Climate anxiety is a real phenomenon and understanding it is crucial
Understanding climate change is a crucial step in acting towards effective personal, social and institutional changes, but taking the time to read the climate-related studies can be emotionally draining and sufficiently depressing, to be frank. How do we reconcile the need to read the science and understand the problems with the reality that it can be emotionally exhausting to do so? These are questions that I and many other people are struggling with in this new movement towards climate justice.
The specific news that prompted me to write a reflective article of this nature was that of global warming trends. Within the 140 years of reliable, recorded global temperature averages, September 2019 was just reported to be the warmest September, July of 2019 was the hottest month in all of that period, and the past five July’s have been the five warmest during that time, according to collaborative data from NOAA. These studies affirm the reality that the planet is warming, and this is just the tip of the melting iceberg; take five minutes to read reports from the UN IPCC or any credible news source on climate science and it is not uncommon to start to feel anxious, which is exactly how I felt reading these reports.
Climate anxiety, or “eco-anxiety” as some are calling it, is the general term for feelings of fear, uncertainty and sadness regarding environmental issues and predictions, especially as they relate to climate change. Scholarly studies from the early 2010’s to now recognize this phenomenon as one that already has and will continue to have significant psychosocial impacts on current and future generations of young people as climate science becomes more tangible and prominent in media.
A 2011 study from the American Psychologist Journal titled “The Psychological Impacts of Global Climate Change” explains that even communities and populations that are not directly impacted by the physical destruction of climate change have a likelihood to be affected psychologically in an “indirect” way by social, mental, and cultural uncertainties regarding their future. The researchers behind this study recommend increased ecological literacy, discussions of expanded ethical responsibility, and more attention to the psycho-social impacts of environmental issues as necessary steps in remedying this issue.
So how do we overcome or deal with these very legitimate anxieties around pending global catastrophes? I mean, Greta Thunberg’s activism (especially her speech recently at the UN Climate Summit) is incredibly powerful and emotional, and becomes even more powerful when you realize that she is just one of millions of young children who feel the same way.
How can young people who feel the same way act intentionally and passionately without falling victim to overwhelming pessimism? An article I recently read from the Huffington Post outlines how some parents are talking to their children about coping with these fears. The article suggests coping strategies such as digital unplugging / retreating from media on climate to unwind, focusing on positive efforts and opportunities across the world, and validating but not judging such feelings of uncertainty. After all, healthy communities require healthy people, and mental health is equally important with physical health.
If I can impart any advice or helping words as someone who spends a significant amount of time reading, writing, and talking about environmental issues, I find it refreshing and uplifting to focus on the reality that the best leadership often emerges in times of uncertainty or crises.
Moreover, I hope to remind anyone who is anxious on such issues that it is a love for what we have that creates such fears; we worry about climate change and how to act on climate because we care so deeply about our communities that may be at risk. Translating that love and concern into positive, inclusive, and innovative action is where we turn crisis into opportunity, and where we grow from our challenges. Starting right here at CNU, concerned students are petitioning to show how much they care about this issue, and we are doing so because we care so deeply about our community.
Remember that change starts with us, and what we do within our own community can and will make us leaders as examples for others. Climate change is a crisis, but one that I have a lot of faith and hope in our communities to solve and overcome as long as we act passionately, inclusively, and remember why we fight for change.
~James Duffy, Staff Writer~