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Even though 9 out of 10 young people aged 16-24 (Gen Z) care about the climate crisis, only a third are talking about it with their friends, according to new research Global Action Plan UK conducted in partnership with Virgin Media O2.

The UK report found that many young people – in particular young men – feel excluded from conversations about climate change, or are reluctant to engage online, as they don’t feel knowledgeable enough to get involved or worry about being judged by their friends or followers for their views.

GAP UK found that a quarter (25%) of young people aged 16-24 are holding back from talking about the subject because they fear being judged by their friends.

“Being the first person to speak up and take action takes courage. Young people are scared of getting the facts wrong and being judged by their friends.”

– Francisca Rockey, quoted here.

Nearly a quarter of the people interviewed (24%) felt that if they were not leading a “perfect” sustainable lifestyle offline it would be hypocritical of them to speak up about the climate crisis online. 

Other research

In contrast, research in the USA showed that that 76% of young adults of Gen Z — those born after 1996 — consider climate change among their biggest societal priorities, and more than one-third call it their leading concern. 

Here in Ireland, a recent opinion poll reported in the Irish Times showed that there is strong support among the public for greater action on climate change. That was also the message coming out of recent research published by the Environmental Protection Agency, as we reported earlier, and an opinion poll by EcoUnesco among young people.

Climate Debate and Climate Psychology

In other recent articles, people have made the links between how we talk, and think, about climate change, and our thought processes.

This article in the Independent said that psychologists have pointed out that we are hardwired to react to events right in front of us, and that we find it difficult to respond adequately to more abstract threats and issues. 

Many of us recognise the reality of the threat we face and that we must act now, not later. Yet, we also experience the feeling that climate change is just “too big” to allow us to act usefully.

In the article, Caroline Hickman, a psychotherapist and social work teaching fellow at the University of Bath, says that those who believe in climate change – but just aren’t feeling the fear – are likely being defended by an automatic response in their brain. 

“When we face a threat, it triggers a defence against the anxiety that that threat will generate in us,” she explains. “It happens automatically, and it happens outside of awareness, unconsciously. And then we go into a defensive mode of fundamentally fight, flight or freeze.”

“As well as making an individual assessment of personal risk, we also use the reactions of our peers to gauge how scared we should be feeling.”

All the more reason why the research by GAP UK is so timely.

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