In this post, Nick Fillmore discusses the emergence of climate change anxiety. As people around the globe begin to encounter the truth about climate change — the anticipation of where the next climate-related disaster will hit and issues of personal safety and survival — medical experts are warning that we are “not even close to being prepared for the damage being done to our mental health.” (Rolly Montpellier~Editor for BoomerWarrior).
Climate Change Anxiety
Image credit: Australian science communicator Joe Duggan, as a master’s student, began asking climate scientists in 2014 how being on the front lines of climate science makes them feel. The hand-written responses he got back showed a level of emotion and concern the public never sees.
About three years ago I decided to devote a lot of time to writing about the threat of climate change. I felt then – and feel now – that the planet is going to be in one hell of a worse mess in a few years unless we take action on a scale never seen before. It is unlike any previous threat we’ve ever faced in history.
After I had published two or three items on various news sites, I was surprised – actually shocked – to learn that, compared to other topics I have written about – such as international financial mismanagement and neo-liberalism – very few people read the climate change articles.
To try to find out why this is the case, I spoke with a few friends. Most said the thought of dramatic changes occurring on Earth were overwhelming. Worse still, they felt powerless to change the course of history.
As it turned out, hardly any of my friends wanted to learn more about the threat or find out how they might help fight climate change.
I don’t know the psychological state of my friends, but an Australian psychologist believes she knows why millions of people are reacting emotionally to climate change.
Dr. Susie Burke of the Australian Psychological Society says that, as life on earth becomes more abnormal over time, it can bring on all kinds of feelings in people. Knowing this, I’d say some of my friends are in what is perhaps an early anxiety stage concerning the threat of climate change. As conditions worsen, their symptoms can be expected to worsen.
“Many people may feel seriously concerned, frightened, angry, pessimistic, distressed, or guilty in response to climate change,” she says. “Qualitative research finds evidence of some people being deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness, and frustration due to their inability to feel they are making a difference in stopping climate change.
Photo credit: Getty images
“New terms such as ‘eco-anxiety’ or ‘climate change anxiety’ are sometimes used to describe this.”
Dr. Burke says that if people experience something like an extreme weather disaster, the impact on them can get worse.
So disasters occurring because of climate change, in addition to destroying our environment, will also affect us psychologically and mentally.
Depression, PTSD and complicated grief reactions are the most common mental health problems…..and many, many more people who do not end up with a diagnosis of depression or PTSD, nonetheless end up with heightened distress, grief, stress and strain.
The most disastrous impacts are occurring in some developing countries. Recently a city in western India suffered through the country’s highest ever recorded temperature – a scorching 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 F). As a result of crops being wiped out by excessive heat, hundreds of depressed farmers across 13 states have killed themselves.
In Karachi, Pakistan, in anticipation of another heat wave this year, officials hired a digger to excavate three elongated trenches big enough for 300 bodies. In Canada, while climate change is not nearly as damaging – at least so far– as in many other countries, it already is having an impact on the mental health of many people.
Worst affected are the northern First Nations and Inuit, peoples who have a close relationship with nature. Melting permafrost is damaging vital ice roads, making them unstable and unsafe. In the past, roads in Ontario used to import vital goods, were safe about 70 days a year. Now they’re passable only about 35 days. The changes have made hunting more unpredictable. Changes in ice flow patterns have made hunting walrus more difficult.
Isadore Day, Ontario’s regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, says that despair over climate change is contributing to mental health and social problems, possibly even record-breaking suicide rates.
Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, an assistant professor of indigenous studies at Cape Breton University, says the impact of climate change on northern peoples was evident back in 2009, when she did her PhD dissertation in Labrador. She says family stress was elevated. Anxiety and depression seemed to be amplified. More people were turning to drugs and alcohol and having suicidal thoughts.
Interestingly, Willox said the people she interviewed weren’t talking to each other about their fears – which, I think, is similar to the way some of my friends are responding to the emerging crisis.
Some farmers on the Canadian prairies are also experiencing severe anxiety. Farmers have always been at the mercy of the weather at the best of times. But Kim Keller, who worked on her family’s grain farm about 200 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, told The Toronto Star that climate change is hitting some farmers hard. The dramatic changes are amplifying mental distress as farmers struggle with the floods, unseasonable frosts, and windstorms that scientists say are becoming more frequent and severe.
