70% of Irish students use deeply negative words to describe feelings on climate crisis, survey shows

Young scientists remain optimistic as 91% say they believe science can help with solving crisis

More than half of Irish students are worried or sad about climate change while 8 per cent say it makes them angry, according to a survey conducted at this year’s BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition.

It found striking gender differences on the climate crisis with girls far more likely to rate it as “very serious” and suggesting they are much more “sad or worried” as a consequence of the threat.

The survey, by the environmental group Global Action Plan and BT Ireland, found concern about the consequences of global warming was widespread among the next generation of Irish scientists and technologists.

However, it appears they remain optimistic for the future with 91 per cent saying they believe science and technology can help solve the climate crisis.

KOS young scientist

Nearly three-quarters say they have personally taken action in the past six months to help tackle the crisis, while more than 71 per cent say their scientific knowledge makes them more confident about addressing the climate challenge.

Among actions undertaken were reducing waste and increasing recycling (67 per cent), cutting down on plastics (52 per cent) and walking or cycling to school instead of getting a lift in a car (26 per cent). Some 23 per cent also consider the carbon footprint of food they buy and have changed their eating habits.

The results suggest students are encouraging their parents to take positive action, such as asking parents to install solar panels (20 per cent), asking parents to insulate homes (20 per cent) and asking to switch energy supplier (10 per cent).

The survey was sent to more than 1,100 BT Young Scientist finalists this month, with 515 students taking part. The youngest respondents were 11 and the eldest 18, with almost two-thirds identifying as female and one-third as male.

Hans Zomer, chief executive of Global Action Plan, said a striking finding from the survey was that “young people are determined to find solutions to the climate crisis”.

“While many have negative feelings about the situation, the vast majority of respondents are optimistic that we can find solutions to the climate crisis and are already taking actions in their own lives,” he said.

Priscilla O’Regan, head of communications with BT Ireland, said the survey indicates many young people “are worried and feel powerless in the face of global warming”.

“However, it is heartening that our young scientists are optimistic that the fruits of human ingenuity will help provide answers, either in the form of new technologies or new insights into behavioural and societal change,” she added.

Some 52 per cent of respondents said they felt sad or worried about climate change, 8 per cent said the issue made them angry, 5 per cent said they felt “ignored” and another 5 per cent experienced a sense of hopelessness. Significantly, 16 per cent said global warming made them more “determined” to take action.

When asked “who is the most responsible for tackling climate change?”, the students listed the Government, the European Union and the business world as the main actors. However, 40 per cent said “me personally” or that “everyone needs to do their bit” as the most important answer to this question.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times