What is eco-anxiety?

Eco-anxiety is a term that has recently received added attention. In the wake of COP26, our society is under more pressure than ever before to reduce our carbon footprints and to make sustainable choices in order to reduce the effects of climate change. Simply put, eco-anxiety refers to the (totally rational) fear and worry brought about due to climate change. Presently, its’ popularity has increased in the last few years as the climate crisis worsens and the effects of climate change are becoming harder to ignore.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

  • Increased depression/fear
  • Existential dread
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased anger or frustration
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Fatalistic thinking
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Troublesome sleep behaviours
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feelings of grief or sadness
  • Decreased concentration
Melting ice caps
Photo taken of Greenland with a concerningly-low amount of ice

3/4 of the UK population are worried about climate change.

ONS – Opinions and Lifestyle survey Oct 2021

What causes eco-anxiety?

  • First-hand experience – If you have been unfortunate enough to experience a climate-related natural disaster, you are understandably more likely to fear climate change. As an example, take the bout of wildfires that occurred between 2020 and 2021 in Australia and the US; these traumatic events can have a residual effect on people.
  • The media – Constant exposure to climate statistics and fear-mongering images will inevitably start to create increasing feelings of fear, helplessness and hopelessness.
  • Your perceived inaction – Often the fear of a climate disaster comes from a sense of guilt deep inside of us that we’re not doing enough to combat global warming.

Who is affected by eco-anxiety?

Although eco-anxiety is present among all age groups, unsurprisingly, it is most prevalent in 16-24 year olds. According to the ‘Opinions and Lifestyle’ survey conducted by the ONS, younger generations are more likely to report feeling very worried about the effects of climate change; with over 70% of this group reporting that they experience eco-anxiety on a regular basis (YouGov poll). Whereas, those aged 70 or over were less likely to feel anxious about the concept.

The survey also highlights that women are statistically more likely to admit to fears about the climate for the future. Comparatively, 79% of women acknowledged that they were either somewhat or very worried about the impact of climate change, whereas only 72% of men agreed to this statement.

Even if we are feeling varied levels of fear in regards to our environment, there is at least one thing that we can agree on. 8 in 10 people surveyed agreed that if everyone did their bit, we could reduce the effects of climate change.

Eco-warriors protesting for climate change

” Our planet’s alarm is going off, and it is time to wake up and take action”

Leonardo DiCaprio

What signs of climate change were there in 2020/21?

After the past 2 years, climate change is an undeniable fact. We have recorded some of the most devastating figures since records began, and scientists expect the records to keep breaking.

  • Dust storms: In 2020, the world saw the largest dust storm on record, Godzilla, darken the skies of the Atlantic and parts of South-eastern US. The storm began in the Sahara, where scientists believe dwindling sea-ice levels in the Artic played a part in supercharging the monstrous winds. (10 steamy signs in 2020 that climate change is speeding up | Live Science)
  • Greenland’s landscape is being reshaped: a once ice-rich island now has an unrecognizable coastline due to melted ice and rising sea levels. Each year, Greenland loses 500 gigatons of ice, which then falls into the sea, melts and contributes to rising sea levels and its’ effect on surrounding ecosystems. (ref: Greenland ice melt is changing the shape of its coastline | Live Science)
  • Sea ice is at its’ second lowest recorded level: in addition to being an effect of climate change, diminishing sea ice levels will exacerbate global warming. The layers of ice help to reflect heat from the Sun to prevent the temperature of the ocean from rising. (The state of the climate in 2021 – BBC Future)
  • Co2 levels are at their highest in 4 million years: In 2020, the amount of Co2 in the atmosphere reached 417 parts per million. The last time Co2 levels exceeded 400 parts per million was in the Pliocene era. (The state of the climate in 2021 – BBC Future)

