The rise of climate anxiety


The physical impact of the climate crisis is impossible to ignore, but experts are becoming increasingly concerned about another, less obvious consequence of the escalating emergency – the strain it is putting on people’s mental wellbeing, especially the young.

He says there is no way to completely shield young people from the reality of the climate crisis, and argues that would be counter­productive even if it were possible. Rather, parents should talk to their children about their concerns and help them feel empowered to take action – however small – that can make a difference.

A key moment for Kennedy-Williams came with the realisation that tackling “climate anxiety” and tackling the climate crisis were intrinsically linked.

“The positive thing from our perspective as psychologists is that we soon realised the cure to climate anxiety is the same as the cure for climate change – action. It is about getting out and doing something that helps.

“Record and celebrate the changes you make. Nobody is too small. Make connections with other people and at the same time realise that you are not going to cure this problem on your own. This isn’t all on you and it’s not sustainable to be working on solving climate change 24/7.”

“We’re going to see massive, massive widespread climate crisis in every country around the world, so it’s about developing the emotional resilience to carry on, but in a way that ignites really dramatic individual initiative.”

Bad or threatening facts tend to resonate more strongly – and therefore stick in the mind. So try to balance one piece of negative news with three pieces of positive news. Have some examples of good climate-related news ready – for example, successful conservation projects.

Record and celebrate your climate successes together (even a piece of paper on the fridge door). Reinforce the message that small actions can make a big difference.

“Experts concerned young people’s mental health particularly hit by reality…”

I’ve watched people in various movements celebrate success after success over the years.

Most recently anti-fascists in front of the US Embassy sporadically called “Nazis out!” and “Take off!” during a several hour long fascist demonstration. From the standpoint of the fascist audience those yelling looked and sounded impotent and silly. I heard several older fascist women comment disapprovingly about the leftists employing children to catcall. There was no sign of people experiencing a revelation of “You know what? We really are Nazis. Let’s leave!” — instead there was some return chanting. At several times both groups yelled “Nazis out!” at each other. Afterwards on social media the anti-fascists celebrated their successful chanting.

Very pleasant and well-meaning anti-war protesters stand outside military bases in the US for several hours a day or two each month. The turnout is very consistent: four to six at one site. One guy who’s been going out for years exulted that a demonstration last year “hit double digits” when twelve demonstrators showed up. No one employed at the bases leaves and joins the demonstration. No one refuses to fly a drone, launch a missile. On social media demonstrators celebrate their successes: they successfully stood by the side of the road for several hours. They held those hand-painted signs. A success!

This Guardian article argues “there is no way to completely shield young people from the reality of the climate crisis”. What are adults assumed to be doing about the reality of the climate crisis while they are shielding the young — “developing the emotional resilience to carry on, but in a way that ignites really dramatic individual initiative”? “Really dramatic individual initiative” is what is highlighted in dramas which draw passive viewers to couches in front of video screens, to theaters in search of distraction, Greta Thunberg crossing the Atlantic on a yacht. “Carrying on” by continuing to ensure existing power relations remain unchanged is not what the reality of the climate crisis calls for.

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