Feeling Climate Dread? You’re Not Alone

Researchers published a disturbing survey that surveyed 10,000 people in 10 countries about their views on climate change. The participants were all between 16 and 25 years old. Over half of respondents felt the future was bleak, three quarters believed it to be dangerous, while 39 percent were reluctant to have children. The new report is co-authored by Susan Clayton, a psychologist at Ohio's College of Wooster. She also wrote a comprehensive report on mental health and climate change. It's scary and demotivating.
These fears are rooted in recent alarming events, but also the fact that the future will be worse. Climate change will lead to hurricanes larger than Ida that will batter the US Gulf Coast, flooding its Northeast and causing severe drought in the West. Hotter heat waves and more intense wildfires will also make it worse. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a harsh report in August warning that without taking drastic and immediate steps to reduce emissions, we will surpass the Paris Climate Agreements threshold for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. It is creating a fear of the future and ecological grief over what has been lost or disappearing as more people are exposed.

Clayton studies how people connect to the environment, and how the human mind deals with climate anxietyconcerns about planetary disaster. WIRED interviewed Clayton about her new survey, the effects of the climate crisis on mental health, and most importantly, the possible solutions. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

WIRED: Climate Change is not a speculative idea that many people don't believe will affect their lives. It's here to affect a lot of people's lives, as we saw with the extreme weather.

Susan Clayton: Experiential weather events have been shown to have a negative impact on the mental health, including floods, wildfires and storms. There are also subtler effects, which are more gradual. Although there is no single cause, there are strong evidences from large data sets showing that suicide rates increase during hot weather. Hospitalizations for mental disorders go up. People are more irritable and exhibit more antisocial behaviors.

The WIRED Guide to Climate Change. The weather is getting worse, and the world is warming. This guide will tell you everything you need about how humans can stop destroying the planet.

The second thing I believe has become a major issue in the past few years and that is getting a lot of attention this summer is what's known as eco-anxiety. These negative emotions and distress are associated with your awareness of climate change. Even though they haven't experienced direct effects, it can affect people.

WIRED: The notion of uncertainty is an important aspect. Climate change is a system that has a lot of uncertainty. Scientists are still trying to predict how climate will change and how natural disasters might change.

SC: Uncertainty is the main reason for anxiety. You might feel sad or afraid if you know that something is coming, but it's less likely you will feel anxious. This is part of anxiety. We don't like uncertainty. It can be difficult to know what to do.