Young Quebecers are the least optimistic about the climate crisis

Young Quebecers are significantly more concerned about climate issues than those living in other Canadian provinces, even going so far as to question their decision to have children.

This was revealed by Leger’s survey of more than 3,000 Canadians aged 15-39 in the fall of 2022. According to the report, 80% of Quebecers surveyed do not believe the economic situation will improve over the next year, compared to 72% elsewhere in the country.

“This eco-anxiety among young people stems from what they hear about environmental change, loss of biodiversity, pollution or eco-toxicity. But it can also be caused by the lack of activity they observe in their surroundings,” explains Inês Lopes, a psychologist and educator on environmental and social issues, in an interview.

According to Ms. Lopez, eco-anxiety can manifest itself in various forms, psychological, physiological or cognitive.

“It can range from mild to severe: you may have physiological symptoms like shortness of breath, sweating, insomnia or even a lump in your stomach. […] Some will feel significant hopelessness or pessimism about the future and life decisions,” notes the psychologist.

The survey shows that these concerns may even influence some important decisions of young Canadians. According to the data, a quarter of Gen Z (25%) say they never want to have children, compared to almost one in five millennials (19%).

Among the reasons given by these respondents, 44% of them said that they are not comfortable giving birth to children in the climate crisis.

For 21-year-old Alexandra Henault, climate concerns conflict with her desire to be a biological mother.

“I remember that the IPCC report in 2018 made me very uncertain about my future and I was suffering from insomnia. I said to myself: “If I don’t have faith in the future, what role do I have as a mother?” What kind of image does he send to the child?” he said in an interview Canadian Press student of sociology.

This question of parenthood can sometimes cause reactions, especially among the older generations, Inês Lopes recognizes. While it is legitimate for some parents to want to have grandchildren, more and more young people feel that the effects of the climate crisis leave them with no choice.

“I think that now having children is an additional polluting factor. If I don’t have hope for the future, I don’t know if it can make me a good mother,” adds Alexandra Henault.

Separation is sometimes necessary

Among the many effects of eco-concern is the “What if?” and catastrophic scenarios are also a source of stress for many young people. While some develop escape mechanisms, others will opt to join armed groups to overcome feelings of powerlessness.

Seeing a doctor can help manage these feelings, which can sometimes be “paralyzing.” Inês Lopes, other ways are possible depending on the behavior and emotions of the individual.

“It really depends on where one’s eco-concern is. “We will not give the same advice to a person who is running away or to someone else who is in a state of cruelty,” the psychologist said, adding that there is a “diversity of eco-concerns.”

For Alexandra Henault, the best way to reduce this anxiety is to distance herself as much as possible from the future’s less rosy possibilities.

“I’m asking less than before because it was stressing me out. I would read different scenarios, like if the Earth warmed by 2, 3 or 5 degrees… Today I still experience eco-anxiety, but in a different way. […] I pay attention to my nutrition and consumption, but I will not stop myself from living,” he says.

According to the 2021 Léger survey, 73% of Quebecers aged 18 to 34 say they are environmentally concerned, bad for Generation Z and millennials.

“The science cannot be denied and eco-concern can affect career choices, educational choices and even personal finances. […] We need to discuss this with young people, always confirm their perception. Their concerns are valid, but we don’t want them to take up all the mental space,” concludes Ms. Lopes.

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