Climate change is causing a youth mental health crisis — and it’s time for adults to step up
Almost 80 per cent of young people in Canada feel that climate change has impacted their mental health. Thirty-seven per cent say their feelings about climate change have a negative impact on their day-to-day functioning and 56 per cent report feeling sad, anxious and powerless. And most of these young people are not talking to anyone about how they’re feeling.
These are the findings from a recently released study of 1,000 Canadians aged 16 to 25 by researchers from Lakehead University.
As a parent and grandparent, I’m devastated by the report — but not surprised. The truth is that Canada and Canadians as a whole are not showing young people that we’re willing to stand up and make the changes we need to turn the climate crisis around. Emissions keep going up, the economy is becoming more unstable and environmental racism continues. We’re putting our kids at risk right now, and their anxiety is caused in large part because they don’t see adults or decision-makers taking real action to make things better.
The latest IPCC report confirms that we have a narrow window to reduce emissions now.
One thing we can do as concerned parents is align our money with our values. We know fossil fuels are the No. 1 cause of climate change, and some of the biggest funders of the fossil fuel industry are Canadian banks.
Only this week, five people — mostly Indigenous women — were arrested by the RCMP while defending their land at the Gidimt’en Checkpoint in northwestern British Columbia. Hereditary Chief Na'Moks told us: "This is harassment, and exactly what Royal Bank of Canada is funding.”
Since the Paris Agreement in 2015, Canada’s top five banks have poured a total of $911 billion into oil and gas, showing a complete lack of leadership in tackling the climate emergency.
In 2022, RBC’s financing for fossil fuel expansion ballooned to $10.8 billion, a 45 per cent increase over 2021 levels. Many of these banks also “greenwash” their investments and mislead customers about their sustainability practices.
In fact, RBC is under investigation by the Competition Bureau for false advertising about its climate commitments.
A couple of years ago, after my granddaughter’s outdoor birthday party had to be cancelled due to dangerous levels of air pollution from distant forest fires, I decided I needed to do more. I followed the money and learned about the role of banks in supporting climate change, then I moved my money to green investments. Last year, my portfolio beat the oil and gas markets — despite a pervasive myth that socially and environmentally responsible investing offers lower returns, data and my own experience has shown just the opposite.
But moving your money is not the only way to have an impact. There are ways to act collectively and show solidarity across generations. If we want banks to invest in a livable future, what we really need is systemic change. This means moving beyond individual divestment to pushing our banks and government to act.
New rules from OSFI, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, are a start, but not enough. Bill S-243, the Climate Aligned Finance Act, at second reading in the Senate, would provide the regulatory framework to ensure bank investments are in line with what is safe for the planet.
Campaigns to prevent greenwashing will help us all understand the real impact of investing in fossil fuels.
And events like Fossil Fools Day on April 1, a national day of action in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders before RBC’s AGM, are essential opportunities to show banks that this movement is growing, and we won’t stand for projects that violate Indigenous sovereignty and jeopardize our future.
If confronting the reality of climate change is overwhelming for us as adults, consider how heavy it is for kids. Helping them adjust to a changing world means working for climate justice wherever and however we can.
We need to break the silence on climate and let our kids know we’re listening, and join with them in creating the future they need and deserve.
Kathryn Molloy is a parent, grandparent, climate activist and founding member of For Our Grandkids Victoria, a local For Our Kids team.