An essay contest for Salmon Arm Secondary students provided a glimpse into the angst over climate change for young British Columbians.
The recent contest, sponsored by the Shuswap Environmental Action Society, saw eight students share their concerned outlook for a Shuswap region in 2052, plagued by extreme weather and food scarcity.
“The crumbling mountains surrounding our withering farm looked as if they were going to melt,” wrote contest winner Kate Verdurmen. (See her essay on page 9)
“The lake was so shallow that you could walk two kilometres on the cracked mud before you reached the steaming water.”
Runners-up in the competition included Isabelle Wilkie, Caelie Hill and Nyah Filipchuk.
Climate change is on the mind of many British Columbians heading into another summer.
“We had the heat dome and atmospheric river and the flooding and the fires,” said contest organizer and author Jim Cooperman.
“We lived through the summer of hell.”
Research suggests young people are more likely to experience climate anxiety than adults.
A 2021 survey of climate anxiety in young people aged 16 to 25 showed the psychological strains of climate change are “profoundly affecting huge numbers of these young people around the world.”
The study showed more than 45 per cent of young people said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning and more than 50 per cent felt “sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty.”
Warren Bell, a physician in Salmon Arm and founding president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, said he’s seen young people feeling defeated, some even attempting suicide.
The apocalyptic tone of the essays is exactly how young people are feeling, he said.
“They feel betrayed by the fact that the older and wiser adults in the world are so complacent,” Bell said.
Despite the anxiety, Verdurmen thinks picturing the worst-case scenario can jolt people into action.
“People don’t understand what’s going on until they actually see the impact,” she said.
“People can read my writing and see what might happen.”
Bell said it’s “crystal clear” that action on the part of policy makers is key to alleviating this anxiety, but young people also must act.
“When (young people) get involved in concrete action to move this issue forward and start to address in real ways the factors that are leading to the climate crisis, they gain an incredible amount of energy,” he said.
Cooperman hoped the contest would get young people thinking about solutions to climate change.
“It’s a technique called backcasting,” he said.
“If you envision something in the future, that’s where you want to be, then you use that to help guide you to get to that place.”
Cooperman launched the contest in part to show adults how young people view the climate crisis.
“For decision-makers, especially, it would be important to read it and see that if changes aren’t made, this is the future that the kids are seeing,” he said.
Cooperman hopes to continue the competition next year.
“This is the type of project that’s needed in schools because rather than students writing about issues that don’t concern them, this is an issue that concerns everybody.”
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