The IPCC report: What does it mean for our mental health?


Everyone has heard about the new International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report by now. If you haven't, have you been living under a rock? Or perhaps I’m in a social media “eco” chamber...


Aug. 10, 2021, 6 p.m. by Eddie Fitzgerald-Barron

Here is the full report or if you don’t have time to read a 4,000 pager, here are some highlights...but be warned, it’s pretty overwhelming. The general consensus is climate change is our fault and it's quite bad.

In the lead up to the release of “AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis,” we have been experiencing extreme weather events all across the globe. 2021 has broken records, and we’re not talking about the Olympics.

Here are a few:

  • Record-breaking snowfall in Madrid in the first few weeks of 2021 causing around £1.2bn of damage.
  • Storm Christoph, here at home in the UK. One of the wettest three days on record at the end of January flooding hundereds of homes.
  • Cyclone Ana in Fiji causing 10,000 people to take refuge in hundreds of evacuation centres all over the country.
  • The big freeze in Texas in February, which could only be likened to The Day After Tomorrow. With a death toll of 210.
  • Flooding in New South Wales in March. The NSW State Emergency Service urged residents to look after both their physical and mental health due to evacuations as a result of the flooding.
  • Cyclone Seroja in Indonesia where 160 people died and 22,000 were evacuated.
  • Wildfires in Greece in May. 20 square kilometres were wiped out by the blaze.
  • Record-breaking heatwave in Moscow in June
  • Heat dome in Northwest USA. Blistering temperatures that had never been experienced in the area before. The extreme heat cooked mussels in their shells on the Canadian coast.
  • Floods in New York, with videos of flooded subways going viral.
  • Fire in Oregon consuming more than 364,000 acres of land.
  • Flooding across western Europe. 
  • Floods in China. Killing more than 300 people and affecting more than 440,000.
  • Fires raging for more than 7 days across Turkey
  • 400 wildfires are burning across Greece at the time this article was published. The UK has sent firefighters there to help battle the blaze. 
  • Second largest blaze in California history.

We don’t need an international panel of expert scientists to tell us that we’re in hot water here...metaphorically and literally.

We’re about two-thirds of the way through the year and this is by no means an exhaustive list of extreme weather events. These events are easily forgotten. In a world of hyper normalisation, business as usual prevails and we carry on as normal. But then this new report by the IPCC comes out stating that these weather events are “unequivocally” caused by human influence… 

It’s easy to begin to feel the effects of Climate Anxiety when faced with the facts… 

Climate change can have an effect on our mental health in a number of ways. There is the very immediate trauma and stress experienced after extreme weather events or natural disasters. The shock of displacement or separation when people are moved out of their homes. And the slightly less easy-to-see repercussions of worrying about what the future holds, whether it is sensible to have children, and overall impending doom. These are all, of course, exacerbated for vulnerable populations and those on the front line of the Climate Crisis.

Associated symptoms include insomnia, panic attacks, and obsessive thinking which can then lead to other stress-related issues such as anxiety disorders and depression.

Climate anxiety is particularly the case amongst the young; according to a survey, 83% of Gen-Z are concerned about the health of the planet.

It is a completely rational response to the devastation that is sweeping the globe. In fact, it would be surprising if we were not feeling somewhat anxious. Just as long as the anxiety doesn’t become full-scale “climate doomism” or the idea that “there is no hope, therefore, there is no reason to take action”.

 


But what can we do?

First of all, don’t take it all our your shoulders. It’s a global issue and insurmountable by any one individual. Have a think about what you can do:

Act - this actually goes for most types of anxiety - often action is the antidote.

  • Go and help out your local community action group
  • Take small steps to reduce your carbon footprint, and tell your friends to do the same. Check out our blogs on reducing your carbon footprint in the home, when travelling, of your food, and what you buy.
  • Talk to your friends and family about it, climate change is real, we don’t need to shy away from these types of conversations.
  • Help each other out. Rather than ramming climate action down people’s proverbial throats. Help them think about what they can do rather than what they should do.
  • Write to your local MP - this is an issue that must be addressed by governments and big businesses.
  • Stop supporting businesses that are not doing their part and support those that are!
  • Speak to your place of work and your team about what you can do to reduce your impact at work.

 

I’ll leave you with a quote that keeps coming up in a community meetup that I have been attending - and it sums it up really well: 

“Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.” 

I’m not sure who originally said it but I wholeheartedly agree.

Edit: after a quick search on Ecosia, looks like it may have been adapted from a Churchill quote “Perfection is the enemy of progress”