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You decide — can Gen Z afford to celebrate youth?

The IPCC’s ‘code red for humanity’ and the pandemic have left us wondering: can we spare any time to be young?

‘Even though I’ve just entered my 20s, I look back and miss being young,’ says Vidushi Samarasinghe, a student based in Italy.

Samarasinghe is just one of the hundreds of thousands of Gen Zers who feel that their time to be spontaneous and carefree has run out. After this week’s landmark IPCC report revealed that Earth is to pass 1.5C warming by 2040, it certainly feels like humanity’s time to be reckless has passed.

A global Millennial and Gen-Z report by Deloitte highlighted the ‘sapped optimism’ that many have felt this past year, due to the pandemic and increasing weather extremes.

The report, which surveyed nearly 15,000 Millennials and over 8,000 Gen Zers between January and February, found that 43% of Gen Zers fear the environment has passed the point of no return.

Polly Drábová, a Dutch 22-year-old content and research marketer for Shop Like You Give a Damn, is truly worried we are running out of time on Earth. She suffers from eco-anxiety, which started when she took an interdisciplinary university course on the climate crisis.

‘Many people still believe somebody else will fix the problem or that it is the responsibility of future generations,’ she says. But soon, we’ll be witnessing horrific scenarios, and it’ll be too late, she adds.

‘Way too often, the conversation is about ‘saving our planet’,’ she says. When really, ‘it will be us who will need saving.’

She knows that it can feel easier to be young and reckless. Yet ‘choosing to follow a vegan diet and purchase from sustainable clothing brands’ since her teenage years is a ‘better and more satisfying feeling’.

Does Drábová miss feeling like she can be young? ‘If being young is equated to not caring for our future, then I’ve never needed to live that way.’

The 22-year-old surrounds herself with eco-conscious people that empower her to feel like she’s an active part of the solution, which helps her deal with her anxiety.

‘As long as we are trying to change the direction we’re going in, there’s hope for the best years of our lives being ahead of us,’ she adds.

Drábová doesn’t think that Gen-Z is alone in feeling the drastic weight of the climate crisis on its shoulders. Although her parents had a more secure future for their children, ‘making sacrifices for the common good isn’t about someone’s age’ — it’s about their ‘receptiveness’.

Millennials Anthony Collias and Jacob Wedderburn-Day, co-founders of Treepoints and producers of a podcast show, The Morality of Everyday Things, believe the only way to achieve successful solutions is to align them with people’s incentives.

‘A great solution is meat alternatives,’ says Collias. ‘After decades of people campaigning for plant-based products through guilt and health benefits, we saw mass-market solutions come in, and tonnes of people suddenly reduced their meat intake.

‘Because all they wanted was a cheap and easy alternative,’ he adds. ‘Not to be shouted at by someone on a moral high ground.’

Collias and Jacob Wedderburn-Day’s Treepoints was founded as a way to make an impact on the planet they both care about. To a certain extent, the motivation behind their startup has also been out of fear. ‘The stark weather impacts this year are more obvious than ever before,’ Wedderburn-Day says. ‘Especially in Europe, it’s more local than we’ve ever seen.’

But they also have big, positive goals for their newly founded company. In the next two or three years, Collias says they plan to use the profits generated to fund projects using carbon offsetting, reforestation and biomass, as well as carbon capture tech.

Using the positive, solution-focused approach is something life coach Puja McClymont recommends for dealing with eco-anxiety too. ‘Reframe the magnitude of the worries,’ McClymont says. ‘Each person can only do so much, and whatever you can do will contribute to change.’

McClymont is part of Gen-X, but she is very much in tune with the environmental stress caused by news networks and social media. Unfollowing certain accounts and cutting down news consumption is a good first step to decreasing the angst.

Once you’re in control of these worries, the life coach outlines some steps to permit yourself to ‘let go’ of the rest:

Be thankful out loud for what you have achieved. Journal achievements and physically celebrate, perhaps with a commemorative dinner. Avoid being ‘woke’ but stay informed. This way, you can still appreciate being young while acknowledging the opportunities you have to make a change in the world.

Alongside climate change, the pandemic has also worsened Gen-Z’s need to keep constantly busy.

Samarasinghe, 21, just graduated with a degree in biomedical science from the University of Sussex, but facing one of the lowest-funded job sectors in the country and increasing pressure from her friends, family and the Internet, she says she feels like she’s running out of time. ‘All I can think is: ‘I need to be employed,’’ she adds.

The Deloitte survey highlighted that 50% of all Gen Zers consider job and career prospects their foremost worry.

The pandemic has also forced two-thirds of respondents to reassess their financial goals. While 5% of Gen Zers said they were unsure about future financial situations before the pandemic, this grew to 13% this year.

Hustle culture can be defined as someone overworking and pushing themselves past their physical or mental limit to achieve the ‘goal’ of wealth and success.

Like Samarasinghe, it seems many Gen Zers fit right into this culture. Focusing on being successful means forgetting to preserve their young years. Deloitte reported that, among the Gen Zers who didn’t take time off work, four in 10 chose to work through the constant stress.

‘Do I have enough experience? Am I going to be good enough? How can I make my CV look better?’ These are some of the questions racing through Samarasinghe’s head.

Her Gen-X parents, who moved to Italy from Sri Lanka to provide a better future for Samarasinghe and her sister, recount stories of their young years all the time.

‘Because of what they’ve sacrificed for me, I haven’t had the same opportunities to be young and rebellious,’ she notes. Instead, she feels she is running a race she can never win, in a field that is underfunded and wasn’t prioritised by governments until the global pandemic.

Now, a year-and-a-half since the coronavirus outbreak, she has graduated into one of the worst job markets in history, feeling as though the pandemic completely robbed her of her youth.

The only way Samarasinghe has been able to remind herself that she is 21 is through turning to her peers and engaging in activities that she used to love as a child. One of the highlights of lockdown earlier this year was playing football with her housemates for endless hours in the garden.

‘We felt like kids,’ she says, laughing. ‘It was the best we’d felt in a long time.’

Some entrepreneurs, such as Collias and Wedderburn-Day, are striving to ensure that their workplace is somewhere great and anxiety-free.

‘The big thing about running your own company is that you can invest in it being fun,’ says Wedderburn-Day. ‘It’s worth it as long as you enjoy it.’