Climate anxiety has been experienced by two-thirds of the U.S. population, according to the American Psychological Association. Students at the University of Georgia who wrestle with it discuss their feelings and what actions can be taken to address climate change. 

From hotter temperatures to more instances of severe weather events to growing inflation due to the scarcity of goods and resources, climate change has seeped its way into almost every facet of life. Despite its vast impacts however, few people think of the relative impacts these changes have on the average college student.

While research has indicated climate change is reshaping the face of college education, some people still purposely choose to ignore climate change or argue they just aren’t motivated enough to care. Current college students, like all members of the younger generations, will be forced to pick up their slack.

Even during the smallest choices made on the most typical days, climate change is making college less fun due to weather, rising costs of goods and harming our own mental health.

Temperatures and extreme weather

Few have been spared from the increasing outbreaks of severe weather, but college students are among the most subject to the weather.

Getting around a college campus in inclement weather is a challenge. Whether that means walking to campus in extreme temperatures, running to catch a bus in torrential winds and rain or commuting to campus in dangerous conditions, climate change has impacts on the weather system, which make just getting to college more difficult.

Many college activities are also centered outside. In the fall, sunny and crisp college football Saturdays are becoming fewer, and now, students are increasingly standing in the rain or sweating in sweltering humidity.

Then, comes the matter of weekends and holiday travel. Students commuting back and forth between home and campus are the most aware of transportation’s adversities. Students often must drive during unsafe road conditions or fly amid an increasing number of airport delays and cancellations related to severe weather outbreaks nationwide.

Inflation due to climate change

College students are no strangers to the rising cost of living. College tuition is already expensive, but that’s coupled with the rising cost of food and housing due to scarcity and other issues associated with climate change. Students rarely achieve even an average quality of living conditions with such tight budgets.

With a greater percentage of students’ money going toward paying for necessities, less money is available for students to spend on things to enhance their college experience, such as concerts, new clothes or dinners out with friends.

What students in a pre-climate change era may have enjoyed regularly, many students in today’s environment can only enjoy on occasion as a luxury, with many even having to get additional jobs or work extra hours to account for the rising expenses.

Students living through the current climate of inflation dedicate more time and money toward surviving, much less thriving in their youth.

Attitude and climate anxiety

Growing numbers of college students say that they are concerned about the climate and the future of a sustainable Earth. According to a 2021 PEW Research Center study, 71% of Gen Z respondents say that climate change is one of their biggest societal and political concerns.

For many, this concern has grown into a feeling of helplessness and worry over the climate crisis, which is now being deemed by experts as a phenomenon of its own, “climate anxiety.”

Experts like Patrick Kennedy-Williams, the creator of Climate Psychologists, an English organization that provides climate mental well-being and support for those suffering from “climate anxiety,” understands the more hidden impacts of climate change and the ways it can deeply impact people’s mental health. Williams also noted that college-aged students are among the most impacted demographic by the feelings associated with climate anxiety.

According to a study, researchers found that people aged between 16 and 25 are experiencing high-levels of psychological distress related to climate change, with three-quarters of those surveyed fearing for the future of the planet.

Many college students know their generation must act to save the climate before it’s too late. Living in a space where others are experiencing the same concerns is validating and has lead to powerful instances of climate activism such as awareness marches or sustainability initiatives. Unfortunately, this takes away from the college experience since students are overwhelmed with the frightening reality of the environmental situation.

Avoiding greenwashing

Swapping daily products for more environmentally friendly alternatives is one of the most popular ways to implement environmental action in daily lives and routines.

Recently however, corporations have taken hold of the idea that consumers feel good about making these sustainable choices — even willing to pay higher prices for products that promise to align with their clean consciouses.

In a fight for the consumers’ dollar, some companies have engaged in a practice known as “greenwashing,” and have misled consumers about the degree to which their products really have the advertised environmental impacts they promote. Some even claiming that their products have a reduced impact on the planet, despite not actually performing better in terms of sustainability compared to  alternatives.

Navigating the landscape between which green products are fulfilling their promise and which ones are not can make the shopping process for the environmentally-conscious consumer confusing.

Since the college-aged demographic has been shown to be the most concerned with climate change and sustainability efforts, most of the greenwashing efforts are conducted in products and advertising campaigns targeted at the college-aged consumer’s share in the market.

Even college campuses have been guilty of a form of greenwashing themselves, rather than marketing products to be environmentally conscious, many universities have marketed the addition of electric buses on campus, while simultaneously neglecting far more environmentally-impactful areas of operations. Instead, colleges should be concerned with reducing dining hall food waste, offsetting their carbon footprint created from university operations in “net-zero” efforts or letting go of environmentally-detrimental investments, such as fossil fuels.

College is less accessible, less affordable and perhaps most importantly less fun due to climate change. Some of the best years of our lives are in danger, but all hope is not lost, there are easy ways to start fighting climate change. By reducing, reusing and recycling, we can beat climate change and keep having the most fun of our lives.