“Maddie Cole in eighth grade stopped running cross country. She’d competed the year before, but the air quality in her native Sacramento was so bad that she got sick during a race; she soon learned she had asthma.
The next year the sky above Sacramento turned gray with smoke from the 2018 Camp fire. Maddie and her classmates went to school with masks on. “It felt,” she said, “like a futuristic apocalypse.”
The situation has only worsened as wildfires and their devastation have become so routine that she and her classmates are “just used to it,” said Maddie, now 16 and a junior. This fall “it was just like, ‘Yeah, California’s on fire again. It’s that time of year.’”
Neither the polluted air nor the wildfires punctuating Maddie’s adolescence are random. Both are being exacerbated by climate change, and the future they portend has left Maddie feeling helpless, anxious and scared. Climate anxiety and other mental health struggles are rampant among Maddie’s generation, according to experts who warn that young Californians are growing up in the shadow of looming catastrophe — and dealing with the emotional and psychological fallout that comes with it.”