A firefighter walks towards burning trees during bushfires around the town of Nowra in the Australian state of New South Wales on December 31, 2019. Photo: AFP
Mia Castagnone
Mia Castagnone

Why many Gen Z youth are ‘lying flat’ on climate change

  • Apocalyptic memes and the ‘smiling face with tear’ emoji express the sentiments of a generation tired of watching governments and businesses stall on addressing climate change, even as dire warnings of extreme weather events grow

You don’t need to go far to find one, two or a million “end of the world” memes online. These viral offerings have evolved as a way to comfort ourselves with dark humour.

Yes, there are thousands of passionate, angry and hopeful young climate activists out there in the world, but many members of Gen Z are just over it.
We care, but we are overwhelmed. We’re tired of uncertainty, we’re tired of being trapped in a system that isn’t listening to us, we’re tired of a competitive job market and the message that we will never afford to buy a home.
Since last year, we have not only faced the mundane pressures of trying to earn a living to survive in a world that just doesn’t seem to fit us, but we continue to live with a deadly virus, a crippled economy, prolonged lockdowns and, to add some extra flavour, the possibility that – regardless of where we end up – extreme weather patterns and natural disasters may destroy our world.

It’s no wonder we need more memes to cope with life’s most pressing questions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced in its latest report that global warming is driving a significant increase in the frequency of extreme hot temperatures across the globe.


Global warming dangerously close to being out of control: US climate report

Global warming dangerously close to being out of control: US climate report
Australia, for example, has experienced a series of extreme weather events in just the past eight years. The IPCC report noted that Australian land areas have warmed by around 1.4 degrees Celsius, and the trend of increasing heat extremes will continue.

Extreme heat events include the Angry Summer of 2012-13 that saw more than 70 per cent of Australia experiencing extreme temperatures, the Brisbane heatwave of 2014 and the Queensland heatwave of 2018. Not to mention the most recent heatwave that ravaged the east coast, the Black Summer bush fires of 2019-20, which burned 46 million acres of land, resulted in over A$100 billion (US$72.75 billion) in costs and economic damages, and left skies red with poisonous toxins for months after the fires burned out.

Like Australia, many regions have experienced changing climate conditions and more frequent extreme weather events. We saw devastating floods in Henan province in China in July. Greece and Turkey have battled wildfires unlike anything seen in decades. Undoubtedly, there will be more to come.


More heavy rain hits China a month after deadly flooding in Henan province

More heavy rain hits China a month after deadly flooding in Henan province
The sad reality is that our governments have failed to take the required action to hit climate change policy targets. By 2077, our Earth may not look so green or the skies as blue.

The appearance in 2020 of the “smiling face with tear” emoji was timely, expressing our collective sentiments during the pandemic. We have been fighting a virus, surviving lockdowns, trying to study or work online while maintaining human connections, all while the world around us is on fire.

Climate change: Johnson cites Kermit the Frog, saying it’s ‘easy’ to be green

Is it any wonder that many of us want to both laugh and cry? It seems as if no matter how many protests you attend, the government and corporations just don’t get it.

The companies that put out public relations campaigns encouraging you to do your bit are the same ones mining hectares of land, spilling oil into the oceans and doing everything other than trying to use their money, influence and grip on the world to find greener and cleaner solutions.

Tired, depressed, battling media fatigue, we circle back to our niche communities on online discussion platforms like Reddit to find solitude.


Grim warning for Hong Kong as UN releases major report on climate crisis

Grim warning for Hong Kong as UN releases major report on climate crisis
As we continue to see governments, like the one in Australia, refuse to take effective action to mitigate climate change, we wonder what the point is. Many of us are experiencing our own “lying flat” culture. Except, unlike the youth in China, we are not (only) fatigued by our careers, we are overcome by feelings of hopelessness.

It appears that years of research telling us we are done for is not enough to provoke action. The IPCC report essentially warns that we are headed for disaster unless we take immediate action. The floods, wildfires, heatwaves and rising sea levels still don’t seem to be enough to entice governments to act.

Perhaps it is only when such extreme weather events destabilise the economy and affect business interests that those in power will exert themselves to make the changes we know we need.

Mia Castagnone joined the Post as a Graduate Trainee in 2021. Born and raised in Australia, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Communications and Chinese Studies from the University of Sydney