A shy, 21-year-old college student nervously combs back her long, blonde hair with her fingers. "I'm afraid to have kids, you know," she says. "All through school I've seen those charts -- especially the overpopulation and resource depletion charts -- and I don't know if I want to bring a kid into the crowded, underfed, poisoned world we're heading into. 2035 may seem a long way away to you, but I'll only be 45, and if I have a kid, they'll be a teenager."
"I'm so damn pissed," a young man confesses. "The world's a mess, between Wall Street crooks and the environment being fucked up. Great. No jobs and a trashed planet. What's left for us?"
A whole generation of young people is now eco-literate. Since grade school they've been learning environmental science and are totally aware that each year, the news just keeps getting worse. They've seen the hockeystick graphs like those shown in Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and calculated how old they will be when the shit hits the fan -- and not just for the climate problems that have already hit home with Katrina, weird weather and floods, but for resource and job shortages, overpopulation and more. They've been exposed to shows about endangered and disappearing species since they were in diapers watching "Sesame Street." The polar bear stranded on a shrinking iceberg is their generation's poster child.
So what's the effect of all this escalating bad news on our youth?
Almost no one under 30 is unaware of the rapidly worsening environmental degradation that their generation is inheriting. Some may shrug it off and opt for an "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die" philosophy. Others just try to focus on immediate concerns, like paying this month's bills, with occasional bad moods and bad dreams. But many are experiencing depression and even rage over the bad hand they've been dealt by their elders.
Sadly, if they go to therapy to process any of these feelings, few clinicians have yet been trained to help them deal with their eco-angst. Therapists are taught to look elsewhere for the cause of their despair: childhood trauma, imbalanced neurochemicals in the brain or bad relationships with boyfriends, girlfriends, schoolmates or co-workers. Perhaps some of these are factors in some cases, but reductionism just won't be enough to help this generation with the unique and specific challenges they are grappling with. No cohort before them has faced what they're facing. And most therapists belong to the generations that caused these very problems.
So how can we help young people who are struggling to understand and deal with their emotions about eco-issues? New ecotherapy training programs are trying to fill the gap. And ultimately it will be young people themselves who open the door for frank discussion of what it's like to be young and worried about survival in a world devolving into chaos.