches think of the possibilities.

It’d be a boon for real estate with all the new beachfront properties and those holiday houses about to fall into the ocean going for a song.

And if a few cities end up underwater – presto! – new dive sites to visit on your next holiday.

So, there you go. Problem solved. You’re welcome.

As for what to do with all the time saved from no longer having to worry about climate change?

Hey. Find a friend and bump.

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