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Vera with her dog
Vera, member of the Ambitious about Autism Youth Council

Youth participation
Tuesday 10 January 2023

Autism and climate change

The climate and environmental crises are a huge threat to humanity. Autistic young people, including myself, are more likely to experience severe eco-anxiety: extreme worry about current and future harm to the environment caused by human activity and climate change. However, we are also more likely to get involved and make impactful changes!

 

How climate change impacts me as an autistic young person 

In this blog I will share how climate change impacts me as an Autistic young person, explain how understanding the difference between individual and institutional responsibility helps me cope and act effectively, and finally, discuss how you can harness your Autistic strengths to make a change. 

There is a lot of emphasis on individuals to reduce, reuse, and recycle – this is called “individual responsibility”. As an Autistic person I often feel guilty for not doing the “right” thing and used to pressure myself to always act in an “eco-friendly” way – but things are never black and white, and there is no correct answer! I also failed to adapt to my needs, for example, I became vegetarian, but really struggled as executive function makes planning meals hard and sensory sensitivity meant I then had no options when eating out.  

 

What can I do to support the planet? 

Although individual responsibility is still very important, most of the world’s emissions come from industry, agriculture, and construction. Over half the world’s industrial emissions can be traced back to just 25 companies. This is called “institutional responsibility”. So… how can I use my Autistic strengths to influence businesses, organisations, and governments? 

Asking questions: we always try and figure out why things are the way they are. I asked my local shops how they choose their takeaway boxes – they said it was a matter of cost, so I researched cheap recyclable options for them, and they switched! 

Strong sense of justice: we are patient, persevere, and will shout loudly about important issues! For example, I wrote a letter to Channel 4 with a group of young people, asking them to host a Party Leader’s debate on the Climate and Environmental Crises before the 2019 election, which they did! 

Hyperfocus and special interest research skills helped me understand the key problems of the climate and environmental crisis and explain them to others clearly. 

Skills: personally, I am very good with Microsoft, so I volunteered a few hours of my time to help an activist group with their finance spreadsheets and make sign-up forms for a protest march. This was a good alternative to attending the march as I would find it too noisy.  

My final message is to accept your Autistic needs and not feel bad for them… you have to help yourself before you can help anyone else! I am finally coming to terms with the fact that I need adjustments and not feeling guilty if they are not eco-friendly. For example, I sometimes need to commute by car to preserve my energy because public transport is too much for me, or that I must use higher temperatures on my washing because of my no-smell hypoallergenic detergent. I do want to buy clothes and trinkets and fly sometimes because life is for living!  

I invite you to join me and set aside an hour a month to think about how you can make your surroundings more sustainable – maybe join a sustainability Facebook group, participate in #NoMowMay (when people don’t mow their gardens to give bees more wildflowers), or write to your MP! 

 

Further resources 

Many Autistic people are famous for environmental advocacy and climate change campaigning, and have created excellent art, documentaries, podcasts or books. I really recommend Dara McAnulty’s book, Diary of a Young Naturalist. 

The WWF Carbon Footprint Calculator gives useful tips on how you can improve your individual responsibility. 

Contact your MP - UK Parliament – write to your MP! Don’t forget to include your postcode in the email. E.g., you could ask them to fund your council’s recycling facilities more, to create home insulation funds, or why your local nature is important to you. 

 

About the author  

Happy Autistic Lady, Vera 

I am a member of the Ambitious about Autism Youth Council and make illustrations on Instagram called Happy Autistic Lady. I work for a government department where I combine my two passions: the environment and IT.  

Previously, I studied Biological Sciences BSc at Imperial College London and wrote my dissertation on improving green spaces for urban biodiversity. I studied Geographical Information Sciences MSc at the University of Edinburgh and wrote my dissertation on the use of satellites and machine learning to set up fish reserves in South East Asia. I also volunteered for the National Trust, UK Youth 4 Nature, and Autistic Youth Climate Activists.

 

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