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Feeling Worried About Climate Change?

June 9, 2024

Authors: Carmen Heemsbergen, Vonne Smit, and İlke Asal


As students, we learn a lot about how the climate is changing. The world is

increasingly experiencing problems with floods, forest fires, air pollution and so on. It

does not seem very hopeful. Logically all of these problems come with a lot of

emotions: so called climate emotions. In this article, I will explain more about what

these emotions are and what you can do with them.



What are climate emotions?


Before I continue, if you feel like distressing climate emotions are impacting your daily life and functioning, it might be wise to consolidate a mental health professional.


Climate change is a loaded topic, and it is normal that this comes with emotions. Not everyone feels the same climate emotions and people may experience different intensities. You might have heard about terms like Climate Anxiety, Eco-Grief or Eco-Anxiety. I prefer to use the term Climate Distress (only negative emotions) or Climate Emotions (all emotions), since it does not only focus on one emotion, but includes all emotions you could feel about climate change.


Climate emotions are all of the emotions associated with climate change. People experience emotions like worry, grief, shame, anger, guilt, dread, hopelessness, fear, sadness, but also hope and trust. Of course, there are many other emotions you could feel, and it is important to be aware of the fact that not everyone feels the same emotions. It can also be that you are not even aware that you have feelings about this topic or that you have tried to push the feelings away.


These emotions may come up when you think about how climate change affects you or others, now or perhaps in the future. They can also come up when watching others respond, or fail to respond, to climate change.


Who feels them and why?


Anyone can feel climate distress, but your risk of feeling these emotions is higher if you are more educated on climate change. So, the more you learn about climate change, the more likely you will be to start feeling distressing feelings. Does that mean you need to stop learning about climate change? No, of course not! It is always good to know what is going on in the world and to think of ways to combat it. It may come with difficult feelings, but these feelings are also there for a reason. Emotions actually help us to evaluate what is happening. Distressing emotions indicate that something is wrong and that something needs to change. Besides that, they are also thought to be essential in reasoning and decision making.


How to deal with difficult climate emotions?


Climate emotions can be difficult to deal with. I do not intend to help you get rid of these emotions, but I do hope I can give you some guidelines on how to deal with them. So, what are some things that you can do?


1. Talk about it with others. You are probably not alone in your worries and talking about it might make you feel less alone. Realizing that others feel the same way might also give you a sense of belonging and perhaps a feeling of empowerment.


2. Take climate action that feels meaningful to you. You are probably already aware of the severity of climate change, so helping to combat this might make you feel empowered and may give you a sense of hope. An example of this could be joining a protest.


3. Look at positive climate news. It is highly likely that you are overwhelmed with all of the bad news about climate change. But there are also a lot of good initiatives that help combat climate change.


4. Look at what has changed already. A lot of things have changed already. Think for example about eating vegetarian: 10 years ago that was considered weird and there were very few alternatives for meat, but now that is becoming more and more common.


5. Allow yourself to take it easy sometimes. This might sound controversial, but it is okay to allow yourself to not live fully sustainably. Sustainable not only means good for the planet, but also long-lasting. If you cannot maintain green choices because you get overwhelmed by all of the things you need to do, it is not helpful to anyone.



 


Climate emotions or climate distress is a fairly new research topic, so a lot of research about it is still being done. However, it is becoming more and more clear that it is important to pay attention to the emotions that arise with climate change. I hope this article has made you aware of your climate emotions and how you can deal with them. How do you experience climate emotions?


Climate emotions are currently not discussed in climate change education, a field where it should be especially important to include this. This article is meant to draw attention to climate emotions and is part of a project about including climate emotions in education. The project is done by Vonne Smit, Ilke Asal and Carmen Heemsbergen in collaboration with the Climate Majority Project.

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