Climate change: Rise in Google searches around ‘anxiety’
22nd November 2023
By Lucy Gilder BBC
Online search queries related to “climate anxiety” have risen, according to data gathered by Google and shared exclusively with BBC 100 Women.
Studies also suggests that women are more affected by climate anxiety than men.
The rise of wildfires, floods and droughts around the world are just some of the highly visible signs of climate change.
What is reported less is the impact of climate change on human minds.
Climate anxiety – defined as feelings of distress about the impacts of climate change – has been reported globally, particularly among children and young people.
News reports about climate change and looming disaster: are you noticing more of these? (They’ve actually been around for years….) Because I’m interested in following this thread, I may be seeing more reports, so I’m wondering how many people are paying attention to climate change news. How serious does climate change seem to you and those you know? Do you follow national and international news that reflect the risks we are facing? Do you also pay attention to less frequent reports about positive steps and promising research?
Our Relationship with the Earth
Let’s assume that you are aware of climate change, pay attention to relevant news, and experience some degree of concern/anxiety/fear about the years to come. This perspective is wide and deep – and overwhelming…
I suggest – based on my own experience and ongoing education in this area – that an important place to start is with personal reflections and memories. We might call this our “environmental identity,” or “ecological self.” What relationship with nature and the world around us has been unfolding over your lifetime? What memories do you carry about nature? What has been your experience of the planet in all its complexity, your relationship with place, other species, weather? What have you loved and appreciated, even cared for? And do you remember ways in which your presence and actions may have done harm to the environment in some way?
Create some kind of ecological time-line of your life. It doesn’t have to be straight left to right – it can be curvy and complex! Make note of any memories you have from early years onward, about places you connected with, experiences in nature, animals, birds… Include both positive experiences and challenging ones. Once you start, you might find yourself remembering things you had forgotten, and going back to add or elaborate. It can be as simple or ornate as you like, straightforward or creative…
If you have the time, you may add sketches or even photos. Dreams may appear.
As you reflect on your past and present, questions about your planetary future are likely to arise. What do you value? What do you love, even cherish? What do you take for granted, and what might you have to learn to live without? What do you most fear? Do you find yourself imagining changes in local circumstances? Regional? National? Global?
The point is to bring your relationship with the earth into focus. This is where we were born, where we live, and where we imagine ourselves dying. If we have children or young adults in our lives, we recognize that the earth is where they also hope to live. Young people are especially outspoken about the threats of climate change, because they are facing challenges that many of their elders will not – and those of us who are the elders share responsibility.
This phrase is becoming common in our public conversation. But rather than assume a particular emotional response, I want to invite you to “just notice” what you do feel in response to the news or to your own experiences. Some people don’t believe there is such a thing as climate change. On the other end of the spectrum there are people who are moving to “safer places,” and actively preparing for what they see coming. I’ve come across the metaphor of the “climate elephant,” which recognizes there is a range of perceptions, “realities,” and responses – multiple perspectives. We each have our own values, beliefs, and emotional patterns.
Some of us are afraid for our children’s future. Some of us are grieving for the loss of species. Some of us carry the history of our cultural and racial identities into this unknown future. We have different responses: focusing on small do-able steps, launching into activism to change the systems and structures that are propelling us towards disasters, trying to study and learn as much as possible about what is happening, or retreating from the whole territory. We have various sources of information: David Attenborough’s beautiful (and for me, heart-wrenching) films, news reports from different sources, conversations, in-person experiences of weather disasters or rising waters.
Caring for Ourselves and the Planet
Can we allow ourselves to reflect on our own perspective, our own feelings? Can we be present with what’s here?
Can we share our experiences with others and find sources of support?
And how can we find ways to take care of ourselves? How would you describe the foundation of your self-care in the context of climate change? What is your “personal sustainability”? Do you need to take a break from the news periodically? How do you take care of your body (exercise, diet, time in nature) and your heart? Do you have ways of exploring and expressing your feelings about climate change?
Can you find ways of taking action, however small?
There is much more to explore here, but this feels like an important start. This is not a solitary journey: we need each other.