The eerie orange sky that enveloped the Bay Area during the 2020 wildfires was a surreal and anxiety-inducing sight that made it clear there’s no escape from the climate crisis. Seeing lush forests transformed into blackened landscapes, homes engulfed by flooding, and suffering through smoke-filled skies and sweltering heatwaves all contribute to anxiety about our changing planet. The cumulative effect of these increasing climate disasters can be overwhelming.
Eco-anxiety is spreading worldwide, and scientists say it is a perfectly rational response to what people are experiencing. More than two-thirds of Americans are somewhat or extremely anxious about climate change, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
This anxiety affects younger people even more. The Lancet conducted a global survey of 10,000 young people between 16-25 from 10 countries and found that 84% are worried about climate change. More than half reported feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. And 75% said that they think the future is frightening, 83% said that they think people have failed to take care of the planet.
Britt Wray, a Planetary Health Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University, contributed to the study and has recently published a book, Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis, that explores how we can cope. She says we can build resilience and convert eco-anxiety into a super-fuel to power our fight for a better future. “Rather than bury our heads in the sand and suppress our discomfort, we can harness and transform the distress we feel into meaningful actions and forms of connection,” she writes.
Many young people are doing just that by shifting from a message of doom to one of hope. Wray challenges people to find a balance between hope and fear, build strong social relationships and use your talents and skills to respond to the crisis, whether it’s through activism, community building or lowering your carbon footprint.
Instead of feeling stuck in despair and alienation, we can find a sense of purpose and community in the face of the climate crisis.