It’s getting hot in here…

Wildfires - Climate change
Wildfires in Australia
  • Wildfires: You can’t talk about the effects of climate change in recent years without mentioning the devastating wildfires that broke out in 2020 and 2021. Australian bush fires, the Bootleg fires in Oregon, the Dixie fire in California (the second largest fire recorded in the state, second only to the August Complex fire of 2020), and others which occurred in Montana and Washington, were mostly all caused by climate change. Additionally, all bar one of California’s top 5 fires occurred in 2020; the thick smoke from which, eclipsed the sky for many surrounding areas. By August 2021, 90% of America’s Western landscapes were experiencing moderate to severe drought, which acted as the catalyst for these fires. Between 2020 and 2021, the continent lost around 16.6 million acres of land to the roaring flames. (Facts + Statistics: Wildfires | III)

How is the UK impacted by global warming?

Often, due to living in the UK, it is easy to see the effects of climate change as a distant issue. Although we may not be at risk to wildfires, hurricanes and the like, there have been some notable changes that can be seen from our doorstep.

  • Our ecosystem is changing – The change in air temperatures has caused wildlife to adapt (for better or for worse). We are already seeing new species in the UK, which would have perished before seasons became much warmer. Likewise, many animals which frequent the UK are fleeing for areas with colder weather. Due to the change in heat, and the seasons not acting as expected, many creatures have woken up from hibernation to find that their usual food source is in short supply. 140 British species of bee are now extinct due to climate change, and many more are at risk of following suit. (9 UK species affected by climate change | WWF)
  • Extreme weather conditions – We may be a country known for our erratic weather, but climate change has caused our weather to be more unpredictable and intense. Our forecasts may look similar, but scientists predict that the extremes of that weather will only worsen. Future summers will become even hotter and be accompanied by downpours of summer storms. Similarly, our winters are likely to become wetter, and with increased rainfall, there is a higher potential for flooding. (Climate change in the UK – Met Office)
  • Coastal erosion – Many of our coastlines are at risk due to rising sea levels. The UK government have already started implementing sea-defence tactics to prevent the sea from claiming our most at-risk coastal areas. (How will climate change affect the UK? | Greenpeace UK)
hand, water, climate change anxiety, eco-anxiety
Anxiety – drowning in worries

How will the climate change in the future?

While the World is making plans to lower carbon emissions, we will likely still be experiencing the effects of global warming for some time. Until global temperatures return to a safe level, we can expect the hazardous weather conditions to get worse before they get better.

  • Frost-free season will lengthen: allowing farmers to extend their growing season, however, if Summer’s remain hotter than ever, drought will likely hinder any profits that could be made from a lengthened growing season. In addition, it will also have a huge impact to UK wildlife.
  • Flooding will become more common.
  • More droughts and heatwaves: This will be hazardous to public health as many areas won’t be equipped to deal with the drastic increase in temperatures.
  • Sea levels are predicted to have risen by 1-8 feet by 2100.
  • Arctic is likely to become ice-free before 2500.
  • Climate change could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.
  • More wildfires caused by droughts.

more natural disasters…

  • Hurricanes will be stronger, more frequent, and less predictable.
  • Zombie storms‘ will be resurrected more often: This is the name given to the phenomena where the energy from a storm or hurricane gets trapped in the atmosphere and it reignites into another full-fledged storm (hence Zombie).

Why aren’t people worried about climate change?

With all of the effects of global warming nipping at our feet, it’s no surprise that people are feeling anxious. However, a shocking 20% of the audience surveyed reported not feeling anxious at all in the face of Earth’s slow demise. There reasons for not being worried are as follows:

Office for National Statistics on why people weren’t worried about climate change

Why aren’t people taking actions to reduce the effects of climate change?

Thankfully, the people who are more worried about climate change are reportedly the ones most likely to make changes to their lifestyles. Although women are somewhat more inclined to make changes to help reduce the effects of climate change, the vast majority of people actively adapting their habits are 25-34 year olds. Here are some reasons why people aren’t making changes:

Office for National Statistics on why people aren’t making changes to help reduce pollution

Even if 1/4 of the UK population are unfazed by our planet’s impending doom, changes are starting to be made across the globe to control and monitor carbon emissions. If the future pans outs how scientists suspect, climate change will no longer be deniable. Many believe that these changes are coming too late to make a real difference, but is that any reason not to try?

