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Climate anxiety is real. Why is it important to discuss it?

Climate anxiety is real. Why is it important to discuss it?

Climate anxiety is real. Why talking about it matters

As The climate is changingNegative environmental effects are a common problem. being felt seenAround the world

Climate change and its impact Mental healthThis is not always obvious or easily visible. This feeling is often referred to as climate anxiety or ecology anxiety. Please describe as a “chronic fear of environmental doom”. Recent studies have confirmed that it is being felt. by young peopleAll over the world, and by a A significant number of adults.

What about the people who analyse the data, build models and quantify the effects and flow on effects climate change? How do they feel about it?

We have just looked at two projects to find out some of the answers. An articleThe Lancet Planetary Health Journal. One projectThe other was a photographic project that asked climate scientists to express their feelings about climate change in handwritten letters. Another was a photographic project. Environmental researchers were photographed while expressing their feelings about the state the planet.

We discovered that scientists felt complex, varied, and often contradictory emotions about what was happening to the planet. Their feelings echo those of non-scientists and can be overwhelming, whether negative or positive – but they can also, we believe, be harnessed to create spaces where people can talk honestly and openly about their fears and about potential solutions. This matters because, if we don’t talk, we risk increased feelings of Isolation can lead to helplessnessAnd inaction.

‘Is this how you feel?’

Between 2014 and 2020 one of us, science communicator Joe Duggan, approached climate scientists around the world and asked them: “How does climate change make you feel?” He collected their responses in the form of short, hand-written letters. Five years after the initial “Is this how you feel?”He launched the project and he contacted some of the original contributors to ask the same question. These letters were displayed in galleries, and online.

We analysed the letters to determine their emotional sentiment as part of our Lancet article.

After analyzing all the letters submitted during the project’s lifetime, it became apparent that climate scientists feel many emotions regarding the climate. Some positive, some negative.

The negative emotions were more frequent, with participants identifying feelings such as “distress”, “anger”, and “upset”. Initially, “hope” appeared as the most frequent positive emotion. The more we studied this, it became clearer that feeling optimistic about the future was not always an easy, positive emotion. Two key types of hope were displayed: “logical hope” and “wishful hope”.

A handwritten letter from ‘Is this how you feel?’
Joe Duggan

Logical hope had reasons: “we can be hopeful, because we are seeing (various positive) changes”. Wishful hope was associated with more negative statements, and a desire for change in the future.

In the other project which informed our paper “Hope? and how to grieve for the planet”Neal Haddaway took photographs of environmental researchers and interviewed them about how they felt about the planet’s state. Each participant chose three words as a way to express their feelings. Their words matched closely the findings from our analysis of “Is this how you feel?”.

How to harness anxiety

Experts and non-experts have complex emotional responses to climate changes. Why is the emotional response important and what can be done to address it?

Some have provided Practical solutionsClimate anxiety: Things you can do A personal levelTo reduce your footprint. Others can call for disruptive protestsTo raise awareness about these issues and to force political change. These are essential responses to environmental crises. However, they overlook an important part of managing anxiety: how people understand, accept, and live with their emotions.

Continue reading:
Ten years to 1.5°C: how climate anxiety is affecting young people around the world – podcast

Climate anxiety or any other emotion related to climate change is not necessarily a negative thing. However, how you feel doesn’t have to dictate the way that you act.

Many people may fear the rise of “doomism” – the feeling that taking action against climate change is pointless. It is, however. It’s not too lateTo make a difference and to feel many emotions Even anxiety can be overcomePositive action can be a result of your efforts.

Instead of assuming that our anxiety will go away if we act, or assuming that embracing anxiety means accepting the planet’s fate, we advocate for the creation of more Safe spacesPlatforms that are free from judgment and open to listening, with expectations of respect and willingness to listen. In doing so, society can begin cathartic conversations, validate people’s feelings, realise we are not alone, and foster a sense of community.

Many of the scientists involved in both projects said that this was the first time they were asked about their feelings on climate change. Spaces for their feelings are important, too, to address and minimise doomism and empower scientists to continue their research – and, perhaps, even to hope.

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