To see or to save the world? These young Calgarians wrestle with their own climate anxiety

CBC Calgary spoke with dozens of youth about climate anxiety at the recent launch of Young Calgary, carried out in partnership with the Calgary Public Library. 

Despite the worries and sacrifices, many young Calgarians remain hopeful

Collage of three youth
Oleksandra Kriuchkova, left, Javier Quintero and Jessica Denton say climate change affects their mental health, and their future plans, in many different ways. (Submitted by Oleksandra Kriuchkova, Javier Quintero, Jessica Denton)

Grade 11 student Oleksandra Kriuchkova feels like she's in a race against climate change.

She wants to experience life and travel the world now, dreaming of seeing Arctic glaciers. 

But it's also a dream filled with guilt for young adults like her, she says. Catching more flights means emitting more greenhouses gasses. Yet, she sees others doing things that are more harmful to the environment.

"It's just unfair how some people are doing so much," said Kriuchkova, 16. "They've taken everything into their own hands to help the Earth. And then there's other people who are so careless that they just don't do anything about it."

Five young Calgarians look at a board in the library during an event
A group of youth gather at a conversation station at the recent launch of Young Calgary at the Calgary Central Library. (Dyllan Goodman/CBC)

Climate anxiety is having profound impacts on young people — even in oil boom Calgary.

CBC Calgary spoke with dozens of youth about climate anxiety at the recent launch of Young Calgary, carried out in partnership with the Calgary Public Library. 

Some said they're too busy navigating school, work and social lives to think about climate change. Or that they're leaving it as an issue for the future, with no immediate plans to change how they live their lives.

But others expressed strong feelings when asked about climate change.

It was especially common for those still in high school. They said they're seeing a future full of sacrifices because of it, with their generation responsible for saving the planet.

The wake-up call of quarantine

For Javier Quintero, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that shifted his outlook on climate change.

When the 15-year-old saw travel and public health restrictions aimed to keep populations safe, he started to worry that it's what life will look like in the coming decades.

"If I have a family, will I have the chance to raise them in 'normal life' like the one we're trying to live right now, or would we have to make certain adjustments?"

And what of his dream of having children and a family? He says it feels like a decision that's been taken away from him.

"Depending on how the climate is 20 years from now, [that will determine] if I'm going to have one or not," said Quintero. "It's something I think about a lot."

Smoke blanketing the Calgary Stampede grounds in 2021
Smoke has blanketed the Calgary Stampede grounds in recent years, as heavy wildfire smoke blew into Calgary from other areas. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

More than 200 young adults attended the CBC Calgary library event, where they were invited to talk with a journalist and their peers about several big topics.

Multiple youth brought up their fears about the Willow project in the United States — a recently approved oil drilling project on Alaska's North Slope that's gone viral on TikTok. Opposition online has been spearheaded by young people.

Many worried about clean water, breathable air and manageable weather in the future. But they said young climate activists show them it's possible for young people to make a difference.

Oil and gas development plays a vital role in Alberta's economy, but some said the industry doesn't align with their environmental values, even though the province has pledged to reduce emissions.

Alberta just released its first "aspirational" plan to hit net zero by 2050. Critics, however, say it seems unrealistic with a lack of interim details and short-term targets.

Making a positive contribution

A teenage mom, Jessica Denton, says her daughter adds to her sense of urgency.

"It's really nerve-racking to think about her future," said the 18-year-old university student. 

But she finds taking action keeps her hopeful. She joins protests and picked her future career with this in mind.

She chose to study pharmacology because she wants to help people find ways to live with the health effects of climate change.

"My generation has a lot to bring to the table."

'Things can change for the better'

That's exactly the mindset Kriuchkova has committed to.

She was confident and passionate about climate action at the Young Calgary event, careful to catch and correct herself when she said she feels hopeless.

"Not completely hopeless," said Kriuchkova. "There is still hope, because people are fighting."

For Kriuchkova, seeing evidence that there's progress being made is what keeps her going.

The world has managed to take action on other environmental challenges, she said, and pointed to the United Nations' recent report that the ozone layer is healing and should be fully mended in about four decades.

"Maybe if we do take action with the carbon emissions, maybe things can change for the better."

Getting involved 

A man wearing a toque outdoors smiles at the camera
Dr. Joe Vipond is a Calgary ER physician and the past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. (Submitted by Joe Vipond)

Dr. Joe Vipond, past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, calls anxiety the "appropriate response" to stresses that are beyond your control.

When it comes to treating climate anxiety, Vipond points to a quote by folk singer Joan Baez, who famously said "action is the antidote to despair."

"One of the ways of managing anxiety, of managing despair, is to get more involved in creating the change that the world needs to see," said Vipond.

"Once you feel empowered, it's no longer these forces that are outside of your control."

He says it's also important to find a community to work toward climate goals with.

"Knowing that you're not alone, knowing that there are other people out there that are going through the same stuff that you are — that can be very supportive as well."

A graphic with happy looking young adults

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Karina Zapata

Reporter/Associate Producer

Karina is a reporter/associate producer working with CBC Calgary. She was a recipient of the 2021 Joan Donaldson Scholarship and has previously worked with CBC Toronto and CBC North. You can reach her by email at