What to do about eco-anxiety

  • Education: Learn what you can about climate change and ways that you can actively affect your carbon footprint. Make reasonable changes in your life, but do it within your means.
  • Recognize what you’re already doing: Of course, we can all be doing more to reduce our emissions, but it might not all be possible straight away. Congratulate yourself for the changes you have made, and look for the next change that you can work toward.
  • Be one with nature: Our lives can be dominated by screens and notifications. Switch off and go for a walk. Breathe in some fresh air, move around, and feel refreshed.
  • Encourage others: There is a fine line between encouraging people to make positive changes to their life, and being preachy (trust me, my fiancée is a vegan). Share thought-provoking articles/posts, but always stress that change should be made at the individual’s own pace, with their finances and unique situations in mind.

Support worthy causes

  • Volunteer: It’s much easier to release your hopelessness, when you’re helping someone else. Helping others can take your mind off of your own problems, meanwhile, you can find organisations with values similar to your own which you can support.
  • Join groups of like-minded people: There are tons of activists and climate-warriors out there. Find them. There are communities of people that you can share your worries with, and your solutions.
  • Hold on to hope: It can be very easy to fall down the rabbit hole of despair, especially if you’re constantly seeing negative news. Follow some positive climate pages that celebrate current victories rather than past indiscretions (for example Megean Weldon’s @ZeroWasteNerd, or Alden Wicker’s @EcoCult).
Anxiety, blurry distressed person, eco-anxiety
Mental health

“28% of Brits believe that consumerism is to blame for the climate crisis”

Office for National Statistics

What can you do to combat the effects of climate change?

While aspects of the above statement may hold some truth, purchasing thoughtfully might actually be the key to change. We cannot simply stop buying products. What we can do is be mindful about what we buy, how often, and how we dispose of it. 37% of Brits admit that they will likely throw their old items away rather than donate or recycle. It’s our habits we need to change. Here are a few simple changes you can make today:

  • Reuse, reduce, recycle: We need to look at the lifecycle of the things that we buy and make an educated decision on whether to purchase or not. Is the item sustainably sourced? How long will this item last? Can it be recycled and reused?
  • Support sustainable products/services: Shop locally. Support brands/stores that you know to be environmentally conscious (if they are they will no doubt be talking about it).
  • Cut down on travel: Whether it’s opting for a stay-cation or cycling to work one day a week; there are plenty of changes you can make to lessen the pollution you cause through travel.
  • Eat more veg: Yep, it’s the suggestion that all meat-eaters hate. Unfortunately, a plant-based diet is actually one of the best things you can do to help reduce carbon emissions.
  • Plant a tree: Many companies are doing this now to ‘offset’ their carbon emissions, but there’s nothing stopping anyone from purchasing some seeds or donating to a cause which plants more trees.
  • Vote and support leaders who care about the environment: Too many years have been wasted living under the jurisdiction of non-believers, however, if we want real change to happen, our leaders need to be at the forefront.
  • Invest in renewable energy: Switch to sustainable energy sources where possible, and encourage others to do the same.

Essentially, take a good look at your lifestyle. Make changes where you can, and plan to make more in the future. Speak about your worries, but recognise your accomplishments. Most importantly, know your limits! Every person can make an impact, no matter how small; nevertheless, there are limits to how much you can do, and how many sacrifices you can make without it becoming a detriment to your life.

Buy less, choose well, make it last. Sustainability
Circular economy / sustainability
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Why not read some of our other articles…

Three-quarters of adults in Great Britain worry about climate change – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

8 Ways To Cope With Eco-Anxiety And Climate Change (divethru.com)

Wildfires 101: Everything You Need to Know – EcoWatch

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