As climate change becomes increasingly more and more relevant within our day to day lives, climate anxiety does as well. Civilians are experiencing an ever growing amount of stress when it comes to climate change, especially the youth. The unknown of what Earth will look like within the next ten years, the pressure of living a “sustainable lifestyle,” and the guilt that comes with one’s “carbon footprint,” causes an extreme amount of mental distress.
Generation Z is already experiencing high levels of hesitance when it comes to the decision of raising a family due to the possibility of the planet being unlivable in the future. The rise of surface temperature, the rise of sea levels, the rise of ocean acidity, the melting glaciers, and the extreme increase of natural disasters can feel entirely out of control.
Jamie Jang who is a part of Sunrise Movement Sacramento and majored in Environmental Studies went into detail about his experience with climate anxiety and denial.
“I’m a lucky person of privilege,” Jang states, “I have been the only threat to my mental health personally. What I mean by that is as a person of privilege, I haven’t had many things to worry about other than problems that I create, the one difference, the one outlier is the future of our planet.”
“[Climate change] can be very anxiety provoking. When you’re trying to figure out what to do with your life, and then all of a sudden you learn about what the future of our planet is likely going to be. That future is uncertain.”
The uncertainty of the future played a big role in Jang’s climate anxiety.
“[A natural disaster due to climate change] would happen in the world and I’d be like, ‘Oh my God, it’s getting closer. It’s coming.’ It would affect my sleep. It would affect my interactions with people because I wouldn’t be able to, you know, shut up about it. I would just kind of go back and think ‘why are you bringing that up, Jamie?’”
Jang continues, “Things that remind me of this doom are happening more and more frequently, and it’s weighing more and more on my mind. Many people spend their present planning for the future. Stability and planning allow for a sense of safety, but climate change seems to make that sense of safety seem unreachable.
“It’s so hard to think about what am I going to do to own a house and raise a family. That’s all I want in life. What am I going to do, to be able to do that? For the last 10 years, every time I sit down and try to plan my career, my life, my relationships, my family, I just get caught in this gridlock.”
Jang plants trees and writes lyrics as therapy to help with his climate anxiety.
“My rapper name or whatever is Hypocrite because it’s like if I did everything carbon neutral and perfect, right? The world would still be screwed. It’s the systems we need to change.”
Many others just like Jamie hold the same experiences. Mikayla Taylor, a graduate of Humboldt State and member of Sunrise Movement Sacramento, goes into detail about her experience with climate anxiety as well as the strong connection between climate and mental health.
“[Climate change and mental health] have a really big connection. Especially if we’re looking at the fact that a lot of the issues that surround climate change are actually traumatizing. Trauma literally just means anything your brain cannot handle, and climate change is something so big,” Taylor highlights.
Taylor goes into detail of why not just the thought of climate change can be extremely stress provoking, but also experiencing the effects of climate change.
“Handling the fact that if we do not change how we are living by a certain point, like ten years down the line, four ourselves and our future children, everything is going to be detrimental. That is a really big thing to hold on to. Then when we talk about the effect we have right now with people in Paradise. [The Paradise fires] are an extremely traumatizing event… to have to see your whole town burn down, to have to flee from that,” Taylor continues, “Folks who are dealing with water insecurity, food insecurity, all of these events are extremely, extremely traumatizing.”
The spread of awareness for climate change is vital to solving it, but that as well can be very overbearing for one’s mental health.
Taylor explains, “Just talking about [climate change] and putting work into it, is also super anxiety producing. I think a lot of people, when they’re first becoming aware of these issues, are experiencing a lot of anxiety alongside.”
The stress and helplessness that comes with climate change is not unintentional. It is a known fact that it is not the individual that needs to change in order for climate change to be controlled, it is the systems such as oil and fossil fuel companies that are responsible.
“It’s gaslighting. You have been gaslit by fossil fuel executives. People saying you need to lower your carbon footprint, was a term made by [the oil company] BP.”
“They’re literally gaslighting people into thinking that they’re the cause for climate change when it has nothing to do with them. And then also when we think about reducing our carbon footprint… 51% of that carbon footprint is put out as if we have no control over that. Plastic companies and other companies you buy from, they are accruing 51% of your carbon footprint for you. So there is no way to get to 0%,” Taylor details.
Taylor goes into her own experience with climate anxiety.
“It really hit in 2019. Trump had been in office for a while, a lot of stuff was happening socially in terms of social justice, racial issues, so I started doing a little more digging. And then was like ‘Whoa, what is this whole situation with environmental racism? Now this feels really weird and icky.”
Taylor describes how personally climate anxiety affected her mental state, “I just felt this overwhelming sense of dread. It lasted an entire summer… It was so heavy. It felt like I couldn’t do anything. I started posting about it super heavily on my Instagram, but it never felt like I was doing anything. It just felt like I was talking into a vacuum.”
To help with her overwhelming anxiety, Taylor looked locally in order to help form solutions. Helping her own community served as a solution for that feeling of helplessness.
“Even if humans just make everything desolate, the planet is still going to be here. But all the people and all the suffering does not have to be this way. We could actually make a difference in our own community. I went from ‘Oh my God, this big climate situation’ to ‘What can we do locally? What can we do to help ourselves, here?’ That really helped me to just contextualize it in a way. I’m like, what about my community? At least my community is going to be okay.”
Both Jang and Taylor described climate anxiety as “a weight that I cannot get off.”