BABYSITTING for her daughter one night, a friend of mine was startled by her young grandson coming downstairs in tears. He had been having nightmares because a girl at school had told him the world was getting so hot we would all explode.

She did her best to soothe him, doubtless feeling annoyed at one child trying to frighten another. Yet the doomster was also clearly struggling to cope with the barrage of terrifying front page stories about fires, floods, drought, starvation – all the ails that the warming planet is heaping upon us.

How do you keep the news from petrifying youngsters when they are their most vulnerable? Obviously, once they’re at school they cannot be shielded from the grave issues facing the environment. Perhaps it’s best to give them a broader perspective on natural disasters, which are not unique to modern times, and stress that we are now taking steps combat the worst side-effects of climate change.

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But however the facts are presented, there is no sugar-coating the truth that the planet is toiling. A far-reaching survey, by the University of Bath, questioned 10,000 16 to 25-year-olds across the world, including Britain, India, Australia, Scandinavia and the US. The results are sobering to say the least. Seventy-five percent see the future as frightening, and 56% believe humanity is “doomed”.

In Britain, nearly half this age group are seriously alarmed about what lies ahead. One respondent in the Philippines said she had spent her childhood “afraid of drowning in my own bedroom”. Perhaps most telling of all, four out of 10 participants said their trepidation is so severe, they might not have children.

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Some, of course, will think this a good thing. The world’s population is large enough, and reducing it is an essential part of shrinking the human tread upon the earth’s face. In 1800, the population reached the 1 billion mark. Now it’s almost eight billion, roughly double what it was in 1970. Curbing family size, or choosing to remain childless, is a perfectly rational response to over-population and dwindling resources.

It was Malthus who first raised the spectre of ever-increasing population, which would only be kept in check by poverty and natural disasters. He failed to predict the industrial revolution, which threw out all his calculations.

But today’s predicament is not a reason for younger adults to feel hopeless. It is somewhat ironic to see Boris Johnson, whose own brood continues to balloon, preach to the world about the urgency of warding off environmental calamity. Yet while his reproductive footprint is more snowshoe than flipflop, his optimism is irrepressible. Whether it is founded on a reliable bedrock remains to be seen, but a spirit of can-do is more galvanising than the paralysis that nihilism brings. If he, with at least seven children to his name is undaunted, then future parents should take heed.

For their own well-being, and that of all society, the young need to be inspired to be forward-looking and positive. It goes without saying that those of us on the upper rungs of the demographic ladder will soon be reliant upon their skills and help. But regardless of our own call upon them, this cohort has to be infused with eager anticipation, as well as resilience. Above all, they must be supported to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.

This mammoth task lies with our lieges. The University of Bath’s researchers discovered that one of the main reasons underpinning youngsters’ dread was the woefully inadequate response from governments to the climate crisis. As a 19-year-old Welsh activist told them, they need to see “palpable structural action”. Lack of such action has left the young feeling betrayed and abandoned.

It’s bad enough in advanced middle age shouting at politicians on the TV as they swither and dither over taking steps that will save lives but probably lose votes. For those at school or in their first jobs, the glacial pace at which decisions are made must be baffling as well as infuriating.

Those who say that these things take time, and that reaching international consensus is complicated, are right, but only up to a point. Ultimately, as the clear-eyed young know, things are very simple. Governments either take drastic action, or we suffer the consequences. And, as they are all-too aware, these will fall most heavily upon them and their offspring.

Yet choosing not to become parents because of the myriad threats that lie in wait, seems to me a counsel of despair. In the wake of the Second World War, and the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people seemed more eager than ever to have children. Had our own parents agonised too much over the potential implications of the Cold War, and the proliferation of nuclear warheads, few of us would be here today. Despite the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the perpetual spectre of nuclear war, the baby boom continued unabated.

As this shows, it is a natural urge to have children. Yet, rather than tell the young that they are over-anxious, and not to worry about starting families, it should become globally accepted that having one child, or two, is the new normal. By this standard, the PM and others of his kind will soon look out of step.

If every young person felt despondent and powerless about the planet’s prospects, our future truly would be bleak. Just as Malthus did not foresee the industrial revolution, in time there will be scientific advances to help us handle extreme weather events – innovations which, as yet, few of us can begin to imagine.

In the short term, our role is to remain upbeat but personally proactive. We cannot ignore the situation, but nor should we ever suggest the end of the world is nigh. The ever-present dangers of being human, whether war, weather or illness, are no reason not to live as fully as possible, while remaining environmentally aware.

Instead of being expected to carry the full weight of anxiety, upcoming generations should be encouraged to look ahead with as much confidence and relish as we did. Let’s give them reasons to be hopeful. As the late lamented John Prine mockingly sang, “The lonesome friends of science say/ the world will end most any day”. There’s no need for us to join them.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Herald.