Far North youth are in the hot seat of our warming world as they face predictions of catastrophic weather events, insufficient behaviour change and resulting “eco-anxiety”.
The year’s second national climate strike, in May, drew participation in Kaitāia, this time through an all-ages solutions-oriented workshop.
Participant Horomono Waru-Morgan, 17, shared his fears about the future.
“I feel anxious, worried, upset. It’s going to be difficult to go through what’s ahead,” said Waru-Morgan (Te Rarawa).
“I think about it a lot.”
According to The Guardian, experts have warned that fear of environmental doom — or “eco-anxiety” as it’s been termed — is rising globally, and disproportionately affecting the mental health of youth and children.
Waru-Morgan said he’d learned about the climate crisis online a few years ago, and it was often talked about in class.
Upon sitting down with the Northland Age, he immediately shared updates on record-setting wildfires raging in Canada.
“The smoke has now made it all the way to Norway. It’s very, very sad.”
“And the world is set to get to its warmest on record from next year. Which is very, very, very terrifying.
“The world has to know it’s time to act now.”
Northland Regional Council chairwoman Tui Shortland said she was concerned the climate crisis was causing anxiety among youth and that its impacts and potential solutions were multi-generational.
“The current trajectory of emissions — even with current global policy commitments — puts us on a path toward a much warmer world where some critical thresholds and tipping points are likely to have been crossed, some of which may be irreversible,” Shortland said.
“Today’s children and their children will bear the brunt of our action or inaction today.
“We need to be bolder, go faster and push for transformative action.”
The nationwide movement driven by the Aotearoa Climate Strike Coalition was organised locally by Taipā’s Jen Whittington, who related to Waru-Morgan’s worry.
“I’ve suffered massive eco-anxiety for years, and it’s only taking action that has helped me,” Whittington said.
“There is clear evidence that doing something about an issue helps with resilience and mental health.”
The intergenerational and non-partisan coalition comprises School Strike 4 Climate groups, Fridays For Future and individuals seeking change.
Its primary objective is to pressure the Government to take immediate, transformative and science-based action on the climate emergency through policy change.
Fourteen-year-old Bailey Jordan-Murray said she felt most adults were “not doing their part.”
“They don’t really care. They’re just living out their lives and making the best of it rather than helping the Earth to improve everyone else’s lives too.”
“But we can’t just keep shoving all of it onto the next generation.”
She said climate change was discussed in nearly all her classes, and described the recent storm-induced destruction and isolation of many communities in Aotearoa as worrying signs that urgent action was non-negotiable.
“You can’t look the other way. You’ve got to look straight at it so you know what’s really going on.”
“It’s not going to improve if we don’t do something about it.
“Stop littering, stop using single-use plastic, and walk instead of driving everywhere.
“It’s common sense to me.”
The regional council’s Shortland said the council offered means of helping to alleviate climate anxiety, and sought to create safe spaces for positive conversations and innovative solutions.
“Our day-to-day work promotes community planting and afforestation, and we actively encourage partnerships with hapori (communities) to undertake environmental monitoring and share environmental mātauranga (knowledge).”
“By supporting initiatives including Enviroschools, we foster community networks, raise awareness and provide tangible actions that will make a collective difference.
“And we encourage youth to participate in our democratic processes to ensure the voice of future generations is listened to.”
Enviroschools is a nationwide environmental action-based programme empowering youth to design and lead sustainability projects in their schools and communities, in which NRC said Kaitāia College had been involved for years.
Shortland said the programme had addressed human-induced climate change since its inception, with zero waste as a theme of focus to be achieved through actions including processing waste on site.
Strike organiser Whittington pointed to the concerning inconsistency between what was being taught and the waste schools continued to generate.
“My biggest concern is the hypocrisy of teaching about climate change but not actually practising land stewardship.”
“Many schools in Northland are currently throwing foil, plastic packaging and food waste into landfill.
“From more than 2000 students in Kaitāia alone, that’s a lot of unnecessary emissions.”
She said 9 per cent of New Zealand’s biogenic methane emissions and 4 per cent of our total greenhouse gas emissions were derived from food and organic waste in landfill.
Jo Shanks, of the Centre for Business and Environment (CBEC), said we could all make a “massive difference” by taking responsibility for our compostable waste.
“Schools in the Lunches for Schools programme particularly have a large part to play by walking away from compostable packaging.”
“We’re in the process of getting funding for caravan-based wash stations with stainless steel cups and plates, [which would enable a school to] wash dishes instead of putting 1200 pieces of waste in landfill every single day.”
Students at the recent workshop sent Prime Minister Chris Hipkins a “message in a bottle” about the need to restart the Container Return Scheme (CRS), which they believed would help people see value in the rubbish they throw away.
The scheme was deferred in March as part of a broader announcement of decisions intended to ”free up government bandwidth and money to focus on the cost of living”.
Waru-Morgan astutely pointed to the cost of living as the main distraction from the climate crisis and said he was inspired by Greta Thunberg, whose action sparked the global school strike movement.
“It’s difficult what’s happening in the world right now.”
“The cost of living crisis is the focus rather than the climate. That’s what everyone’s worried about.
“I feel like soon, everyone’s going to follow in Greta’s footsteps.”