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The climate crisis stokes Gen Z anxiety

By: Sydney Zimmerman

Riley McClanahan came to North Carolina State University having endless dreams for her future. Now as a senior, she is leaving with fear and hesitation to create the life she wants for herself because she doesn’t know if the changing climate will allow her to.

McClanahan, who is studying Ecological Engineering, says that in addition to her course curriculum, her time in school has taught her the impact climate change will have on her life. Much of her plans for her future are dependent on the health of the Earth, including her field of study which she picked due to her environmental concerns. She feels that possibilities that were once considered normal and ethical are now being made impossible for this generation emerging into adulthood. 

“As much as I think I may want to have kids, I’m worried about bringing children into a world where the planet’s health is decreasing and being neglected. I’m worried about the kind of life they would have and the conditions they would have to deal with.” 

McClanahan is not alone. In a study by the “British Broadcasting Corporation” (BBC), 75% of young adults from the ages 16 to 25 reported themselves to have intense worry or fear about the future due to climate change. This is called climate anxiety. 

Although this term is relatively new, the concept has been around for centuries. It first appeared in the American-historian Theodore Roszak’s book, “Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind,” published in 1995. Since then, the use of the term has grown in correlation with increasing climate disasters.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Earth’s rate of warming has doubled since 1981. With about 11 billion metric tons of carbon added to the atmosphere every year, there will be larger amounts of climate disruption, unless changes are made.

Many young adults are feeling discouraged and disappointed by those in power due to the lack of proficient environmental regulations that have been put into place. McClanahan says climate action doesn’t seem to be a priority for our government, which only adds to her anxiety. 

“It makes me upset that it doesn’t seem to be taken seriously. The change needs to be made now, or it’s our generation that will see the impacts, and that is a really frustrating truth to accept.” 

This increased stress at developmental ages makes children and young adults from ages 16 to 25 more vulnerable to developing depression and anxiety. This age group is especially susceptible to climate anxiety since they will have to live through the future climate consequences. 

Within NC State’s Campus, 71% of students reported themselves to be at least moderately concerned about the changing climate with 41% of students being extremely concerned, according to a random sample survey.

Kara Pawlowski, a third year biochemistry student at the university, struggles with mental health and says climate anxiety is another obstacle she has to face. 

“I have anxiety generally and OCD, so the climate crisis is just one of those things that adds to my mental load daily.” 

This additional factor of stress can be detrimental for college students who are already grappling with their psychological state, especially as mental health concerns of university students are on the rise.

Randolph Brooks, a staff member at NC State University’s counseling center with a PhD in Health Psychology, says at least 60% of college students in America report symptoms of anxiety and climate factors can play significant roles in a person’s mental wellbeing. 

Brooks says the pandemic allowed people to slow down and have more room to think about the changing world around them, causing many people to realize how climate effects are something that will impact them in their lifetime.

This anger and fear could lead to an overall decline in mental health for young adults who are emerging into the workforce, and this will have detrimental impacts to broader communities. 

“I have hope that we actually do take significant meaningful steps to adjust our habits. We need to ask ourselves: Do we have the appetite as a nation and as a world to take these real steps to change our behavior?”

By having open conversations about climate anxiety and its impacts, the importance of progressive change can be emphasized. As climate concerns grow, the more push there will be for the world to turn to renewable energy, ecosystem protection and pollution reduction. 

Word cloud of vocabulary and phrases used to describe emotions related to eco-anxiety. Taken from ResearchGate.

If you find yourself experiencing climate anxiety, know you’re not alone. Our campus is full of driven students who are passionate about combatting this issue and building a more sustainable future. While the fear of climate change can be great, so is our potential.

Try reconnecting yourself with nature by spending time in your favorite outdoor areas and adopting more sustainable practices. If you find yourself or someone you know becoming overwhelmed by climate or general  anxiety, please utilize our on campus resources listed below: 

Counseling Center:

Outdoor Adventure Trips:

List of all Resources:


Climate Change: Global Temperature. (2023). NOAA’s%202021%20Annual,0.18%20%C2%B0 C)%20per%20decade. 

Fig 2. Word cloud of vocabulary and phrases used to describe emotions… (2021). ResearchGate; ResearchGate.

Harrabin, R. (2021, September 14). Climate change: Young people very worried – survey. BBC News; BBC News.

What Are The Origins Of The Term “Climate Anxiety”? – Forbes India. (2022). Forbes India.