Apocalypse stories, I recently learned, are on the rise. Movies such as “2012” and “San Andreas“ compete with the fantastical “The Walking Dead” and “Trail of Lightning.” Everywhere I look in pop culture, the world seems to be ending.
Even when my eyes drift from the pages of a novel to the news, I often have difficulty discerning which is fiction and which is reality. Our real world seems to be crumbling.
It makes sense why people, especially those in my generation — Gen Z — would be drawn to these story lines. There is something deeply comforting about characters who can cope with their altered realities and work to save whatever shattering world they exist in.
It is telling that we must turn to fiction for this release, this catharsis, because we sure aren’t seeing it in the world around us.
My generation is, frankly, terrified. We were born into a world that is deteriorating, and no one in power seems to give a damn.
We see so many of the world’s leaders expressing apathy, or worse, denial, about climate change that many of us have concluded we cannot trust those in power.
As children, we were told to leave things to the adults, quiet down, listen to our elders; but what happens when our elders are willfully condemning us to an ever-worsening future? As Greta Thunberg so perfectly said for many of us: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood.”
That’s a big statement for a 16-year-old to throw in people’s faces. Many scoff at youth activists like Thunberg, Isra Hirsi and Vic Barrett for being too young, too naive, too hyperbolic. They are accused of blowing this crisis out of proportion or acting out youthful rebellion and angst. Yet you only need to look at the science and state of the world to see the truth these young people are speaking. And the recognition that Thunberg, named TIME’s Person of the Year, is getting.
The truth is, aside from our fear, we are angry; we are stressed, depressed and anxious. More than 90% of us experienced physical or emotional symptoms due to stress or mental illness in the last year. We have the worst mental health of any generation, as polled by the American Psychological Association. Where does most of this mental strife stem from in Gen Z? Stress.
Our worries about the world are not some nebulous, ungrounded fears, either. We are already being impacted by climate change. Fires in California, ferocious hurricanes and worsening health outcomes in minority populations due to air pollution are just a handful of issues we face.
Yet still, climate change remains in question as leaders debate its very existence. Tell my friend whose Northern California home is a pile of ash that climate change isn’t an issue yet. Tell the teenager gasping for breath in yet another scorching summer heat wave, the latest in a series of increasingly hot years in California, that everything is normal. Tell the family forced to abandon their ancestral home when another monstrous hurricane smashed through their area that this is all a big hoax.
Is our generation’s push for tangible and timely action folly, or worse, a threat to good American Democracy as those like Christopher Caldwell in his New York Times opinion piece argue? Are we threatening to sprint ahead before we know the full story like the impetuous youth we are?
Climate change is an issue we’ve been discussing for the last 40 years, when it was brought to the public’s attention by pioneering climate scientists like Gordon MacDonald and Jim Hansen. In all that time, the Earth continues to warm, icecaps continue to recede, biodiversity continues to plummet and people continue to be displaced. Yet remarkably little has happened in response. Forty years of debate seems like enough to me.
So, I say to our dithering leaders, as another voice in the litany of young people who are all speaking up: Move aside. You have proved to us that you will not do what needs to be done. It is our turn now to fight to fix the future we were given.
And please, don’t mistake our anger or fear as youthful angst. We simply don’t have time to indulge in something that normal. Instead, you can help us, or at the very least step back and let us work to make sure our real world doesn’t become yet another broken world like the fictional ones I read about.