As a species, it sometimes seems as if we’re staring down the climate in a terrifying game of chicken when what we should be doing is taking it by the hand, asking if it’s Ok and doing our very utmost to make it feel as comfortable as possible.
Because the alternative is almost unthinkable. And yet brilliant scientists around the world are doing exactly that with increasing levels of alarm and despair. They are thinking the unthinkable and articulating exactly what that might look like, feel like and be like, to us, as a species.
That’s leading to an increasing trend in eco-anxiety. But perhaps the word ‘trend’ gives a temporary or superfluous sense to this experience. Perhaps we should define it as it is: a sincere mental-health condition in which the number of people affected are expressing serious, and valid concerns about the state of our climate and its capacity to sustain human life on Earth.
And if an existential threat to the existence of human life on Earth, i.e. the survival of your kids, wasn’t enough to inspire some kind of anxiety then who knows what is.
Is it just Media Hysteria?
Unfortunately it’s not possible to attribute the cause of this anxiety to a hysterical media cynically intent on whipping the public into a frenzy in order to get views in order to sell advertising space. Nor can we simply say we did not know about the problem in advance. In fact we can pretty much see in real-time the building pace and intensity of the unfolding climate disaster which, in turn, is leading to increasing levels of eco-anxiety.
From the decades-long Californian drought intensifying wildfires on America’s west coast to the apocalyptic scenes in 2019-20, when the entire continent of Australia burned, we, are all observing with our very own eyes and ears the catastrophic consequences of ignoring the climate. This is backed up by mountains of research and has been highlighted in Nature.com which reports on the body of evidence beginning to underscore the very clear link between climate change, global warming and an increased incidence of wildfire around the world.
It builds on a body of work that goes back 30 years:
Evidence has been growing for decades that climate change will exacerbate Australia’s fire seasons. A prescient paragraph in a 2008 government-commissioned climate report that compiled evidence from the previous 30 years warned that fire seasons would start earlier, end later and be more intense2. “This effect increases over time, but should be directly observable by 2020,” noted the report, authored by Ross Garnaut, an economist at the University of Melbourne.
It is an accepted scientific fact that the climate is changing. It is an actual physical, sensory and emotional experience for those involved in the climate change front-line. From fighting wildfires to dealing with droughts and floods around the world there is little doubt that the climate is changing and rapidly so. Even for those not on the front line it is abundantly apparent each year as the Earth rotates on it’s axis, the summers are getting hotter and the winters warmer.
And the cumulative consequence of these indisputable facts are that people of all ages are beginning to feel an anxiety akin to having had experienced a traumatic event.
Climate Change & Eco-Anxiety: is there a link?
Research on causes, effects and impacts of eco-anxiety is ongoing but an academic research paper from the Initiative for Leadership and Sustainability has been produced with the purpose of outlining the implications of climate change on our ecosystems, economies and societies. The paper, by Professor Jem Bendall, “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy“, explores a number of extreme scenarios and concludes:
Disruptive impacts from climate change are now inevitable. Geoengineering is likely to be ineffective or counter-productive. Therefore, the mainstream climate policy community now recognises the need to work much more on adaptation to the effects of climate change. That must now rapidly permeate the broader field of people engaged in sustainable development.
As practitioners, researchers and educators. In assessing how our approaches could evolve, we need to appreciate what kind of adaptation is possible. Recent research suggests that human societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent Nations.
A list of resources are provided, by Professor Bendell, the sustainability academic at the University of Cumbria, to give support to those struggling to adapt to the consequences of climate change. And the reason for this cataclysmic tone? It’s all around… In the air we breath and the water we drink, the planet is heating up.
Anyone over the age of 20 will have realised that since the year 2000, a mere 20 years away, we have experienced 17 of the most-hottest years on record but, if some reason inexplicable to common sense, you find yourself still in denial then we only have to review the temperature figures:
Politicians vs People
And yet politicians in power from Trump in America to Bolsanaro in Brazil continue to disbelieve the effects of climate change unfolding all around. Whilst some powerful politicians ignore the rapidly changing world it can seem as though it is up to younger people, those who will face the full force of this change, to demand those in power act more forcefully.
Greta Thunberg, in 2018, became the voice of the environmental counter-movement against powerful politicians refusing to act, as she insisted:
“Adults keep saying, we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope, I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic.”Greta Thunberg, 2018
And rightly so. For too long there has been a business as usual approach that has been far too relaxed in terms of working toward mitigating the problem of climate change caused by human activities. The counter-argument may be that it’s impossible to enact meaningful changes from individuals working within a capitalist system (that facilities climate change) but it is time for us all to question the risks inherent within that approach.
