Dr. Atkinson, in hopes of assuaging her feelings and those of her students, designed a seminar on eco-grief and climate anxiety.
Eco-distress can manifest in a range of ways, from anguish over what the future will hold to extreme guilt over individual purchases and behaviors, according to Dr. Van Susteren. Though its symptoms sometimes mirror those of clinical anxiety, she said she saw eco-distress as a reasonable reaction to scientific facts — one that, in mild cases, should be addressed but not pathologized. (In cases of extreme anxiety, Dr. Van Susteren said it was important to seek professional help.)
For many Americans, counseling for climate distress is relatively accessible. In some communities, however, especially in less wealthy countries, it may seem more like a rare privilege.
Kritee, a senior climate scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, has feet in both worlds. Based in Boulder, Colo., Dr. Kritee (she has a single name) leads workshops and retreats for people experiencing climate grief. She also works with farmers in India whose livelihoods are directly threatened by the extreme droughts and floods that come with climate change.
Dr. Kritee, who has a doctorate in biochemistry and microbiology, said she believed people of all backgrounds should process their feelings about climate change. She makes her services affordable through scholarships, scaled payments and donation-based classes. Some of her sessions are open only to people of color, who are often on the front lines of climate change, and whose ecological grief, she said, is often compounded by racial trauma.
Regarding the white and affluent, who most likely will not feel climate change’s worst effects, Dr. Kritee said it was crucial they confront their grief, too. In doing so, she said, they can begin to contemplate questions like, “If I am hurting so much, what is happening to people who are less privileged?”