Climate Change is doing our heads in

| 4th April 2013
Pat Thomas takes a look at one of the less discussed aspects of climate change - its impact on the human psyche.

Distressing, urgent news is coming at us so thick and fast at the moment that it is hard to keep up. There’s the EU’s failure to ban bee killing neonics, the UK government’s increasingly pro-GM stance, the ongoing scandals of horsemeat adulteration in our food and shockingly poor care in our hospitals.

And then there’s the weather. We are just coming off of the coldest Easter holiday on record here in the UK and I know many people who have simply given up on ever seeing a blue sky again.

Not so long ago, a day that took us from bright sunshine to a sky so dark that the street lights on my road pinged on at noon, to rain, to snow and then to hail left me so discombobulated that it brought to mind a subject that has been in my files for a a while now.

It was a large 2012 report on the mental health implications of a global climate change.

As connected as we are to our natural environments (whether we know it or even like it or not) it is inevitable that a changing climate will impact our health and I've reported on the health risks of climate change, as well as the natural link between weather and health, before.

This US report took that theme further showing that as extreme weather events and disasters become more frequent and more severe, Americans could expect to see a rise in depression and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, suicide and violence.

Worse, the healthcare system is simply not equipped to cope with all the psychological upset provoked by climate-related events.

It’s an ironic conclusion given that, until recently, the US was the largest single contributor to global CO2 emissions (China now has that dubious ‘honour’). Ironic too since the phenomenon of global warming is itself the product of distorted minds, and disconnected hearts, focused on economic growth and exploitation and imbued with an exaggerated sense of man’s dominion over nature.

The Physicians for Social Responsibility have chimed in on this issue too, reviewing the scientific evidence and painting a picture of a future where greater alcohol and substance abuse, family violence, resource wars and a whole spectrum of mental health problems from anxiety and depression to rising rates of schizophrenia are the norm. It notes the establishment of a new category of deep grief: ‘solastalgia’ – the real time distress produced by environmental change impacting on people’s daily lives.


But there is a silver lining, if we can only change the mindsets that put us onto this trajectory in the first place. In a world where many of us are looking for connection, climate change is the thing that binds us. We’re all in it together and if we don’t find the resolve to turn things around solutions to our other pressing problems such as poverty and hunger, will remain elusive.

Getting involved, banding together, turning what has been, up until now, mostly sloganeering into effective action can help fight the sense of powerlessness and bring some positivity into your life. Pick up your rubbish; stop buying so much stuff; walk or take public transport, don’t drive; refuse to buy chemical-laden food, clothes, cosmetics and household goods; turn the lights and other electrical equipment off; learn more about the embedded energy in everything you use or own. But most importantly, direct the power of your vote to politicians who take the problem seriously.

Remember, you don’t have to be an ‘activist’ to do these things – you only need to be an awake and aware citizen of the planet Earth.

Pat Thomas is an author and journalist and former editor of the Ecologist. This piece first appeared on NYR Natural News. 

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