We have much to worry about the weather these days, and talking about it is no longer a simple social prescription as we pass each other by on the street. In fact, there’s a lot to say about it. July 7, 2023, was declared the hottest day to have ever been recorded globally, reaching 0.3 C hotter than the previously held record on August 16, 2016. This was following an onslaught of extreme weather forecasts noted earlier this year, including record-breaking heatwaves across India, Bangladesh and China, unrelenting cyclones in Madagascar and Mozambique, and raging wildfires across Canada that blew an apocalyptic spectacle across the U.S. border. In this blog, PBS alum Lisa Byers discusses eco-anxiety – what it is, and how we can learn to cope with it.
Nowadays, news about the ongoing climate crisis is ubiquitous. It’s on as soon as we turn on the television, as soon as we start perusing online, as soon as we ask Alexa what the weather is like. And rightly so. Extreme weather is no longer a rare occurrence, and it is an alarming cause for concern in every way imaginable. It’s become apparent that we need to make serious and immediate changes to the world around us before its adverse effects drive our extinction further along, and faster. Although a chilling prognosis, global warming is our new, and unnerving, reality.
The rise of eco-anxiety
It goes without saying that all of this is quite alarming. As the term hints at, eco-anxiety underscores a chronic fear of environmental catastrophe as a result of the impacts of climate change, thus heightening concerns for one’s future and generations to follow. Similarly, the term solastalgia was coined to reference emotional or existential distress caused by environmental change. Undoubtedly, it’s a harrowing feeling to harbour when the future of humanity looks grimly uncertain amid climate change, and it’s even more frightening to contemplate whether the outcome is within our control.
Indeed, younger generations are feeling the impact of the climate crisis more than older generations. According to a 2021 study by the Pew Research Centre, 69 per cent of Gen Z felt anxious after consuming online content about climate change. Moreover, a 2021 study by The Lancet Global Survey found that 59 per cent were extremely worried about the state of the environment. It was in November 2022 that the World Economic Forum declared eco-anxiety as a growing mental health crisis.
But climate change has been around since the 18th century, so why is eco-anxiety on the rise now?
We’ve reached a boiling point
While climate change began as early as 1760 during the Industrial revolution, it was American politician Al Gore in 1976 who started ringing the alarm bells a little louder. But throughout the years, there has been some pushback from skeptics about global warming, as environmentalists are condemned for being alarmists and participating in the “Greatest Hoax,” despite overwhelming scientific evidence. For example, on February 26, 2015, U.S. Senator James Inhofe tossed a snowball on the Senate floor before criticizing the unrelenting narratives surrounding global warming, asserting that despite the cold weather outside, climate change is indeed a hoax. Ironically, climate change was declared an emergency a year later by an Australian suburb in 2016, the first council in the world to raise serious environmental concern.
The worry is perhaps that in most recent years, climate change is occurring at a rate we did not anticipate, and we are feeling the tangible and immediate effects more than before. Fast-forward from 1976, social media is also flooding our devices with information about the state of the world on a moment-by-moment basis, giving us 24/7 access to climate content. And it makes sense that younger generations are more likely to be feeling eco-anxiety than older generations, because the future ultimately belongs to them. Prioritizing self- and communal preservation has become more of an urgency now more than perhaps it has ever been.
How can we cope?
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of eco-anxiety, here are a few ways to cope:
- Talk to someone
Seeking professional counselling may be an effective way to manage symptoms of eco-anxiety and build resilience by establishing appropriate methods and coping mechanisms. Connecting with like-minded people and those who are climate-optimists – that is, those who believe the Earth is worth fighting for – can also inspire a sense of control against the negative impacts of environmental change.
- Take a media break
Although it’s important to stay informed about ways to keep safe and healthy amidst environmental disasters, it’s just as important to moderate news intake to manage stress levels. Setting a reminder or an alarm to encourage a break from reading, watching, or listening to the news, turning off notifications, and if using a mobile device, you can manage your screen time through apps that track time spent on your phone to limit consumption.
- Become an eco-activist
Actively engaging in climate change work can be fulfilling and invoke hope in fighting the detrimental impacts of global warming. Planting trees, practicing sustainable living, speaking with local political representatives, signing petitions, or joining a climate activism group are effective ways of taking back some form of control in securing our future. Some climate activism initiatives include the Environmental Defence Fund, the Climate Network, and the David Suzuki Foundation, to name a few. Equally important, engaging with Indigenous communities to learn from their way of living, customs, traditions, relationships with nature and land protection is vital in asserting foundational changes required to address global warming.
In the fight for climate change, hope may be our strongest ally. As we march along the Extinction Rebellion, our duty is to harness climate-positive actions and structured responses to drive forward the change needed to reverse the inimical effects of climate change. And we need to do so urgently. So, the next time someone asks you about the weather, tell them you’re working on it.
- The opinions in this post are of the author, not of the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science or LSE.
- All images licence-free from Canva.
- Albrecht, G., Satore, G.M., Connor, L., Higginbotham, N., Freeman, S., Kelly, B., Stain, H., Tonna, A., Pollard, G. (2007). Solastagia: the distress caused by environmental change. Australas Psychiatry, 15 Suppl 1:S95-8.
- CACE. (n.d.). History of climate emergency action by councils. CACE Online.
- Grill, K. (2022). Eco-anxiety is harming young people’s mental health – but it doesn’t have to. World Economic Forum.
- Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pikhala, P., Clayton, S., et al. (2021). Climate anxiety in children and young p people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet, 5(12), E863-E873.
- Tyson, A., Kennedy, B., Funk, C. (2021). Gen Z, Millennials stand out for climate change activism, social media engagement with issue. Pew Research Centre.