Earlier this year, climate activist Wynn Bruce died after setting himself on fire outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
He committed this act of self-immolation to bring attention to the reality of the climate crisis. His act symbolizes the massive loss of life which will occur if this existential threat is not avoided.
People should not have to suffer because governments and corporations refuse to take the climate crisis seriously. There are ways people can make a difference.
The science of climate change is simple; burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, which traps heat on Earth, which in turn leads to increased temperatures and higher sea levels. These effects will cause billions of deaths and climate refugees. The people who live in the areas that will be most affected by this are at the highest risk for experiencing climate anxiety.
Climate anxiety is characterized by feelings of existential hopelessness. Those who experience it may fear that they will never have a future, or that there is no hope for the effects of climate change to ever be reversed.
Climate anxiety is different from mental illnesses because it is a reaction to a scientific reality. Adults experience climate change or “eco-anxiety” at a rate of 68%, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. The same study said 56% of U.S. adults believe that climate change is the most important issue society is facing.
Levels of climate anxiety will only increase as the effects of climate change increase. The threat of severe droughts, storms and rising sea levels will directly affect the mental and physical health of billions in the next hundred years.
There are some effective ways of dealing with climate anxiety that do not include ignoring its scientific reality. One can take steps to limit the effect they have on the environment; for example, riding a bike or carpooling will limit the amount of carbon in the air.
However, there is only so much that an individual can do to stop the worst effects of climate change. Fossil fuel producers and large manufacturing companies are the most egregious emitters of carbon into the atmosphere.
If someone you know is struggling with climate anxiety, it is important to support any changes they want to make to minimize their effect on the environment. Telling someone that their feelings are irrational or unwarranted will just compound their anxiety.
Another effective way to combat climate anxiety is to educate yourself about it. The science is remarkably easy to understand. Being able to effectively explain to others the reality of climate change will improve the feelings of hopelessness that come with climate anxiety.
Activism is important. By taking part in protests against activities and legislation allowing companies to destroy the environment, those struggling with climate anxiety can truly make a difference. They can even organize their own protests in their area.
There is evidence that these protests have been effective in stopping new fossil fuel projects.
Carter DeJong is a secular humanist studying journalism at IU.