Ecological Anxiety: How the looming threat of climate change is causing a large wave of intense anxiety
It’s no surprise that the greatest existential threat to our species and our environment is causing us stress. For most, a little worry about climate change is normal. For others, trauma and anxiety plague their mental state. Ecological anxiety, eco-anxiety, or climate anxiety refer to the ongoing stress and despair caused by our environmental issues. Eco-anxiety impacts many people, but especially younger generations who will be living in the world under climate change.
Eco-anxiety can be caused by a range of climate change’s effects. Some worry about our inaction and inevitable environmental destruction; others worry about their homes flooding or prolonged drought. Individuals in the Global South often have increased eco-anxiety as they will experience the most changes in extreme weather events. Climate activists are prone to eco-anxiety when they feel their work is not enough.
Our environmental issues span the entire globe and involve intricate social, economic, and biological systems. This complex problem requires a complex solution, one that no single human could accomplish. Unfortunately, the vast nature of the problem only contributes to eco-anxiety further, as people feel that any action taken against climate change will make no difference.
Dr. Patrick Kennedy-Williams, a clinical psychologist from Oxford University, found an interesting trend among his peers in the climate sciences. They came to him for guidance as they experienced increased stress and anxiety from their work. Kennedy-Williams noted how the heightened exposure to negative information led to their increased despair.
The most devastating finding is the appearance of eco-anxiety in young, primary-school-age children. Kennedy-Williams learned this when his six-year-old daughter asked him about climate change after a day at school. Climate change has become such an existential threat that nearly every person on the planet copes with it. Everyone may not be concerned about climate change, but it is not uncommon for those who care to also feel anxiety.
Climate anxiety is often higher in younger generations, from Millennials to Generation Alpha, because they have inherited the worst effects of the crisis. This is only exacerbated when older generations are reluctant to act. In fact, inaction is the key to eco-anxiety. Even as our environmental problems seem too large to handle, creating positive change can ease the looming dread. The solution to eco-anxiety is the solution to climate change: swift and responsible action. The more we prolong climate action, the worse effects we will feel, both physical and psychological.
Eco-anxiety is an unfair consequence of climate change and environmental degradation. The individuals who are facing the worst physical effects of climate change are often feeling the worst climate anxiety. The loss of hope is what is worrisome. We cannot let anxiety immobilize us. We have to continue fighting climate change and mainstreaming ecological citizenship. So long as we keep working on the problem, we can quell the worst of the anxiety. We have the power to change the course of climate change and we cannot give up now.