Tackling ‘Eco-Anxiety’ by Group Action
Shayanne Summers holds her dog Toph while wrapped in a blanket after several days of staying in a tent at the Milwaukie-Portland Elks Lodge in Oak Grove, Oregon after evacuating from near Molalla, Oregon which was threatened by the Riverside Fire.(John Locher/AP)
Miko Vergun is set to start her third year at Oregon State University this fall. The 20-year-old student, adopted as an infant from her native Marshall Islands, says she’s noticed summers getting progressively hotter in Oregon. Vergun says she’s especially wary of this year’s wildfire season, wondering whether she’ll have a future home in the state.
And of the Marshall Islands, she says they and other Pacific Island nations are “frontline communities” facing the real threat of climate change. The chain of volcanic islands are “in danger of going underwater,” if appropriate climate action isn’t taken, she says. The U.S. Geological Survey says some of the country’s islands will be submerged by as early as 2035.[
“That scares me a lot because … that’s where I’m from,” Vergun continues. “And I want to be able to show my kids, or … have a place to be able to visit. And land is a huge part of our culture in the sense that we pass it down.”
She can’t vote in the U.S., but Vergun says she has watched with alarm as adults “who are supposed to protect our future, protect our rights,” and who “quite literally have our futures in their hands” are “playing with it.”
So in August 2015, she joined a group of 21 youth plaintiffs – the oldest among them is now 25, according to the climate advocacy group, Our Children’s Trust – and filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government alleging that its conduct has harmed their “constitutional rights to a livable planet and a sustainable future,” Vergun says.
Young people aren’t alone in their concern about the changing climate. In 2019, a majority of people around the world were concerned about climate change, according to the Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk poll. It found that 41% of people worldwide see climate change as a very serious threat, while 28% are somewhat concerned. More recently, a survey released last autumn of 14 wealthy countries placed climate change as a top global threat to security, even as the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world.