The teenage campaigner took politicians to task about the environment – but their apathy contributed to a devastating decline in his mental health. He talks about his recovery and the radical ideas we need to save the Earth
Precisely how he got there, and why, he does not remember, but Charlie Hertzog Young knows that in the autumn of 2019, aged 27 and at the height of his despair, he jumped from a high building in London. He landed on concrete, split open his pelvis like a book and demolished his legs. He was bleeding out – dying – and yet managed to have a pleasant conversation with a resident of the neighbouring building who thought he was a burglar. He survived, thanks to the speedy arrival of a paramedic with specialist trauma skills. Even so, he spent a month in a coma and six months in hospital. Eventually, he was discharged with legs so damaged that they both had to be amputated. He lost his job as a researcher and his rented flat.
The years leading to this moment are a searing story of personal and planetary pain. Aged 12, Hertzog Young worried about global heating and became a climate activist. He won a national award for founding a green council in his school. Gradually, he became a British Greta Thunberg, without the international fame or internet trolls. As the voice of youth, he was invited to global summits, including the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos and, later that year, the UN climate summit in Copenhagen. “There are young people in communities all across the world who are trying to facilitate change,” he told the elders of Davos. “We’d like you to help us to help you.” Then, at just 17, he accosted the likes of Bill Gates and Barack Obama in corridors between events and harangued them about the urgency of taking action to stop global heating.