October 3, 2022

Taquer-Tech

Melts In Your Technology

Youth Mental Health and Climate Disaster Have to Be Addressed by Legislation

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The Tubbs firestorm barreled through my neighborhood, moving at 3 mph and burning 1 acre per minute. It was October 8, 2017, and I was 12 years old. As my mom and I evacuated in our car, we saw flames coming over the hill. Two days later, it was confirmed: The home and property where I had grown up had been annihilated, along with our belongings and memories, including the familiar trees in the backyard, where I had spent many hours of my childhood. 

I was one of many kids who were struggling with this; Tubbs left young people in our community in a state of shock, despair, and trauma. A recent survey showed nearly 3,000 Sonoma County students “were still exhibiting increased anxiety, depression, and decreased academic performance as a result of the 2017 wildfire,” according to congressional testimony from the Sonoma County superintendent

Literally and figuratively rebuilding my life forced me to confront extreme loss — of my home and community — at a very young age. As part of my mental health recovery, I started to research climate-related disasters, and discovered that systemic action is necessary to mitigate the climate crisis.

In middle school, the climate crisis solutions offered by my well-meaning teachers focused on the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by my individual actions, or my “carbon footprint.” It was later that I learned this phrase had been popularized by British Petroleum in 2004 with the unveiling of their carbon footprint calculator, a move seen by many climate activists as a way to deflect responsibility for the climate crisis onto the individual. 

As you can imagine, as my peers and I grappled with our loss, we felt guilt and a responsibility to reduce our carbon footprints to stem the crisis affecting us — and this worsened the mental health issues I was experiencing. This galvanized my resolve to reform and expand meaningful climate education into lessons that reflect the urgency of the crisis, the reality of the science, and center accountability at the corporate and governmental levels. Giving youth resources to advocate on a larger, systemic scale has been a huge step forward in my journey of healing.

When I entered high school, I finally encountered the kind of robust climate education I wanted. The Schools for Climate Action campaign, facilitated by my teacher, illuminated the path I was seeking to enact systemic climate solutions. I also found community and collaboration with other youth experiencing the same level of climate anxiety. In 10th grade, I met fellow sophomore Giselle Perez, who shared my passion for advocating for support given the mental health effects of increasing climate-related disasters and accelerating climate anxiety. 

We spent over a year working directly with the office of Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA), researching youth mental health and climate change, holding meetings with various stakeholders, and ultimately writing (and rewriting) a congressional resolution that was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives last month. H.Res 975: ​​Expressing the Mental Health Impacts of Recurrent Climate-Related Disasters on Youth is the first legislation introduced in Congress to link youth mental health and climate change and call for backing for mutual aid in school districts to support young people after climate-related disasters. The resolution also acknowledges the emergent research that shows high levels of climate anxiety among teens.



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