Climate Change Anxiety

By: Dania Ahmed

Climate change in the context of mental health - The Concordian

There are two kinds of ways to enact significant change, these ways manifest themselves into the two distinct avenues of individual change and systematic change. A topic which I personally find very interesting. Initially in regards to the climate crisis, I found myself instinctively inclined towards agreeing that significant change can only occur through change enacted by the government which then seeds itself into society and consequently individuals as well. But upon discussion with one of my peers who held the opposing view, I became stuck in the middle. I believe I was inherently drawn to systematic change because I thought individual change takes too long, we still have many individuals who do not even believe in the climate crisis, so how can individual action be feasible? In a geography class I took in first year we were introduced to the concept of Catastrophism or Climate Anxiety, and upon further reflection I feel as if those were the underlying tones to my initial thoughts. This idea of impending doom at a global scale takes on an alarmist narrative that subsequently causes nihilistic thoughts and diminishes hope in individual change. In the following video the concept of eco-anxiety was explored, but what I found most interesting were the comments.

Do you have climate change anxiety? | BBC Ideas 

I would encourage others to look through the comments and reflect on the different viewpoints presented. I personally found some comments such as,

“we ARE yelling at rich people. We ARE yelling at the government … If we don’t dramatically change the global energy consumption and the type of energy used, it will create a feedback loop that will eventually and inevitably lead to mass extinction. Individual action won’t change this. An individual is powerless to stopping this.

that portrayed dissatisfaction with individual change to stand in stark contrast with other comments such as

“Wow, I don’t feel this at all. I became a Environmental scientist, the more I learn, the more empowered I feel, the better I feel to take action.” that show optimism in individual change.

What is interesting to note though, is that this alarmist narrative presents the climate crisis as a non-political issue when in fact it is highly political. A general consensus that I picked up on from my own lived experiences in environmental activism is that it is through the avenues of minimalism, legislation, population control, carbon tax cap and trade, and vegetarianism that both individual and systematic change are needed to make significant strides in solving this climate crisis. This is something I came to whole heartedly agree with because individuals can only do so much, and the government can also only implement policing on environmental issues to a certain extent. I feel as if once both “parties” are able to meet each other halfway, then a major ontological shift in societal values can take hold and we may become eligible to enter a new era of ecological prosperity.

5 thoughts on “Climate Change Anxiety

  1. A very interesting topic indeed. In fact, so interesting and worth discussing that I decided to invest more time than I had planned originally into writing this comment by first digging through all the (electronic) course materials from my ENV222 (recently re-named Pathways to Sustainability: An Interdisciplinary Approach, then called Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies) class from two years ago because I knew that there was something worth bringing up that would support my stance, arguments, and/or conclusions. (Yes, it has been over two years since I last opened those PDF lecture slides and readings.)

    I stand with Dania in regard to how “both individual and systematic change are needed to make significant strides in solving this climate crisis”. With respect to the YouTube video on eco-anxiety, the comments/opinions were a mixed bag, but I guess that is to be expected for almost any issue/situation out there. However, having done my undergraduate degree in the environmental and health/life sciences (Environment & Toxicology Specialist with minors in Environmental Science and Physiology), I am fully aware of the climate crisis we are living in right now. I truly sympathize with those who are already starting to see/feel the effects of climate change on their lives, such as that from the person who claimed that she has experienced water scarcity last summer, but what is more depressing to hear is that there is quite a number of people who still believe that climate change is not real, thus creating a group of helpless and powerless individuals who believe otherwise. In my opinion, eco-anxiety would always be one of the hardest issues to cure from a social sciences perspective simply because not everyone has the same mindset as you. You may say that we could start at the individual level since every little bit of progress made counts, which is, of course, true, but that would likely take a long time before we can begin reaping the fruits of our hard work. Perhaps the best way to start alleviating climate change anxiety is to get all climate change deniers onboard a journey of education so that they could hopefully and eventually be swayed by the mounting scientific evidence behind climate change.

    However, the reasons why different views are being held between some members of the general public and the scientific community surrounding climate warming as well as why education of the community of climate change deniers can be very hard to achieve are actually deeply rooted in psychology. I have reached this conclusion after re-reading one of the assigned readings from ENV222, which states that climate change is “a complex, large-scale and unintentionally caused phenomenon” and that climate change presents six psychological barriers to the human moral judgement system that make it hard to be identified as an “important moral imperative” and therefore “motivate an urgent need for action in the way that other moral imperatives do”. (Here is the link to the article if you are interested: https://climateaccess.org/system/files/Markowitz_Climate%20Change%20and%20Moral%20Judgement.pdf) Of the six psychological barriers outlined in the said paper, the most important ones about climate change are that it is an abstract, non-intuitive, and cognitively hard to grasp; that it is not a product of intentional action; that it easily provokes self-defensive biases; and that the consequences of climate change will only be experienced by those living in less developed countries and thus “in faraway places” or those “who will live far in the future, or both”. In brief, climate change is a reality generated unintentionally through anthropogenic activities, and is a very “abstract, temporally and spatially distant phenomenon consisting of many different, disparate and seemingly incongruous events”. Therefore, communicators must implement different approaches to overcome these common psychological barriers so that climate science can be effectively communicated to their audience and hopefully everyone will eventually recognize climate change as a moral imperative.

  2. Very timely article! Especially after the gas leak at the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve been more and more frequently seeing expressions of hopelessness towards the environment on social media. I feel like climate depression has been increasing as well with alarmist messages not only on environmentalism but also about the future of humanity. It’s quite difficult to balance between the pessimism and practicality and optimism… Similar to the balance in calling people to action without guilt tripping. I’m also wrestling with these concepts myself.

  3. This topic creates many different perspectives and opinions from individuals globally. When looking at the comments of the video provided, the contrast in responses regarding individualistic action and systematic change provided a small insight into the beliefs and views of many different people. Many commenters shamed others for believing in climate change anxiety and others entirely doubted the concept of global warming. Reading the comments of the video also provided a very surprising display of the disregard for Earth and its condition, which I found to be very alarming. Seeing the disparity of personal beliefs in those stating they experience climate change anxiety compared to those who truly believe it’s a myth provides an insight into how disconnected people are to each other in our modern-day age. What I also found to be interesting is the blame that many commenters put onto the younger generation, with one saying: “What is wrong with the young snow flaked today???” This criticism further expands the generational gap and creates a disconnect between humankind. After watching the video, the perspectives of the speakers were very interesting to learn about because of the differences in their thoughts, despite speaking about the same topic. One individual spoke about the global impact of climate change, while another spoke about the topic much more personally, connecting the future of the Earth with childhood innocence, which again illustrates the varying perspectives many have on this topic. One term that stuck with me the most and which I believe sums up the image of climate change anxiety well, is hopelessness.

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