The Psychological Impact of Climate Change

Losing your house in a flood or fire can seriously affect your mental health. Worldwide, the future of climate change induces anxiety as people anticipate the dire consequences of prolonged droughts, heatwaves, blizzards, and increasing tropical storms.

According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center, 72% of the global population worries they’ll be personally harmed by climate change at some point in their lives. Of course, the fear surrounding extreme weather events is valid, but building resistance through climate action is an effective way to deal with the psychological impacts.

A Generation With Eco-Anxiety

Although climate change affects everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or geography, younger generations are particularly distressed about global warming. Since 2019, when Greta Thunberg inspired a global climate strike of over 4 million climate activists and concerned citizens, impassioned young people have frequently taken to the streets, demanding environmental policy changes.

In a recent survey of 10,000 people ages 16 to 25, 59% of respondents reported feeling extremely worried about climate change, with 84% feeling somewhat anxious. Additionally, more than 45% of those surveyed said their concerns impacted their daily lives and how they function. 

The psychological impact of climate change is evident in the individuals who face the most uncertainty of a changing planet — and people ranging from kids to adults in their 20s and 30s are already witnessing the effects amidst food shortages, water scarcity, and widespread displacements.

Adding to the population’s growing fears, a volatile U.S. political system has stalled progress in passing effective climate legislation. Doing nothing is not an option. However, if politicians intend to develop solutions, many still need to acknowledge climate change exists first. 

The Climate Events That Change Us

The 2020 California wildfire season was one for the books, with 4.2 million acres burned, 112 million tons of greenhouse gases emitted and 31 lives lost. Of course, it’s not particularly surprising since droughts and heatwaves in the West increased dry conditions by 20% to 70% from 2000 to 2020. 

However, fires aren’t the only environmental disasters that climate change causes. Hurricanes, superstorms, and flood events are also ramping up as the earth warms. Over the last century, the U.S. temperature soared by 2.4° Fahrenheit, creating the perfect conditions for the biosphere to hold more water — resulting in devastating hurricane seasons and impromptu blizzard events in the South.

Since 40% of the U.S. population lives in coastal regions, powerful hurricanes and flash floods are more problematic than ever. For example, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina impacted 15 million people in Louisiana and Mississippi — killing 1,800 people — and cost nearly $161 billion in damages. As the levees broke and flooded 80% of New Orleans, people’s lives changed forever. 

Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina significantly impact socio-ecological systems. They displace people from their homes, destroying businesses and driving an economic collapse within communities. Above-normal hurricane seasons are also more common — experts predict about six to 10 hurricanes for the 2022 hurricane season. In comparison, there was an annual average of 1.6 major hurricanes in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Additionally, each of these weather events has severe implications for public health. For example, flooded properties and pools of water attract mosquitos and other pests that spread disease. Downed powerlines and trees, toxic pollutants, and crumbling foundations are also hazardous. 

Channel Fear Into Climate Action

Climate change may be inevitable, but it’s not too late to channel your fears into action. 

Call your local representatives and involve yourself in politics. Your concerns about climate change deserve to be heard. Engaging in respectful dialogue with politicians is the best way to help pass effective climate policies.

Residents of cities with high air pollution levels can also expand green spaces by planting trees in their community, preventing the heat island effect and offsetting urban emissions. 

Other ways you can make a difference in the fight against climate change include the following:

  • Use public transportation, a bicycle or walk whenever possible.
  • Invest in solar and smart technology to improve your energy efficiency at home.
  • Eat a plant-based diet to offset agricultural and livestock emissions.
  • Reduce food waste, which accounts for 8% to 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Participate in climate change marches and events.

You can also get involved with nonprofits that advocate and educate people about their carbon impact on climate change. Count Us In, a partner of the United Nations’ ActNow campaign, believes we can eliminate 20% of global emissions if one billion people take action.

Your Feelings About Climate Change Matter

The psychological impact of climate change is real. Society witnesses the effects of a warming planet daily as natural disasters leave a wake of destruction and deaths. However, you can help build climate resiliency through advocacy and action. 

Jane is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co and an environmental writer covering green technology, sustainability and environmental news.