Connecting the Dots with Columnist John Bos: Eco-Anxiety: Part I

  • JOHN BOS

Published: 10/15/2021 1:54:08 PM

Eco-Anxiety, the condition which the American Psychological Association (APA) describes as “a chronic fear of environmental doom,” is widespread. A recent poll found 68 percent of the U.S. adults who participated say they have at least a little eco-anxiety — about half of those between the ages of 18 and 34 say that their stress surrounding climate change affects their daily lives.

Can there be hope?

In his essay “The Collapse of Ideology and the End of Escape,” Professor JemBendell writes “If you have begun to anticipate the climate-driven collapse of societies, what can you wish for?” Bendell has written elsewhere about “the problems of being attached to hope… But, it can still be useful to reflect on what we actually wish for, given our assessments of what we think is inevitable, likely or possible in the near future.”

In what ways are we affected?

There are three broad channels by which our climate crisis affects people’s mental state: (1) directly, (2) indirectly or (3) awareness.

(1) The direct channel includes stress related conditions being caused by direct exposure to extreme weather events. Like the unprecedented heat wave that helped fuel the community killing fires in Canada and California. Or the Pacific Northwest heat waves that killed hundreds of people in the U.S. In Siberia, one of the fastest-warming places on Earth, where the heat and drought helped spur fires that burned more than 43 million acres. In Germany with unprecedented rain that flooded communities, sweeping houses away. In Louisiana, where more than a million people lost power after Hurricane Ida, made stronger because of climate change. And then when Ida reached New York and New Jersey, filling basement apartments and the subway system so quickly that some people drowned. It’s a long list, and growing every month.

(2) The indirect channel is caused by disruption of economic and social activities, such as wide swaths of farmland is less able to produce food. Drought has ranked third among environmental phenomena associated with billion-dollar weather disasters since 1980, behind the top two impacts of tropical cyclones and severe storms. The cost of drought events averages over $9 billion per year making it a serious hazard with substantial socioeconomic consequences. And climate change is the greatest threat the national parks have ever faced. The plants and animals, rivers and lakes, glaciers, beaches, historic structures, and more are already under stress from these environmental disruptions.

(3) The third channel can be the simple awareness of our climate crisis, even by those of us here in Western Massachusetts whose lives have not been so impacted. In an Oct. 11 “Nature Climate Change” report using machine learning technology to analyze over 60,000 climate change-related studies, researchers in Germany found that 85% of the population is affected by human-induced climate change. So how can we currently fortunate residents of Franklin County become more than “simply” aware of our dying environment?

Humans have emitted more than 2.4 trillion tons of heat-trapping CO2 since the Industrial Revolution. More than half of that CO2 was emitted in the last 30 years. That has pushed the global temperatures up by around 1.1 degrees Celsius so far, triggering a cascade of problems from extreme droughts and hurricanes to the spread of disease. Furthermore, as emissions continue, we may well be on track for 3 degrees of warming by the end of the century — an outcome that would be catastrophic. What happens this decade will determine whether or not we can avoid the worst impacts.

What can we wish for?

JemBendell says “what might be a realistic wish of mine — one that I could honestly believe, rather than desire to believe in order to feel a bit better … that what I wish for is a collapse of the ideology which has caused so much destruction and suffering, and which will continue to do so as our ecosystems, economies and societies break down. I wish for that ideology to collapse as soon as possible, because the longer it lasts, the more destruction will occur and the less able we will be to reduce harm, experience joy and find meaning as societies break down.”

Not enough can go right.

I fear that the destruction of our environment world-wide cannot be stopped.

I’ll explain why in my Saturday, Oct. 30 “Connecting the Dots” column — “Eco-Anxiety: Part II.” And why I am 95% convinced that we are on an irreversible environmental death spiral. Contrary to available evidence, I have a 5% reservoir of hope.

Greenfield writer John Bos has been expressing his growing alarm about our climate crisis for the past 10 years. He is a contributing writer for Green Energy Times. He is the editor of a new children’s book “After the Race.” Questions and comments may be directed to john01370@gmail.com.


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