How Are
You Feeling?

Earth

How Are You
Feeling?

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How Are You
Feeling?

Is Climate Anxiety Affecting

My Schoolwork?

By Emma Brashear

Polar Ice caps melting, droughts around the world, rising temperatures—the world is daily facing alarming consequences of climate change.  As experts debate solutions to this global-scale problem, many people feel helpless to affect change and worry about a bleak future for the world.  In January 2022, The Lancet published a ten-country survey of 10,000 people aged 16 to 25, showing that young people have high rates of pessimism related to climate change with 56 percent saying that “humanity is doomed.”  This trend of increasing and, at times, overwhelming fears related to climate change is referred to as “climate anxiety,” a relatively new diagnosis; the term was first coined ten years ago in a theoretical paper from the College of Wooster. Today climate anxiety is no longer theoretical, with more than half of the world’s population affected by some level of climate anxiety. Also called “eco-anxiety,” many people are now experiencing “a form of psychological distress related to the climate crisis—an overwhelming sense of fear, sadness, and existential dread in the face of a warming planet.”  The American Psychiatric Association survey, which found that more than 50 percent of people either are experiencing or have experienced climate anxiety. While there is ample basis for concern about climate change and the earth’s future, for some people, the worry and stress of these issues can become overwhelming and debilitating. As AON students foster conversations  about global issues, many AON students have likely studied and even experienced climate change.  This raises a concern: Are AON students also experiencing climate anxiety?

Winter is a common time of year for students at AON to have climate anxiety because of the drastic weather changes in comparison to previous years. The excess carbon dioxide in the environment causes the temperature to increase abnormally. Mia Huaco, an 11th grader from Moscow, discussed how winters have changed over the past few years by saying, “Over the years in Russia winters have been shorter but much warmer. A few years ago in the middle of March, we went snowboarding in the mountains. This year we planned to go snowboarding in the same location during the same time of year, but by that time the snow was half melted and crystallized.” A few months ago, Mia temporarily moved to Mexico, where she was able to witness climate change in a completely different geographic location. She noticed that, “for Mexico, last year it was way more windy than it is now.” These significant changes in weather align with the effects of carbon dioxide pollution in our environment. Charlie Clark, an 11th grader from Michigan, noticed a similar phenomenon. He shared that, “each year in Michigan as the winters get worse and worse. The winter months are shorter and the snow is more slushy.” Oliver Raper, an 8th grader from New York, also noticed how the winter months were becoming shorter. In addition to this observation, Oliver also was upset when “the effects of climate change killed all the bees because of a fake summer in the middle of winter.” Lucie Bacon, a 12th grader from California, noticed a similar weather related phenomenon that is destroying families and lives: wildfires. Lucie says, “While I feel grateful to say that my friends and family have never had to evacuate, thick smoke and poor air quality are frequent, and I regularly see surrounding areas destroyed by massive fires.” Despite living in different countries and even on different continents around the world, these students are experiencing a similar, dismaying shift in our planet as the result of climate change. But how are they processing the events they are witnessing?

The interviewed AON students were willing to open up about their personal feelings on climate change. Mia Huaco is concerned about “how locations will change overall, especially since it will be probably irreversible once the damage is past the limit.” She is also extremely concerned about how climate change and pollution might change ecosystems. Oliver Raper discussed similar worries about “the meat markets sustainability and long term mass market capabilities, for when the population grows”. Lucie Bacon brings up an insightful point about the solution to climate change, “My biggest fear about climate change is the possibility that ideological differences will prevent nations from working together to craft long-term solutions. To me, global unity needs to be more than an aspiration.” These three students’ concerns provide a bit of insight into the fears that AON students may feel regarding climate change. The large-scale nature of these issues can generate a wide array of concerns. Often these concerns can generate interest and activism in addressing climate issues. They can fuel productive conversations in AON classrooms. These worries can spark innovation in addressing these issues. But what if an AON student’s concerns rise to the level of anxiety?

The first step is to reflect upon climate change and acknowledge any reactions or feelings that the topic may evoke. If these feelings are especially strong, it may be beneficial to talk to either mental health professionals or other individuals experiencing similar feelings. After beginning discussions about the environment, the next best step is to educate yourself and others about the negative effects of climate change. This allows you to better understand what actions need to be taken to rectify the effects of climate change. Finally, there are many ways that you can get involved to help heal our world from the effects of climate change. Some ways to get involved include volunteering at environmental organizations and letting lawmakers hear your thoughts and opinions on this topic. In addition to these steps, it may be helpful to move regularly, whether that is through walking your dog or dancing to your favorite song, as physical activity can lower risk of depression by 30 percent. So, if you are experiencing climate anxiety, try talking to others, learning more about the topic, and staying involved with helping the environment.

Every member of the AON community is touched by climate change in one way or another and as an effect, it is likely that most of us will experience climate anxiety at some point in our lives. By hearing different worries that each person has about the climate, we can realize that we are not alone. Instead, we can unite to share our worries, beliefs, and methods of easing our anxieties. By doing so, we not only create solidarity as a community, but also help fight against climate change, so that future generations will not have to experience the horrendous environmental issues that their ancestors created.

Resources to help cope with climate anxiety:

Resources to Cope With Climate Anxiety and Grief - The Commons