Planting crops year to year is becoming a “roll of the dice,” said Keller, a third-generation farmer. “The weather we tend to experience lately seems to be at one extreme or the other — drought or flooding, -40 C or 35 C. These unpredictable and extreme weather patterns add to all the other stressors farmers experience and deal with.”
In Alberta, the lives of thousands of people have been upended by the massive Fort McMurray wildfires, an event that is consistent with the predictions of climate change scientists. It’s not hard to predict that many people who will continue to live in the area will suffer anxiety. Meanwhile, the CBC reports that children who experienced the fires are suffering from stress.
On a worldwide scale, it appears that the impact of climate change on human health will be receiving much more attention in the future. A report by the United Nations Human Rights Council released in May says that massive action is needed to protect the human rights – particularly the mental health – of people.
The report warns: “The negative health impacts of climate change will increase exponentially with every incremental increase in warming. Limiting warming to the greatest extent possible and achieving the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels should therefore be the objective of all climate action.”
The problems in developing countries the report addresses also apply to native groups living in the Canadian North and prairie farmers: “States should establish, inter alia, early warning systems; utilize community-based monitoring, including traditional knowledge; enhance emergency response capabilities; and improve coordination in addressing climate migration . . . .”
While many Canadian mental health and some government officials are aware of the impact of climate change on human health, it does not appear that the actions recommended by the UN are being carried out in Canada.
This post was originally published at nickfillmore.blogspot.com.
Taking action — and crying, sobbing, lamenting, grieving and eating too much popcorn through it — is our only hope. Much of my despair comes from witnessing the apathy and inaction of my friends, colleagues, relatives, neighbours and fellow community members. It seems they don’t want to “feel bad” — so they’re willing to condemn their children’s future so they can continue to feel good today.
Where is the anger? Where is the outrage that Big Money and Big Oil have us committing progenycide?
I can’t shake the thought that the people who become mentally and emotionally incapacitated about this (there aren’t many yet, not where I live at least) are the ones who aren’t doing anything about the climate change emergency — not even looking at it.
Thank you GreenHearted for sharing your sense of frustration.
People will never be ready to face climate truth until it’s too late. I’m 100% convinced of that. The media and our politics do humanity a huge disservice by downplaying the truth about imminent climate catastrophe. And those of us who dare to “see” or “peak” into the future are destined to suffer the emotional trauma of it all. But then, is it not better to be prepared and to know this? Is it not better to do everything we can to shape climate policy both nationally and globally? That’s what I plan to do. I will go down swinging as the saying goes.
Technology that can bring about the needed change by powering societies around the world on extraction of carbon from the atmosphere is available if and when people are ready for the changeover that is needed; but while many are continually lamenting the climate issue no one it seems really understands what is needed and what is available to society and is also ready to make it happen if it means being first to do so. Every one of us is sitting in this boat and we all see it is sinking and there is a technology that can plug the huge hole that is letting massive carbon emissions (from human activities) escape into earth’s atmosphere, and it will take only a few of us to help put the plug in place.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has — Margaret Mead
Giving only minimal value to the planet’s benefits to humanity there are already new concept technologies languishing in the wings that could save humanity 100 to 1000 dollars for every dollar invested into demonstrating them and documenting all their inputs and outputs and in deploying them around the world. This article is about climate anxiety and a famous person once said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.
Advanced Alternative Energy
1207 N 1800 Rd.
Lawrence, KS 66049
Les’ quote from Margaet mead is dead right. Only the people can break this ‘climate silence’
But its clear to me that people badly need ‘safe places’ to talk about climate and related issues. Most of the population is not yet prepared to be branded ‘green’ – despite the obvious realities. It’s a harsh world out there for people awakening to the realities of the climate catastrophe we already face. That’s why women, who in general have a higher acceptance of dangerous climate change than men, are less likely to talk about the issue than men. The theory is that thinking and talking about future climate impacts on their children is greater for women than for men (see G Marshall 2014: Don’t Even Think About It. Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change). One positive action we can all take is through support for Community Climate Groups – that allow concerned people to openly discuss their concerns and ways to work to change society to act responsibly on energy issues. Politicians will not change the status quo until the ‘climate silence’ is broken, and the swell of public opinion and outrage is much higher.
Another obvious need is for climate change to be apoliticised; dont keep blaming the pollies. The silence is our fault – and we must never frame the issue as the domain of only a certain party. More talk and action that promotes climate change as a policy issue vital to people of all political persuasions – could help to reduce the anxiety felt by millions about this threat to all our futures.
