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If You’re Having Eco-Anxiety About Climate Change, Read This

A few months ago when I got the news that Hurricane Ida was going to make landfall in New York City, the pit in my stomach grew. The Category 4 storm had already pummeled Louisiana on August 29th, leaving millions of people without power, without homes, and many with communities unrecognizable. Ida’s intensity left me worried, wondering if my New York City apartment would stand a chance against the powerful winds and severe flooding — and at that moment, I was reminded that climate change is incredibly real

The night the storm arrived in NYC, fellow New Yorkers started taking to social media, posting about the subway flooding, damage to their homes and even rush evacuations from their neighborhoods. That day, we were left wondering if life-threatening disasters and lack of preparedness would become the “new normal” for what to expect during hurricane season. It’s no secret that college students already have enough to worry about in school, and now, we’re all facing something even bigger — the direct, dire impact of climate change.

Hurricane season aside, there is no doubt that climate change is causing stress and “eco-anxiety” for many young adults and college students like me. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the implications of climate change are undermining mental health and well-being, and exposure to climate and weather-related natural disasters can result in serious mental health consequences like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a 2021 survey of 10,000 young people in 10 countries published in Nature News Journal, 60% of respondents feel “very worried” or “extremely worried,” about climate change, and the survey also reported that “45% of participants said their feelings about climate change impacted their daily lives.” These numbers are extremely daunting — not only do college students have to worry about juggling the demands of college life, but they also have the added stress of feeling pressure to save the environment

climate change & eco-anxiety directly impact your mental health

Maeve Casey, a student at Pace University studying environmental science, tells Her Campus, “It’s definitely stressful to hear about the state of the environment every day and it was particularly stressful to hear about all the rollbacks under the last presidential administration…it’s like turning on the news and only hearing bad things.” And while it’s not the sole responsibility of college students and Gen Z to save the planet, significant change often starts on college campuses.

College is stressful enough as it is, and the added worry of climate change is leading to consequential mental health concerns. According to the Hechinger Report, the impact of natural disasters on higher education is enormous and creates a web of issues that directly impact college students. Looking back on Hurricane Katrina, the storm forced the evacuation of 50,000 students from New Orleans; seventy-four percent of these students reported academic decline, and thirty-six percent withdrew from classes. Following Hurricane Ida, more than 45,000 Louisiana students were facing school closures. 1.1 million students across the country have been kept out of school because of fires, heat waves, and hurricanes this semester alone. 

Now more than ever, colleges are shutting down temporarily, enrollment is decreasing, students are taking longer to graduate, and faculty members’ income is in jeopardy — and according to The Hechinger Report, colleges need to start implementing strategies to combat this ASAP. They suggest that colleges offer financial aid, housing and healthcare assistance, mental health services, and donation drives for food and clothing to essentially act as a lifeline to students. After Hurricane Katrina, many students had their lives turned upside down without much direction or support, and learning from these reports can assist in stabilizing the lives of students who are affected in the future. 

college students feel the effects of climate change, on & off campus

Some colleges and organizations have already put their foot on the gas pedal to help prepare students and faculty for climate change. A report from the Higher Education Climate Adaptation Committee outlines the pivotal role higher education institutions play in supporting society to adapt to climate change. “Institutions have opportunities for experimenting and role-modeling adaptation solutions for the rest of society in campus operations,” the report states. Even though there are resources available to adapt vulnerable college communities to climate change, the next step is to implement supportive measures when natural disasters occur. 

Environmental Science professor and New York City Associate Urban Park Ranger Laurel Whitney (Stanko), MA, tells Her Campus, “The best we can do individually to prepare for these natural disasters is keep educating people on the effects of climate change and take warnings seriously when predicted by the weather services. In between, prepare.” 

It is crucial that universities do not merely move past the impact of climate change on their students and communities. Even though Hurricane Ida hit New York City a few months ago, students are still clamoring to fix the destruction to their homes. For Lauren Grabow, a junior at Marymount Manhattan College, the night the storm hit NYC was nothing short of tumultuous. The magnitude of the rain caused a pipe to leak water into Grabow’s apartment causing damage to her belongings, and despite school re-opening, the pipe causing damage to her home still hasn’t been fixed. Grabow tells Her Campus, “School carrying on as normal was incredibly frustrating…after staying up late to clean up the mess from the hurricane, it was difficult having to go to school as if nothing had happened.”

Hurricane Ida shows how much more intense climate change is becoming. The National Weather Service said that the storm broke the hourly rainfall record in New York City, which was recently broken by Storm Henri only a couple of weeks prior to Ida. Even President Biden made it a point to visit the areas in New York and New Jersey to see the state of the communities struck by the hurricane. President Biden told The New York Times, “They all tell us this is code red…The nation and the world are in peril. And that’s not hyperbole. That is a fact.” 

Commuter student Najla Alexander felt the full force of this “code red” storm on her home in New Jersey when her basement completely flooded with the water going up to her knees. “In the middle of the night, my sister heard a loud thud and all the tubs of our belongings in the basement were sprawled everywhere, floating on their sides,” Alexander tells Her Campus. She advises college administrations to cancel classes, set up food pantries, and show more overall compassion to students that are dealing with destruction to their homes. 

universities have a responsibility to protect their students

Claire Westbrook, the founder of higher education company LSAT Prep Hero, tells Her Campus that there is a lot that colleges can do to prepare students for climate change and make sure their students are safe and secure. For example, Westbrook suggests that colleges should “increase the density and efficiency in the use of water and energy to protect against climate threats like drought and extreme heat, as well as develop policies to increase waste diversion.” University campuses taking it upon themselves to assess their properties and sustainability plans would ultimately make the student life a healthier and safer experience.

