The role of emotions in generating and sustaining climate action for youth climate champions: an exploratory study in Northern Ontario
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Anthropogenic climate change is a wicked problem resulting in complex and compounding health impacts at multiple scales and across timelines. While there is a solid base of empirical evidence documenting the physical health impacts of climate change, less is known about the mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of maturing in a climate-altered world, where extreme events and doom-and-gloom messaging are increasingly prevalent. Despite contributing little to rising greenhouse gas emissions, young people are at heightened risk of experiencing mental and emotional health impacts of the climate crisis because they are at a critical stage of physical and psychological development, and because adverse childhood events have a strong impact on mental health into adulthood. Qualitative research exploring the lived experiences of youth across diverse places is underrepresented in the literature. This thesis explores the ways in which youth climate champions in Northern Ontario, Canada, are experiencing the mental and emotional dimensions of the climate emergency and explores the emotions, supports, and experiences by which they are motivated to engage in climate action. Through purposeful sampling, 12 young people ages 15-24 across six communities participated in both semi-structured interviews and asynchronous letter writing to explore their emotional response to climate change and climate action. Thematic network analysis revealed three global themes, including making meaning of climate change, climate emotions, and motivations and supports for youth climate action, supported by 11 organizing themes and illustrated through 31 basic themes. The findings of this research suggest that youth climate champions in Northern Ontario are experiencing a constellation of climate emotions which are both problematic, negatively impacting their mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, and generative, motivating engagement in climate action. These findings indicate that swift, transformative action to mitigate the climate crisis is the foremost way to protect the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of young people in the face of climate breakdown. Simultaneously, this study suggests the need for policy and practice in health and education spaces to support and fund accessible, safe spaces for young people to come together to recognize, share, and explore the emotional dimensions of climate change and climate injustice and to create pathways for young people and allied adults to engage in community-based collective climate action.