However, for the most part governments around the world are comprised of leaders and politicians that the people have elected. With more than half of the world’s countries operating under democratic systems, we the people, have the power in our hands to effect an enormous change in our approach to the climate that would coerce the rest of the world to take action.
Politicians around the world can easily be accused of inaction, scapegoats who are incapable of changing the system. But they simply represent the interests of their electorates. If we want the system to change, then we have to change the system.
When we begin to make our collective interest in the climate much more apparent then the collective voice of societies around the world demanding real action will make itself heard.
Eco-Anxiety & its Psychological Effects
Eco-anxiety is inevitably a part of the solution. It’s a reflection of the dissonance, the growing chasm between the will of the people, and the politicians, and their self-interest. It is the ‘panic’ Greta tells the world we should all be experiencing and it is the overwhelming nature of the problem and our seeming inability to meaningfully deal with the problem that is contributing to this anxiety. It is the motivation we need.
The growing condition of ‘eco-anxiety’ has been described by Psychology Today as:
a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis. It’s an understandable reaction to ones growing awareness of climate change and the global problems that result from damage to the ecosystem. While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not include “ecoanxiety” as a specific diagnosis some people are expressing high levels of stress over climate change with symptoms including panic attacks, obsessive thinking, loss of appetite, and insomnia.
It’s a disorder that is exacerbated, as with many anxieties, by our sense of powerlessness in not being able to deal with the situation. Powerlessness if an overwhelming sense of helplessness in a stressful situation. This can contribute to anxiety and stress and removes our ability to exert free will. Slowly this weakens our confidence, our resolve and our capacity for dealing with the problems that confront us.
Whilst eco-anxiety has only been recently defined as a specific disorder, studies show that wider anxieties are on the increase with evidence that up to 33.7% of the population are affected by an anxiety during their lifetime.
A detailed investigation into the issue was produced in 2017, with the report, Mental health and our changing climate: Impacts, implications, and guidance which aimed to increase our ‘awareness of the psychological impacts of climate change on human mental health and well-being.’
The report conducted an in-depth investigation into all aspects of climate change and how it impacts human mental-health, covering aspects such as physical health, mental health and community health. Some of the key conclusions from the report form the basis for a response which can help individuals contribute towards tackling climate change:
- Build belief in one’s own resilience;
- Foster optimism;
- Cultivate active coping and self-regulation skills;
- Maintain practices that help to provide a sense of meaning;
- Promote connectedness to family, place, culture, and community.
But it is in perhaps the final section of the report when Psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren, MD, points out the situation and makes a moral entreaty to the mental health community. Susteren writes:
Each day, our world devolves more quickly toward disruption from climate change. The news is coming at us from all sides— CO2 emissions climbing, record-high temperatures, oceans increasingly acidifying, coral reefs dying, ice sheets melting, failing nations, the massive displacement of people. Those least responsible for the crisis will hurt the most—the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the emotionally vulnerable. The psychological toll is becoming more apparent—but much is being overlooked.
Mental health professionals help people face reality, because we know living in denial can ruin a person’s life. As the climate crisis unfolds, we see people whose anger, anxiety, and depression, caused by the shortcomings of a previous generation, prevent them from leading productive lives themselves. We know about trauma from repeated exposure to horrifying events. We are trained, we are ethically bound, to respond to emergencies.
This is a passionately expressed sentiment that can be extrapolated to all professionals across all sectors. But when we are all operating within a system in which it feels difficult to effect real change it can also feel difficult to imagine what the solutions might look like at an individual level.
Top 10 Things You Can do
1. Vote, vote, vote.
The most effective way for societies to introduce climate friendly policies and start transitioning to a carbon free infrastructure that limits our impact on the environment will be to elect politicians whose first priority is the environment we inhabit. And across Europe Green Parties are making big political strides in recent elections which could result in radical actions across the European Continent. So do your thing, join your local Green party, campaign, protest, get political and most importantly vote for a greener government.
2. Identify your most important values and live in a way that respects those values.
One of the biggest causes of eco-anxiety can be the guilt we feel over wishing to live in an idealised way that is in harmony with the environment and then realising the full extent of our polluting, carbon emitting ways. Once we start to live in a way that is more in alignment with the values we hold dear we can begin to feel less anxious about the damage we are causing. Cut back on the stuff you buy, limit the plastic you waste or try visiting a plastic free cosmetics store, such as Lush. If we start to cut out the waste in our personal lives it will build pressure on companies and regulators to respond with a legal framework that supports a greener approach.
3. Power your home with renewable energy.
There are literally tons of green energy companies on the market now and in the mere space of a few mouse-clicks you can transition your energy provider from one that uses dirty fossil fuels to a new provider that only uses renewable energy. EON UK, as of 2019, will power more than 3 million homes with renewable energy in one of the biggest energy switches to date. You can elect to receive renewable energy, if not already, by checking with your current provider and making sure you switch to a tariff, or company, that only uses clean, carbon free renewable energy.