Colleges can also start small and work towards bigger goals, like creating disaster relief programs so that student bodies do not need to forfeit their education because of natural disasters. “It’s imperative we take these steps if we want to be prepared for future consequences brought by climate change,” Westbrook tells Her Campus.

For students who are moving to college campuses within danger zones of natural disasters, it would be helpful for colleges to already have plans set in stone so that students can acclimate smoothly. André Gonzalez, a first-year Pre-Med student at the Pensacola Christian College, recalls the impact of Ida on his college town. He recently moved from Southern California to Florida and hurricane season was at the forefront of his mind when making this trek. “Where I’m at in Florida, we got the back end of the storm, so more than anything, we have to deal with some animals coming through after the smaller floods hit the area,” Gonzalez says. 

Students demanding for college administrations to make sustainable changes is also not new. Greta Thunberg, a well-known Swedish environmental activist, has been leading Fridays for Future for the past three years, where she started protesting in front of the Swedish parliament to raise awareness for climate change every Friday. She is a testament to young people’s passion to save the environment, and also their disappointment with world leaders and the slow-paced climate change mitigation processes. 

Students all over the globe risk their education through school strikes in order to demand change, but there is only so much that students can do. In a recent speech to the Youth4Climate Summit in Milan, Italy, Thunberg said, “This is all we hear from our so-called leaders: Words. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises.” Thunberg and other youth activists have stated these issues countless times, but the main point is that global leaders and administrations of the smaller scale, need to step up and make meaningful changes.

sustainability, carbon neutrality, & ways colleges can take action

Colleges all over the country and the globe are at risk of natural disasters and warming temperatures, but some college campuses are more vulnerable than others. Educational institutions already have the power to shape how people view and interpret the world, and they also have the ability to make their campuses more green and reduce carbon emissions. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Second Nature has been working for 30 years to help higher education institutions take action and implement sustainability into their plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions. Action plans like these actually work and Second Nature’s guidance has led to eight colleges achieving carbon neutrality, such as the University of San Francisco, Colgate University, and American University. 

Colleges and universities can join Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Network and sign commitments, such as the Carbon Commitment, the Resilience Commitment, and the Climate Commitment. Being greener and promoting people to recycle on campuses is easy to implement, but organizing a plan of action when natural disasters due to climate change occur is difficult. However, signing onto the Resilience Commitment would essentially be a pledge a college makes to have a designed procedure for when there is destruction as a result of climate change in the future. Second Nature’s president, Timothy Carter, told Jackson Schroeder of The University Network, “There’s no value judgment between the schools that have accomplished (carbon neutrality) and the schools that haven’t.” But when schools commit to action plans like these, they are able to make a difference in their communities with the resources that they have available to them. This is just one example of how colleges can take a stance on climate change and provide for their students and campuses. 

Climate change is never going to disappear if institutions with the power to make a difference don’t act now. Recently, an outbreak of tornadoes struck through the Midwest and South, specifically wreaking damage through Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Illinois. Kentucky’s Governor, Andy Beshear, said that more than 100 people are feared to be dead and 36,000 to 50,000 people were without power. Gov. Beshear spoke in a news conference saying, “To the people of America, there is no lens big enough to show you the extent of the damage here in Graves County or in Kentucky.” Communities across the region were devastated by the magnitude and the sheer number of tornadoes they faced. Some colleges were damaged and the ones that were left unscathed are surrounded by neighborhoods completely torn apart. 

Western Kentucky University was one of the colleges not damaged by the storm, but surrounding neighborhoods were completely destroyed, so in response, they opened their doors to people within the community who needed shelter. On the other side of this story, the University of Kentucky’s Research and Education Center was destroyed and Murray State University endured damage from the storm. The reality of this situation is that students will be faced stress and trauma from witnessing their communities being wiped out by a storm, and they need support.  

As a student who feels utter hopelessness related to the state of our world, I can say that the worries of climate change that young people face are a burden and a hindrance to our daily lives. Although storm Ida has passed, the hurricane season is far from over. May this be a not-so-subtle reminder that many students are struggling to keep up with the pandemic, classes, and the stress caused by climate change.

Experts
Laurel Whitney (Stanko), Marymount Manhattan College 
Claire Westbrook, the founder of LSAT Prep Hero

Sources
Maeve Casey, 21, a senior at Pace University
Lauren Grabow, a junior at Marymount Manhattan College
Najla Alexander, 20, a junior at Marymount Manhattan College
André Gonzalez, 20, a first-year Pre-Med student at the Pensacola Christian College 

Studies
Mello, Felicia, and Charlotte West. “The Impact of Natural Disasters on Higher Education.” The Hechinger Report, 8 Apr. 2021, hechingerreport.org/what-has-happened-when-campuses-shut-down-for-other-disasters-a-coronavirus-case-study.

The American College & University Presidents’ Climate Committee. Higher Education’s Role in Adapting to a Changing Climate: https://secondnature.org/wp-content/uploads/Higher_Education_Role_Adapting_Changing_Climate.pdf 

Hi there! I am a senior at Marymount Manhattan College, double majoring in Digital Journalism and Politics & Human Rights. I am an Editorial Intern for Her Campus and I am the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus MMM. Fun Facts: I love playing tennis and creating amateur TikToks in my free time.
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