From Climate Fear to Climate Start

By Nils Fleischmann

Summer has always been my favorite season – balmy nights, ice cream, swimming in the lake. But now I think it’s getting more and more unbearable in our concrete and glass cities. I’m not alone in this. In 2021, scientists at the University of Bath surveyed ten thousand young people aged between 16 and 25 from all over the world. The results are alarming. Three quarters of them fear for their future as a result of the climate crisis. Almost half, 45 percent, even stated that climate anxiety was already affecting their everyday lives.

Fear itself is probably one of the evolutionary survival mechanisms to which Homo sapiens owes their triumphant advance. If our ancestors had not been afraid of sabre-toothed tigers, if we had not learned to deal with danger, we would probably never have built houses, achieved prosperity for many and conquered even the worst diseases. So: Thank you, fear!

Might as well give up?

Bizarrely, if it had not been for fear, we probably would never have come to the point of being able to influence even the global climate in the first place. In dealing with the climate crisis, however, fear today seems to have the opposite effect of what it was intended for. Instead of resisting and fighting the threat with all our might, we stare at it motionlessly like a rabbit facing a snake.

Although I consider myself a fundamentally optimistic person, I can’t help worrying: How will I, how will my children and my children’s children still live on this planet in 50 years’ time if nothing changes? Resignation then overcomes my enthusiasm for a sustainable world of tomorrow. My friends and fellow students also shrug their shoulders a lot: It’s no use anyway, we are tempted to say.

What is the way out if climate anxiety is doubly problematic – firstly, because it puts young people under emotional strain and, secondly, because it prevents them from taking action? After all, our fear is not pathological: It is not irrational but rooted in a perfectly proven scientific dynamic. The simple fact is: Gen Z’s climate anxiety can only be overcome by saving the climate – and thereby ourselves. Nothing less than that.

Nils and his grandad

We need more than super activists

Yet, if we want to make a difference, we need more than a small vanguard of green super-activists. We need to move beyond divisions and talk about the fact that the climate crisis affects us all and that we need to tackle it together. If we all have the same problem, we must also fight together for a solution!

Individuals become truly effective when they organize collectively. And we can be creative in our efforts to create the structures for sustainable living conditions. Who says that getting involved in the sustainable renovation of the local clubhouse or organizing a vegan cooking class with friends is worth less than joining a traditional political party?

Let’s work on the (grand)parents

Different people bring together different perspectives, talents, expectations and hopes. Diversity may be difficult and complex, but social structures benefit from this plurality. Even the climate movement has to negotiate different views about the right paths and methods at times. While some feel uncomfortable at demonstrations, others are prepared to engage in civil disobedience such as sit-in blockades. Still others convince their parents and grandparents that a heat pump is better than yet another gas heating.

Choosing my climate career

My friends and I are at the start of our professional lives. Choosing our career also offers opportunities to join forces with others to protect the climate. The questions “What do I enjoy?” and “What am I good at?” helped me realize that I want to work in communications with Talking Hope. We see ourselves as a transformation manufactury. Our work is to develop strategies to get as many people as possible on board with climate issues. This is my path. A young person with a talent for craftsmanship, on the other hand, can take a more hands-on approach and install heat pumps for a living, for example.

Finally, I would like to share a beautiful image I read about: Instead of thinking in terms of individual ecological footprints, we could think in terms of ecological handprints: Where do my actions have a positive impact? Where do they inspire and empower people to get involved in protecting the climate in their own unique ways? My recipe for hope is to take action together with others. This gives me strength and hope that, together, we can not only overcome our climate fears, but also help build a fairer and sustainable world. A world that is worth living in.