New Brunswick

Fredericton youth do something with their eco-anxiety

Rachel Bensler never expected to see someone's grandmother during the climate change strike last week at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

This week, the UN is hearing from young people worried about the Earth older generations are leaving behind

Rose He and Rachel Bensler are just two young adults facing climate anxiety but are taking action to combat climate change. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Rachel Bensler never expected to see someone's grandmother during the climate change strike last week at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

"I could just hear and see the fear that she was feeling for her grandkids and for her family," said the second-year Renaissance College student.

The Alberta native was shocked by the woman's concerns about climate change because she'd always felt older generations didn't care about the future of the planet. 

"When I saw her reaction I was like, 'Why aren't more grandparents out here striking? Why aren't more parents out here striking too?' It is their kids, it is their grandkids."

This week the United Nations is hearing from young people worried about conditions on Earth that older generations are leaving for them.

They're worried about the pollution, the flooding, the storms and the extinction of species during their lifetimes as climate change becomes part of their lives.

"Our world is going to change so soon in the next 12 years if we don't stop taking oil out of the ground," Bensler said.

Unequal effects of climate change 

Even the effects of climate change are unequal, said the 19-year-old. And society should be concerned. 

When Bensler was eight, she and her missionary family lived in Peru. Although climate change might not necessarily affect her now in Fredericton, it's already impacting people in other parts of the world, including their access to food and water and how much it costs.

"I know the faces of the people who will be impacted by this," she said. "It might not be me. I sure know them. And I know them by name and I know their stories."

She's taking action by leading the Orange Square Divestment Campaign, which is aimed at University of New Brunswick's fossil fuel investments

Rachel Bensler, a second-year student at the University of New Brunswick's Renaissance College, encourages people to get more involved tackling the climate crisis, even in small ways. (Submitted by Rachel Bensler)

The goal of the campaign is to get the university to consider environmentally sustainable fiscal decisions.

Although Bensler believes it's important to defend jobs, she's hoping financial backing of the fossil fuel industry will be  redirected to sustainable energy. 

"What's the point of having a job if there isn't a planet to work on?" she asked. 

Now she's encouraging others to help fight the climate crisis — even in a small way.

"You could have asked me a year ago what I thought about the environment and I would have said I couldn't do anything, that my voice, as a student, is too small, too weak, and too insignificant," Bensler said.

"However, I have come to realize that the only person placing limitations on the impact of my actions was me."

'Money won't necessarily matter'

Teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg opened the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday with an angry condemnation of world leaders for failing to take strong measures to combat climate change. "How dare you?" she said.

The speech came just days after millions of young people took to the streets around the world to demand emergency action on climate change.

Teen activist Greta Thunberg assails world leaders for inaction on climate change 1:47

Rose He, a Grade 12 student at Fredericton High School, said she's disappointed in world leaders, who seem more concerned about the economy than climate change.

"In the future, money won't necessarily matter once we don't have access to water," she said. "Once we don't have any resources left."

A 'tremendous issue'

Her environmental journey started with public speaking on various climate-related issues to smaller audiences in the New Brunswick capital.

Over time, she realized she needed to become more involved to combat the climate crisis.

The Fredericton teen started a conservation club at the high school that raised money for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, showed environmental documentaries and used social media to raise awareness about climate change.

"The rest of our lives we're going to be faced with this tremendous issue."

He said there are a lot of misconceptions circulating about climate change, and this causes even further anxiety.

Rose He and Rachel Bensler are two young people who are growing up concerned for the future, and whether the world has one. They talk about eco-anxiety, and why it's very real. 12:57

"There are even some people that argue that climate change isn't real."

But He is proud of her generation, saying it is "more open to activism" and standing up for causes they believe in.

"In order to effectively combat the climate crisis much more action needs to be taken," she said.

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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