We’re all stressing about climate change. The scientific data is pretty dramatic but it’s a big topic with a lot of details. It can be hard to keep up with what can and can’t be recycled, where our recycling is even going, and if the local wildlife are okay. 

Big stuff. It’s not really a surprise then that ‘climate anxiety’ has become a lot more common.  

Climate anxiety is the stressed, anxious feeling we can get when we think about the future of the planet. This can come from feeling overwhelmed and helpless about the situation.  

According to Orygen, about 25% of young people feel ‘extremely’ or ‘very concerned’ about climate change. I’m definitely one of them. Lots of my friends are a part of that number too.  

It’s tough to relieve climate anxiety because it’s not something we can fix by ourselves. There is no end date in sight for when climate change will no longer be a problem.  

There are things we can do right now that do help. For me, it’s volunteering for environmental groups, learning about my local plants and wildlife, and making choices that reflect my values like carrying and using a reusable cup. 

But a lot of the change we need to see has to come from bigger structural shifts. Things like our governments’ policy, budget and funding, and what gets prioritised in discussions are all key to making positive change. 

That's why last week, when I was invited by the Centre for Economic Development Australia to hear the Treasurer explain the Victorian state budget, I asked two questions.  

What is the plan in the budget to address the debilitating climate anxiety amongst young people? 

I asked this question because I know that a lot of young people struggle with their mental health, and a lot of us are concerned about climate change. I was really asking what money is going to youth mental health resources and services, and specifically to research, prevention, and relief of climate anxiety.  

This topic is under-researched and not really understood by a lot of mental health carers. We know from Orygen’s research that some of the best treatments are:  

  • look after your own environment 

  • talk with other people who are also thinking and doing things about climate change 

  • be in parts of nature that are healthy.  

But at the moment, climate anxiety is often treated like other forms of anxiety through therapy and sometimes medication. 

The Treasurer took care in answering this question. He spoke a lot about investing in renewable energy and creating jobs which is great.  

Unfortunately, he didn't really answer my question’s main concern and said that “the best thing you can do as a government is recognise these things exist.” 

I find this a bit frustrating because the government plays one of the biggest roles in action and response.  

The government can be doing more than just acknowledging that these problems exist. 

We know that endless economic growth is not possible in the current climate crisis. How is the budget going to address and responsibly limit "growth" in order to support our collective future? 

This question is a bit more complicated. I asked because the Treasurer had talked a lot about economic growth in his speech at the beginning of the event.  

There are a few different perspectives on this topic. Mine is that a focus on economic growth can lead us to making decisions that prioritise money over improving our collective future.  

Something that makes me worried about economic growth talk isa lot of ‘growth’ has historically come from extracting resources, whether that’s physical materials or labour.  

Fuelling the economy with physical resources like gas, coal, wood, or livestock must have a limit to be sustainable. These things can't be endlessly produced which means that the economy can't be endlessly grown.  

With labour, like construction, there can be problems with people being left behind financially when their work is being used to power the wider economy.  

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Money has to come from somewhere in the labour chain that can be fed back into the system.It is often the physical labourers who are paid less. 

When I talked to my dad about this, he had a different perspective. He argued that there are a lot of countries that are growing their economy through sustainable methods. 

For example Norway, which is making money through ‘knowledge production’. This puts a greater focus on education and research which is a resource that won't run out and encourages high levels of schooling.  

I think this is an interesting point, but I'm not convinced this is what the Treasurer means when he talks about economic growth. 

The Treasurer’s response to my question on limiting economic growth was that: “any treasurer worth his salt would never accept that.”  

I can understand that as an economist and Victoria’s Treasurer, saying you’re going to limit growth could potentially put your job at risk and make some people really angry.  

He did say that we’re going to have to make dramatic changes to the way we live to continue living at the level of comfort we’re used to.  

If he could talk more openly and in more detail about how we are going to do that and how the budget reflects these necessary changes I think a lot of us would feel more reassured. 

The best thing we can do for now is look after our own health, our local nature, and keep asking questions. 

Good luck out there! 

Kelsey is a visual artist and climate advocate who is concerned with issues that affect other young people and how we can all be advocates for what we find important.

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