Let’s Talk About: Climate Change Anxiety
Here’s the thing. If we are paying attention, we will all feel some sense of dread and despair when it comes to climate change. Feelings that reach new heights with every extreme weather event, every tick of that Climate Clock.
These feelings aren’t new, but a study from a team of researchers led by the Yale School of Public Health, calls these feelings by a relatively new name: climate change anxiety (CCA). CCA is defined as ‘negative cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses associated with concerns about climate change’. Let’s talk about it.
The 4 Major Worries around Climate Change
Almost 300 students at universities in the United States were surveyed for this study, and four major worries around climate change were documented: environmental damage, collective inaction, human global suffering, and individual suffering. Let’s go through them.
1. Environmental damage
The Climate Clock states that we only have seven years until irreversible damage is done to our environment. The irreversibility factor proved a huge worry for the participants of this study. Not only that, but the immediacy with which we are seeing the effects of climate change. We are already experiencing severe heatwaves, hurricanes, wildfires, and climate-related mass migration, to name a few.
2. Collective inaction
Scientists have shared their knowledge about climate change for decades now, yet governments are still failing to make this a matter of urgency. They are still putting very little effort in, considering the enormity of the problem. Big changes aren’t possible without government intervention. We, as a society, have also become quite desensitized to messages regarding climate change, and some people still believe that humans are not actually the cause of climate change. That it’s just nature, doing its thing.
For the rest of us, including those who took part in the study, there is a feeling of helplessness. Of insignificance. No matter how many small, individual steps we take each day – recycling, saving water, taking the bus – they will never amount to enough to seriously curb the effects of climate change. Many people, in many countries, aren’t even able to make those small adjustments to everyday life due to circumstances out of their control. It will never matter if the 100 companies responsible for 70% of the world’s carbon emissions don’t pull their weight.
3. Human global suffering
Participants of the study also expressed fear of the future: pandemics, economic disaster, and civil unrest as more people are forced to leave their homes because of storms, typhoons, floods, drought, and other climate-related disasters. The fact is that climate change is everyone’s problem, but the problem doesn’t affect everyone in the same way (for example, out of the millions of people affected by pollution every year, most are from low-income communities).
4. Individual suffering
There are many questions that the younger generations are asking themselves. Questions of identity, security, and ambitions. How should they plan their futures under the cloud of this threat? Should they have kids, or should they sacrifice becoming parents because of the impact of overpopulation and the fear of what the world might look like when their children are born? When their children have children? These questions cause great anxiety in the students who took part in this survey and, no doubt, many, many others around the world.
Collective Action can Help Ease CCA
The survey found that symptoms of depression were only evident in participants who did not partake in group activities to address climate change. Sarah Lowe, YSPH Assistant Professor of Public Health (Social & Behavioral Sciences) Ph.D. and senior author of the study, said,
‘Our findings suggest that engaging in collective action can buffer the effects of climate change anxiety,’
Everday Actions vs. Collective Action
We know that the small actions we take every day can make a difference, from recycling properly, choosing reusable packaging options, renting clothes instead of buying them, and ditching gas-guzzling cars. But, while those activities are a good starting point, they shouldn’t be the endpoint. Collective action is more about using your voice to advocate for change. It’s about joining groups and communities who find ways to put pressure on governments and companies to make the changes needed to make a visible impact.
Think about who you are and what you are good at and focus your efforts there. Are you a leader or a worker bee? Do you like to plan events? Public speaking? Do you enjoy taking care of people? There are aid groups that help communities cope with the effects of climate change. Make a difference doing what you love. A quick internet search can help you find your place.
Build Yourself a Community
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and it’s completely normal to feel concerned, angry, disappointed, and scared. The fight against it can also be difficult, and disappointing at times. To stay committed, and sane, find your people. Those who are just as passionate. Those who remain steadfast and hopeful, even in the face of all the negativity.
Try not to become desensitized by what you see, hear, and read. Allow yourself to feel everything, and when those feelings get overwhelming, reach out to your people and know that you are not alone. Know that the fight is worth it.