It’s understandable that people feel uneasy as global temperatures rise and the world seems unlikely to take the actions many scientists say are necessary to prevent the most serious consequences of climate change. .
In the last 15 years or so, scholars have become aware of what they call ‘eco-anxiety’ as warnings of environmental damage intensify.
One researcher who has explored this phenomenon, Panu Pihkala of the University of Helsinki, in a 2020 paper studying environmental anxiety, suggests that people who experience environmental anxiety have “meaning or nonsense, feelings of guilt, and feelings associated with mortality”. It showed that deep questions arise. that.
This is the sense of anxiety and stress caused by the damage humans are doing to the planet, such as loss of natural habitats, extinction of species, and especially climate change.
It appears to be widespread, with 75% of 16-25 year olds in 10 countries surveyed for a study to be published in the British Medical Journal in 2021. lancet He described the future as “terrifying.”
fear of uncertainty
Researchers at Canadian University Dubai recently surveyed the views of a diverse group of people in the UAE, including environmental professionals, academics, students and government officials. Their findings were Journal of Social Work Practice.
Aseel Takshe, lead author of the study and associate professor of environmental health sciences at CUD, said there was “a consensus that climate change is the greatest environmental risk of our time.”
Another researcher who has examined environmental anxiety extensively is Charlie Carth of the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University in the United States, who argues that the scope, scale and complexity of climate change are “particularly ripe as targets for environmental anxiety.” .
“We feel anxious not only because the things we care about are threatened, but also because we are uncertain about how that threat will manifest itself, how serious it will be, and when it will occur. There’s this dimension of uncertainty there,” he said.
“With climate change, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty. It is not about whether it is a real phenomenon, but the uncertainty is about what we can We focus on how we influence people.
In fact, researchers say uncertainty, unpredictability, and uncontrollability—all hallmarks of environmental disruption—are anxiety factors more generally.
“As we learn more about the damage that climate change is doing and how that information is being discussed in the news and on social media, we are learning more about how the things we care about are threatened. The more information we have, the more opportunities we have to experience eco-anxiety, ”said Cruz.
Differences from clinical anxiety
Although the term anxiety is often used, this does not mean that the individual experiencing it will be medically diagnosed as suffering from anxiety.
But analysts say that doesn’t diminish the importance of the “moral sentiments” that people can feel about environmental destruction.
As a general rule, according to Kaas, environmental anxiety is found to be more prevalent in countries that have already experienced the impacts of climate change, or where awareness of climate change is generally higher.
It is also more common in young people and women.
For women, this is partly — but not entirely — explained by the fact that women, on average, tend to be more sensitive to their emotions and have a richer vocabulary to express their feelings, according to Kaas. .
Environmental anxiety does not necessarily have to be viewed as an entirely negative experience. That’s because research shows that environmental anxiety, coupled with realistic hope, can be “extremely powerful” in getting people involved.
Researchers call this pungent emotion “practical eco-anxiety,” and say it can help ease deeply pessimistic feelings.
“What’s particularly interesting is that this combination of environmental anxiety and hope seems to be pushing people toward more communal activities,” Kaas said.
“I’m not the one who got worried about the environment and decided to become a more diligent recycler. It’s completely individualistic. I’m going to join my community.”
“It can be very powerful because we have this mechanism where our emotions draw us into joint activities and have the power to actually start having a big impact.”
Understanding Leads to Change
Karth’s research focuses on how individuals and communities actively use environmental anxieties.
“For example, how can we think about the school curriculum in a way that empowers individuals to understand their own feelings and communicate those feelings,” he said.
Similarly, a study by Takshe and co-authors emphasized that recognizing environmental anxiety can help people cope with it.
“By being able to deal with environmental concerns, people are less burdened and know how to cope better,” said Takshe.
Takshe suggested a series of actions that people can take to reduce environmental anxiety.
Recognize your own environmental concerns and act together by reviewing your own habits, including how you shop, how you use plastic, how you deal with plastic waste, and how you generate your carbon footprint. It is also recommended (such as conducting beach cleanups) and is widely seen as a good antidote to environmental anxiety.
“Connect with nature and appreciate it,” said Takshe. “Understand the free service we were born with.”
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Updated: Jan 8, 2023, 3:00 AM