A sweltering summer has seen extreme weather events dominate news headlines. Along with an increase in coverage, these headlines are becoming increasingly scary.
Adding to this, the UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared that ‘the era of global warming has ended and the era of global boiling has arrived’ with scientists confirming that July was the world’s hottest month on record. The first three weeks of July was the warmest three-week period on record according to Copernicus Climate Change Service. This time period saw extreme weather events, including heatwaves in Europe, North America and Asia and wildfires in Canada and Greece. In light of this, Guterres urged for imminent action and ‘that the air is unbreathable, the heat is unbearable and the level of fossil fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable.’
But extreme weather events and the impacts of the climate crisis have been happening around the world, with almost 22 million people displaced every year by weather-related events over the past decade. It is only now, when New York is shrouded in orange fog and holiday destinations are burning, that the Western world is waking up to the crisis. What about those who have had their livelihoods and homes washed away by flash floods and burnt by wildfires, being forced to become climate migrants? Most of these climate migrants will be from countries with the least capacity to deal with the impacts of the climate crisis.
These headlines and the scary reality of the climate crisis can be paralysing and even anxiety-inducing. Within this article, I’m going to explore the concept of climate anxiety and some ways to look after the planet and our mental health.
Climate anxiety or eco-anxiety is a ‘chronic fear of environmental doom, a worry about what might happen if the world does not take action to avert disaster in time.’ The experience of feeling powerless is primarily affecting people experiencing the climate crisis first-hand and young people. Climate anxiety can manifest as intrusive thoughts or feelings of distress surrounding the impacts of climate change. While a small amount of worry can be motivating, excessive worry or fear can be overwhelming and paralysing. Force of Nature highlights that over 70% of young people feel hopeless in the face of the climate crisis. This statistic is alarming and is why Force of Nature is setting out to shift mindsets from feeling powerless to feeling connected and resilient.
Engaging in collective action, and joining groups with similar values and goals can shift feelings of alienation and anxiety into a sense of connectedness. Talking and engaging with a social support group is one of the best things to do to look after mental well-being as Dr Lowe, a clinical psychologist, argues. It can boost a sense of hope for the future and the planet. By making connections and talking, feelings of helplessness and anxiety can seem less overwhelming.
Focus on what is within your control
Talking with friends and family about the manageable, personal things that can be done in everyday life can also help with a sense of achievement and action in the face of the climate crisis. Asking questions such as whether your family or friends could eat less meat, discussing whether walking or taking public transport more often is an option and whether is it possible to recycle more or buy things with less packaging are just some manageable ways to help the environment.
Surround yourself with helpful media
Another form of self-preservation in the face of climate anxiety is avoiding over-exposure to alarmist headlines. Make sure you engage with and follow accounts which cover the climate crisis in a way you respond to, perhaps in a measured educational and hopeful way. Accounts such as Earthrise Studio and Sustainability for Students are creative education spaces of hope. Earthrise Studio creates stunning visual stories which aim to ‘transform climate, culture and consciousness’ and Sustainability for Students aims to provide readers with reliable resources on climate change and sustainability.
Professor Jim Skea, recently elected UN Climate Change Chief, encourages us to ignore the doom-mongers and apocalyptic messages about climate change. Instead, surround yourself with hopeful media, focus on what is in your control, talk and engage in collective action.