COP failure & mental health

Young people are entitled to feel despondent. A humanistic approach can help address hopelessness and defeatism. Newham Recorder opinion piece published 24.11.21

“It’s one minute to midnight.”   PM Johnson opened COP26 with this stark warning about the risk climate change poses to human life. We should spare a thought for the impact such bleak prospects have on the mental health of many young people.

Last week was ‘Inter-faith week.’ As a school speaker for Humanists UK I spoke to hundreds of children at various schools, including some in Newham, to explain my beliefs.  It is a challenge to inspire them with hope for the future when there are now so many reasons for despondency.

Many of my, older, generation were terrified by the prospect of nuclear Armageddon. Sometimes it made planning for the future seem pointless. The nuclear threat has not gone away. It is, incidentally, unforgivable that, among other failures, COP26 didn’t include accountability for military emissions, a huge contributor to climate change. 

There is room for hope. Science tells us there have been several previous mass extinctions caused by changes to Earth’s delicate balance. Dinosaurs 65 million years ago is probably best known because we find their bones everywhere. But at least, as we stand on the brink of another extinction, our species is aware of what is causing the current catastrophic changes to our planet. The threats to human life as we know it are caused entirely by human activity. It is therefore in our power to turn the tide.

There should be no glossing over the perils our environment faces when talking to school students, albeit in an age-appropriate way. But this should go hand in hand with inspiring them to think positively about what can be done individually and collectively to make the world a better and safer place. A humanist perspective includes encouraging students to think for themselves, to understand the science, to ask questions about what can be done, and what our leaders should be doing, and to realise that each of us can make a difference.  

After speaking Johnson flew the short journey back to London by private jet. We should salute the young activists who are demanding ‘No more Blah, Blah, Blah!

Paul Kaufman
Chair East London Humanists

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