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David Rose smiling in front of a view over London's skyline

BY Leo Hynett

Culture

Battling Climate Anxiety

Climate change has led to a rise in eco-anxiety, especially amongst well-informed young people who feel powerless in the face of the crisis.

MAY 03  2022

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The climate crisis has been somewhat placed on the back burner amidst other devastating world events, but the situation remains as urgent as ever. However, with the headlines being full of so much stressful content, people are beginning to burn out on how much bleak content they can consume.

 

The rise of eco-anxiety

In the case of climate change, inaction is not a neutral choice. Without action, the situation will only worsen. This makes the outlook feel bleak, especially when so many other things are, understandably, taking up the focus of governments around the world. As a result, levels of eco-anxiety are growing – especially among young people.

Some young people have found themselves having to factor the future of the planet into their reproductive choices, deciding not to have children due to the state of the world they will be leaving behind for the next generation. Many are battling depression and anxiety as they struggle to see a way to rescue the planet from its current downward spiral.

Climate change poses a very real threat to global health – both physical and mental. As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, extreme climate events (such as storms, floods, wildfires, heatwaves and dust storms) will increase in magnitude, frequency and intensity. These events not only pose a threat to the physical health of the people in their vicinity but have negative impacts on the mental health of people across the globe. Fear of future extreme climate events – as well as witnessing the devastation of current events in the media – can be massively detrimental to our mental wellbeing.

‘Although not yet formally considered a diagnosable condition, recognition of eco-anxiety and its complex psychological responses is increasing, as is its disproportionate impacts on children, young people, and the communities with the least resources to overcome the adverse consequences of the climate crisis.’

Perhaps even more concerning than the apocalyptic news is the apparent indifference of the greatest polluters and those in positions of influence. Sadly, unless the picture of the climate crisis changes, eco-anxiety remains inevitable.

 

Climate change in the media

In a September 2021 analysis of words that appeared on UK TV over the past year, the word ‘cake’ came up 10x more than ‘climate change’. The words ‘banana bread’ appeared more frequently than ‘wind power’ and ‘solar power’ combined.

The climate crisis is one of the most urgent issues facing our planet, so why does it often slip off our newsfeeds?

Peaks and troughs in media coverage of climate change can be attributed to a variety of factors. Often, it is not a conscious choice to reduce coverage but a necessity in terms of what publications wish to publicise and prioritise; other major issues or incidents – such as the current war in Ukraine – are regularly competing for front-page coverage.

The news is heavily event-oriented and climate change is a steadily worsening ongoing issue that does not grab attention in the same way as a breaking event. Interest in the issue waxes and wanes over time, often peaking around Earth Day or summits such as COP26.

Readers also tend to reach a point where they no longer wish to read the same doom-laden content, especially with issues such as climate change where any news coverage will inevitably be bleak. If you know that coverage will just leave you feeling sad – and powerless to do anything about the issue – it’s increasingly unlikely that you’ll choose to read it.

This powerlessness contributes significantly to the eco-anxiety many people are now feeling. It’s possible to make sustainable choices for ourselves as individuals, but the impact we can have is just a drop in the ocean when compared to the negative impacts industry and vast corporations have on the planet. Shifting responsibility for the environment onto the consumer has left us feeling responsible for the climate crisis but unable to actually take any meaningful steps to improve matters.

This space in which we feel both responsible for an issue and powerless to change it has recently been dubbed the ‘Sad Gap’. In the Sad Gap, we are both aware of the enormity of the issue and aware that there is very little we can do about it. Traversing the Sad Gap is no easy task, and retreating into ignorance is certainly the more comfortable option. It’s easier to disconnect from coverage of the climate crisis than engage with seeking solutions, especially when it feels like our individual impact is so incredibly small. To tackle the climate crisis – and alleviate our anxieties surrounding it – we must first understand that ‘our shared problems are tremendous, but so is our shared capacity for addressing them.’

Despite individual action, we as consumers can only enact so much change. Combating climate change on the world stage will require global strategy:

‘The climate crisis is an existential threat, and fearfulness about the future cannot be fully tackled until a common united global strategy is put in place to address the root cause, global warming, and to give everyone—especially the young and the most vulnerable communities—the hope of a better future.’

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