With eco-anxiety on the rise, now it’s time to intervene

With eco-anxiety on the rise, now it’s time to intervene

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Fierce forest fires, devastating floods, global epidemics, an increased number of hailstorms and tornadoes, are all visible consequences of climate change. Increasing awareness of these disasters around the world affects human health psychologically, especially among children and young adults. This novel psychological problem is known as "eco-anxiety."

Climate change, the disruption of the normal cycle of seasonal warming and cooling, is not a recent phenomenon as its early effects began decades ago. For example, according to Climate Change History, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius introduced one of the earlier theories of climate change in 1895, and he suggested that global temperatures would increase by 5 degrees Celsius. More than a century later, modern climate modeling has confirmed Arrhenius’ numbers.

Most of us understand the effects of climate change such as air pollution, drought, and epidemics. But we know little about how climate change affects our mental health. Scientists at the Institute of Global Health Innovation and the Grantham Institute report that the more concerned people are about the future of the world, the more likely they are to suffer from mental health issues. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), when these issues are severe, they may turn into a chronic fear of environmental doom, which is labeled as “eco-anxiety”.

A video clip “How does climate change affect our mental health?” by the Institute of Global Health Innovation and the Grantham Institute

Young people extremely worried about the climate crisis

Not only adults but also young people experience such climate-related concerns. According to a survey conducted by the APA in 2020, more than two-thirds of Americans are somewhat or extremely anxious about the impact of climate change on the planet. The survey reveals that 67% of Gen Zers (18-23 years) and 63% of millennials (24-39 years) are somewhat or very concerned about the impact of climate change on their mental health compared to 42% of baby boomers (56-74 years) and 58% of Gen Xers (40-55 years).

Two questions on climate change and mental health from APA Public Opinion Poll.

Another survey conducted by the University of Bath among children and young adults shows that political inaction contributes to eco-anxiety. This survey conducted across 10 counties with 10 thousands of young people, for the first time, also shows that climate distress and anxiety are significantly related to perceived government inaction and associated feelings of betrayal. 64% of children and young people surveyed said their governments are not doing enough to avoid a climate catastrophe. University of Bath researcher Caroline Hickman highlights that the disconnect between what politicians say and what they do troubles the youth: “Broken promises and inaction coupled with the enormity of the climate crisis are all beginning to take their toll on children’s mental health.”

Although the empty words and inaction of politicians trigger eco-anxiety in young people, some young climate and environmental activist turn their concerns into actions courageously.

Actions to mitigate climate change can positively influence mental health

According to the data and discussions of scientists, we won’t “solve” climate change, at least not any time soon. But that doesn't mean there's nothing we can do. While helping to improve the environment, we also help ourselves. Climate change mitigation options can be directly beneficial to mental health. Dr. Gesche Huebner, a Senior Research Associate at the UCL Energy Institute, talks about the co-benefits of climate change mitigation actions that are helpful also for mental health in a podcast episode. Such small actions like reducing fossil fuel-powered traffic, moving to electric vehicles, and promoting active transfers such as walking and cycling that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, she claims, not only make us feel better physically and mentally but also mitigate the effects of climate change.



A podcast episode on the impacts of climate change on mental health by UCL Energy Institute

Dr. Huebner further explains in Climate change and mental health that electric vehicles and active transport trade less noise and produce less heat. Infrastructure for active transport such as cycling or walking reduces the surface area of roads and parking spaces. We create more green and blue spaces for trees, plants, and water, all of which support our mental health. These “small” solutions applied to our communities can be bigger for one's mental health than they seem.

Eco-anxiety is on the rise, but anyone who is aware of the consequences of climate change could act now. We can start with walking or cycling as one of the basic solutions to reduce visible consequences of climate change as well as eco-anxiety. The next step would be to work with our communities to create green urban spaces freed of fossil-fueled traffic from which we all benefit mentally and physically.

What plans do you have?

Merve Kartal//  30 March 2022 // #GoingGreen

Merve Kartal has been working in the civil society sector for eleven years. She is currently Financial Support Programme Manager of the ongoing Media for Democracy, Democracy for Media Project in Turkey. She guides journalists in terms of networking, organization, visibility, and fundraising. She has significant experience in developing and implementing democratic support mechanisms for activists, civil society organizations, and journalists in Turkey. She contributes to the communication and PR activities of German Sparkassenstiftung Turkey as a Communication Specialist. She is currently studying in the M.A. Digital Journalism at HMKW University in Berlin.

(Edited by Ralitza Petrova - original submission Wednesday, 30 March 2022, 2:06 PM)