Climate crisis generates eco-anxiety in young people fearful for the future of the planet


While talking to the reporter by phone, lawyer Leandro Luz, 29, confesses that he is nervous. The anguish in his speech refers to the topic of the conversation that involves one of his greatest fears: the climate crisis.

Reading, listening and talking about rising temperatures on Earth, fires in the Amazon, melting glaciers and increasingly frequent environmental disasters make Luz nervous. When faced with the subject, he feels tachycardia and cold sweat on his palms and back.

Until recently, he didn’t quite understand what he felt, until he discovered he was suffering from what is called eco-anxiety. The term, which appears in a report released by the American Psychological Association in 2017 and was included in the Oxford Dictionary in late October 2021, is described as a chronic fear about environmental destruction accompanied by guilt over individual contributions and the impact. of it in future generations.

The first time Luz paid attention to climate issues was after the tsunami in Fukushima, Japan, when giant waves killed 18,000 people. Today, he lives in Salvador, but says he is thinking about moving to the countryside. “I talk to my girlfriend about living far from the coast, but I know that these places will also be affected”, he says, who reports living in a big dilemma.

“I don’t know how to behave in the next 30 years, I try to avoid rampant consumption and avoid producing a lot of plastic waste, but I know that these are very punctual attitudes that, roughly speaking, will not change reality”.

The lawyer, however, also criticizes the government for its stance on the climate crisis. For him, for example, the priority of authorities should be changing the Brazilian energy matrix. “But we are on the opposite path, we are back to discussing the implementation of coal plants for energy production in Brazil, something that is totally rudimentary”.

Like Leandro Luz, high school student Mariana dos Santos, 16, remembers crying profusely as a child after watching news reports about climate change. Today, she says that although she no longer collapses in the face of news, anxiety turns and moves her still shakes.

She often fears, for example, the rise in the water level of the oceans. “I think about the cities that could disappear and the consequences that this can have. It snowballs. I know there’s not much you can do and that’s what triggers despair”, he says.

Environmental management student Maria Antônia Luna, 20, also recently discovered that tightness in her chest, feeling short of breath when reading news about the fire that hit the Pantanal in 2020 refers to eco-anxiety.

“The feeling is one of anguish that nothing will get better”, she defines, who is now looking for a therapy that helps her face afflictions related to climate crises, a frequent topic in her graduation.

Marina, Maria and Leandro are not isolated cases. A study published in The Lancet Planetary Health in early September looked at climate anxiety among young people in ten countries including Brazil, the United States, India, the Philippines, Finland and France.

The article, in preprint (not peer-reviewed), listened to 10,000 young people aged 16 to 25 and pointed out that most feel fear, anger, sadness, despair, guilt and shame in the face of ecological problems.

Altogether, 58% feel that their governments have betrayed young people and future generations. Only French and Finns do not overwhelmingly agree with the statement. When the numbers are broken down by country, the feeling of betrayal by both adults and government officials is more latent among Brazilians (77%), followed by Indians (66%).

For Alexandre Araújo Costa, a physicist and climate crisis researcher for 20 years, the research also points to an optimistic outlook, that is, the potential for greater awareness among younger people.

“They feel that Brazil is doing nothing to avoid the current situation and that can be good to mobilize”, says Costa. According to him, it is not possible today to prevent the matter from being debated. “The consequence related to mental health is worrying, but we cannot keep our children and young people in a bubble saying that everything is fine, when we run the risk of losing the Amazon”, he says.

The professor also analyzes that the situation should not be seen only as an individual suffering, since everyone will end up impacted in a way with the environmental crisis. “We need to change this government that shrugs off the problem or is kidnapped by economic interests that only aim for short-term profit”, he says.

Biologist Beatriz Ramos follows Costa’s line. For her, the danger of eco-anxiety is the desire to not know what is happening. “By stepping away from the facts, we can enter a process of denial.'”

“It is necessary to talk about what will happen, how we can prevent it, what are the possible solutions and explain that an increase in extreme events will happen, but there are ways to adapt and we still have time to mitigate this. or just with the apocalyptic feeling”, he says.

After a deep depression triggered by the feeling of environmental degradation, ecologist Ana Lúcia Tourinho understood that the only way to feel better would be if I continued working on the front lines. This was one of the reasons that led her to work in Sinop (MT), a region that suffered from fires and dense mists of smoke in 2020.

“I breathe smoke from the fire. It’s sad, but it’s a way I found to not hide. The feeling of helplessness diminishes, I feel like I’m not standing still watching the destruction”, she says, who reports that in the worst moments of the last year she witnessed scenes despair of animals dying alive.

Anguish in the face of climate crises seems increasingly latent and affects, mainly, the youngest. In Portugal, according to a report published by Agência Lusa, the term brings a new challenge to psychologists. In Brazil, the use of the term is still emerging, experts point out.

Anthropologist Rodrigo Toniol, for example, does not believe that this diagnosis will succeed. “I don’t think we’ll arrive at an office and it will be a diagnosis by hand for all psychiatrists, but I think this is a relevant symptom that points to problems linked to the lack of a social pact”, he says.

For the psychoanalyst and professor at the Institute of Psychology at USP Christian Dunker says that the effects of anxiety caused by the climate are collateral. Dunker reflects that, in fact, he notices in the office the growing feeling of injustice regarding situations that would require actions that are not being taken, such as social inequality, racism, homophobia and gender inequality.

“In the midst of this change in our indignation appears the situation in which we start to see the planet as someone and not as something”, he analyzes.


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