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Earth day, fossil fuel extraction, the state of climate change in 2023: A perspective from Gen Z

students with banner saying There is no Planet B

Since 1970, the 22nd of April has been recognised as a day to reinvigorate the movement to protect the environment. This year marks the 53rd anniversary since Earth Day was first celebrated. In the 1970s environmental protection and global warming was a topic which got little attention from the news or politicians. Scientists who first began, in the 1960s, to link fossil fuels with ‘weird’ changes in weather patterns were dismissed, called crazy and labelled prophets of doom. Today, it's hard for a day to pass where new damning evidence, reports and expert opinions alert us of the catastrophic effects in-action is having and will continue to have on our planet. Despite the urgent need for us to respond to this crisis, governments world over fail to implement policies that will halt the crisis and are actively green lighting new oil drilling ventures. This comes despite climate scientists stating that if we want to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5C. there can be no new fossil fuel extraction projects.

In 2022, the UK government offered up nearly 900 new locations for companies to explore for oil and gas in the North Sea. This news came despite the government's own advisors on the climate stating that instead of drilling for more fossil fuels, the best approach to relieve customer’s suffering from high energy prices was to quit fossil fuel extractions. The UK is not the only country green lighting new fossil fuel extraction projects, the Biden administration in the US has recently come under fire for its controversial Willow project. The massive oil-drilling project planned for Alaska’s North Slope would release more than 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution yearly into the atmosphere (1), abolishing any chance at staying under the Paris Agreement global warming limit of 1.5C. The location of the Willow project is also a cause for concern given that the arctic is warming nearly 4 times faster than the globe, a phenomenon known as arctic amplification. Fossil fuel drilling projects also cause more damage beyond emissions, they destroy the natural habitat for native species and change migration patterns. The UN reported that if we don’t act urgently to halt global warming there will be mass extinction of animals, from polars bears to penguins, putting half of all species at risk. In the scenario that global temperatures reach 4C, the world could see mortalities of a mass scale, with extinction that permanently alters rainforests, kelp forests, and tropical coral reefs.

For humans, fossil fuels have far reaching health implications, from asthma and cancer to contaminating the air we breathe and the water we drink. In 2020, for the first-time coroners in the UK ruled that air pollution was a cause of death of a nine-year-old girl, Ella Kissi-Debrah. Ella lived in the London Borough of Lewisham, a place where C02 levels exceed both domestic and EU legal limits, furthermore, went beyond WHO guideline limits. The failure to reduce pollution levels to legal limits, coupled with failure to provide her mother with guidance on the potential negative impact of air pollution in exacerbating asthma, contributed to her death stated the coroner. A commission on climate change and health related impacts conducted by both the Lancet and UCL, stated that “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” (The Lancet, 2009)(2) If we continue to down this route of in-action, human health will decline, and all the advancements made in health will reverse. Increases in the frequency and magnitude of extreme climate and weather events such as heatwaves and heavy rainfall don’t come without risk to human health. Extreme increase in temperature raises the risk of cardiovascular health related deaths due to the strain it puts on the heart, brain and lungs. Extreme heat also puts the elderly and children under 1 in a vulnerable position, as they are more like to fall ill with heat related illnesses, with increased risk of dehydration.

Given the damning evidence that shows the reality we face if we continue down this path, why aren't governments treating this crisis with the vigour and robust action needed? This is a question I ask myself often. It's impossible for anyone to predict the future, however given the onslaught of news which account how temperatures continue to rise and research which demonstrates the cost of inaction, predictions for the future seem bleak. It's impossible not to care what happens to the health of our planet because there is not one person who won't be affected by it. For Gen Z, the climate crisis is on the top of our long list of concerns about how our world works. Us members of Generation Z feel that we have inherited a world in which people and planet are on the back burner, with policy focused solely on economic growth. When Greta Thunberg addressed world leaders at the UN’s climate action summit in 2019, she spoke for all Gen Z when she said, “You have stolen my dreams and childhood with your empty words”(3). Often the older generation question why Gen Z, seem to all have a myriad of mental health challenges. Their claim is not that far off, a 2018 report showed that “in the past year, 91% of Gen Z experienced one or more emotional or physiological stress-related symptoms”.(American Psychological Assocation, 2018)(4). Looking at the state of climate change in 2023 will give them their answer, it feels impossible to plan for a future when the future is so uncertain. All Gen Z ask is for compassion for the impossible system we are trying to navigate as we enter adulthood. 

Reference list:  

  1. Bendix, A & Mcfall-Johnsen, M ‘Unliveable cities, refugees, extinct animals: UN climate report warns of drastic changes in coming decades’ Available at: Unlivable cities, refugees, extinct animals: UN climate report warns of drastic changes in coming decades | Business Insider India (accessed 21st of April 2023) 
  2. The Lancet ‘A Commission on climate change’ VOLUME 373, ISSUE 9676, P1659 (published May 16, 2009). Available at A Commission on climate change - The Lancet (Accessed 21st of April 2023) 
  3. Thunberg, G (2019) UN Climate Action Summit. Monday September 23rd, 2019, New York Available at WATCH: Greta Thunberg's full speech to world leaders at UN Climate Action Summit - YouTube (accessed 21st of April 2023) 
  4. American Psychological Association, ‘Stress in America – Generation Z’ (2018) Available at Stress in America™ Generation Z ( (Accessed 21st of April 2023) 


Teah ZdanowiczTeah Zdanowicz

Law School alumni Teah is currently interning with the Open Justice Centre, focusing on legal technology.

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