Thank you John for your response to this article and welcome to BoomerWarrior.
I like your use of the term climate silence: “Politicians will not change the status quo until the ‘climate silence’ is broken, and the swell of public opinion and outrage is much higher.” In recent weeks I’ve attended climate consultation town hall meetings in Ottawa. I’ve also been part of a group of lobbyists with Citizens’ Climate Lobby who have met with elected Members of Parliament. We are trying to break that silence by encouraging and pressuring our politicians to enact the climate policy as well as clean energy policy.
There is no more time to waste. We need to talk about and act on the issues now.
John here are a couple more quotes you might also like;
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things for the reformer has enemies in all who profit from the old order.” –Niccolo Machiavelli, 1513
“We may need to solve some problems not by removing the cause but by designing the way forward even if the cause remains in place.”
~ Edward de Bono
de Bono’s position doesn’t take into account situations where there is really no problem at all, where a large and/or complex problem exists that cannot be completely resolved no matter what is done (like global warming and climate change) and situations where many problems exist that could all be dealt with at once, (again like global warming and climate change) but progress is being stymied since many still perceive themselves to be benefitting from the old order and won’t even acknowledge that changes must be undertaken for the good of all.. ~ Les Blevins
I have to say I’m glad I looked into the climate change stuff carefully early on, and I am thankful there are scientists out there willing to put out the message in clear ways (such that even if we stopped burning fossil fuels this very second, we are in the end game).
Sure those facts caused me a lot of tears, depression, anxiety, etc., but now I have moved to acceptance that we all are going to die – and quite possibly within decades as the methane ices melt. And that’s okay because sooner or later everyone dies, and sooner or later all species die too. I still fear, though, that I am way ahead of the curve here because people are not acting rationally about what is happening before their eyes, let alone what must happen as it becomes harder and hard to feed the population, the waters envelop the nuclear power plants which explode, cities crumble as the water rises, etc.
As these disasters become more and more common, anxieties will mount. Insurance can only cover so much, but they are going to eventually go bankrupt or be too expensive to afford for most people. If we want society to not turn into a living hell of panic, national mental health facilities need to be ready and prepared, not in fantasy land where the media currently lives. There is an elephant in the room, and it must be addressed seriously now.
Hello Roger – I appreciate your comments about the article.
Indeed you are ahead of the curve in your approach to climate change. Disasters and climate impacts on food security, drinking water, etc. thus far have been occurring as isolated events – wildfires here and there, regional droughts, a damaging hurricane followed by a typhoon a few months later. But at some point, in the not too distant future, climate events will succeed one another at an increasingly alarming rate – one after the other – and the reality of climate change will set in. Panic will rule.
The major problem with climate change and people’s response to the issue, in my humble opinion, is the accumulated benefit of many years of affluence made possible by reliance on the consumption of fossil fuels, and the reluctance to let go of the comfort of heating and travel and all the joys of modern civilization. Denial of climate change can be easy to manipulate in such an environment. Scientists are, generally speaking, skilled at understanding the physical challenge of the phenomenon, but they lack the political expertise to communicate with the masses out there in society. Most people are susceptible to media reassurances about the scope of these phenomena, and they carry on with their modern lifestyle compounding the problem. Many of the people concerned about this issue continue to fly in jetliners and drive private cars, etc.It does suggest a trace of hypocrisy to me. And population continues to grow worldwide.
Kevin – thank you for your comments and for following BoomerWarrior.
I agree that climate change is a symptom of chronic economic growth and over-exploitation and over-consumption and yes overpopulation. Our modern culture is just too cozy for us to give up. Many of us choose to ignore the ovbious and continue, as you say, to enjoy the “good life” at our own peril.
We are on a downward spiral.
I have so much climate change anxiety I can’t even get through this article. My heartrate increases and the guilt I feel over having brought my baby daughter into this world is overwhelming.
Portia – welcome to BoomerWarrior. I believe you’re a first-timer.
Indeed millions of people are suffering with the anxiety of climate change. And it’s not just the immediate stress/anxiety relating to a climate event like a drought, flood or wildfire. It’s also just the low-grade anxiety underlying an everyday life of not quite knowing what will come next as the globe continues to warm at an accelerated pace.
I’ve found that the best mechanism for climate anxiety/depression is to get involved with others who share similar concerns and feelings. Becoming active is the antidote.
Good luck and thank you for your comments.