Just imagine, the screen your reading this on could be powered by wind!
4. Make your online life renewable
If you are a website owner or manage websites then make switching your hosting provider to a company that only uses renewable energy a priority. Companies like GreenGeeks, advertised throughout this site, provide anyone who owns a website with the ability to make sure their site is powered by renewable technology. And they are going above and beyond the carbon neutral aim. By making a commitment to provide more than 3 times the amount of energy they use from renewable sources, GreenGeeks is a carbon negative company.
(Disclosure: This website is independently owned and operated and may receive compensation from GreenGeeks should you take out a hosting product by clicking this link).
5. Reduce your flying, or don’t fly at all
Greta Thunberg made international headlines when she made a double crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 2019 to attend a climate conference in New York City. This is credited with greatly promoting the concept of Flygskam, or ‘flight shame’ — a social ‘shame’ or pressure to consider alternative methods of transport that are carbon neutral in order to avoid adding to the carbon emissions already in the atmosphere. So reduce your flying or consider not flying at all. The world is open to explore and perhaps we should all appreciate the journey as much as the destination.
6. Take a minimalist approach to life
Adopt a more minimalist approach to your possessions, your stuff and your and life. If we can learn to live with less, we can help the environment. Minimalism can transform your life by helping you to learn to live with less and that has an immediate beneficial impact on the environment because when we click buy on amazon or any other online platform we initiate a whole series of actions that have some degree of environmental cost. Check out our post about Minimalism: and how to save the planet by living with less.
7. Have fewer children or no children at all.
There is little doubt that the human overpopulation problem is at the heart of all environmental problems we are experiencing today, however making the decision to reduce the number of children you have, or to have no children at all, is a very personal decision that is up to each individual. What we can be certain of is that the world, and all future generations who will live on it, face an uncertain future trying to support 10 billion humans and having children it the number 1 contributing factor to CO2 emissions.
All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people.David Attenborough
8. Cut out red meat and dairy.
Agriculture contributes up to 9% of the globe’s CO2 emissions but when you take into account the cost of transporting food, the emissions that creates, and the whole industrialised network that supports the farming industry in bringing food to your plate then the emissions could, in fact, be a lot higher.
Making dietary choices is a very personal choice and it’s trying to be vegetarian or vegan is something many of us can struggle to implement. The diversity of cuisine through-out the world shows us that the human race can adapt to all sorts of foods and, from an individual perspective, we have the power within our hands, and our mouths, to reduce the environmental impact of the food we eat. The groundbreaking documentary Cowspiracy reveals the hidden environmental impact of farming, with cows, sheep and pigs providing the biggest CO2 footprint against a reduced footprint for chickens. So if you need to start somewhere focus on cutting out red meat in order to make an instant reduction in your carbon footprint.
9. Support rewilding projects and tree planting
We can all protect and care for wild spaces regardless of where we live. The life-giving foundations of many wild spaces around the world are trees.
Trees are amazing. They give us so much that they literally act to geo-engineer the planet and help make it a hospitable place for lifeforms including us and countless other species of flora and fauna. And like some kind of horror film house-guest we cut them down at the first opportunity. Still in doubt? Check out The AWESOME power of trees and 10 reasons to love them.
But trees alone will not provide complete ecosystems without us providing the space for all natural processes to thrive.
We can take inspiration from rewilding projects around the world, taking root and providing havens for wildlife.
From the Knepp Estate in England to the vast Patagonia National Park in South America rewilding is a concept that is growing in size and scope. Research from Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident is also beginning to show that this accidental rewilding reserve can have hugely beneficial consequences when we allow nature the time and space for its life-force to take over.
10. An environmental mindset
Adopt an environmental mindset to help change systems not individuals. Ultimately until we start living in a way that takes all living things into account we will find it difficult to rationalise the huge, fundamental changes that need to take place within our global societies over the coming decades.
We must stop considering the problem of climate change as an issue that individual consumer choices will make go away. In order to reduce and eliminate our carbon emissions, in order to value, respect and appreciate the true beauty of the natural world we need to build our understanding of the environment and the natural world into our lifestyles from the day we are born.
Our education systems, our workplaces, our governments, societies, cultures and communities need to completely transition to an agenda that places the environment at the very core of their priorities. When we live in a world where we respect and value each living thing and all have a mindset that accepts our place in the fundamental structure of the living world then, instead of experiencing anxiety about the state of the environment, we may experience something different. An awe-inspiring appreciation of nature’s beauty and fragility and a deep awareness and understanding of the interconnectedness of life.
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