AP Photo / K.M. Chaudary
Study: Climate anxiety is spreading all over the planet
The broadest look yet shows it’s not just a Western worry.
If you’re feeling anxious about climate change, the common wisdom goes, there’s an antidote: Take action. Maybe you can alleviate your worries by doing something positive, like going to a protest, becoming an advocate for mass transit, or trying to get an environmental champion elected.
New research reveals that these anxieties are not just Western concerns — they’re common among young people on nearly every continent — but that the ability to do something about them depends on where you live. “The question is whether you have the opportunity or not to engage in those behaviors,” said Charles Ogunbode, a psychologist at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
The study, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, takes the broadest look yet at climate anxiety around the globe. Ogunbode and researchers all over the world surveyed more than 10,000 university students in 32 countries, asking how climate change made them feel. They found that it was hurting people’s mental health virtually everywhere, from Brazil to Uganda, Portugal to the Philippines.
Almost half of the young people surveyed said they were “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change. Nearly a quarter felt “terrified,” and even more felt either “very” or “extremely” anxious. Previous research has suggested that climate anxiety is widespread: Last year, a survey in 11 countries around the world found that 45 percent of teens and young adults said that climate anxiety was affecting their daily lives and ability to function.
“Climate anxiety” has become a catch-all for how worries about our overheating planet affect people’s mental health. Experts say that feeling grief, fear, and anxiety is a logical response to the catastrophic situation. But some researchers have argued that the phrase “climate anxiety” is ambiguous — a buzzword, not a clinical diagnosis — and that it tends to resonate more with white and wealthy people than those experiencing the most severe effects of climate disasters.
While the study didn’t look at how people respond to the phrase itself, the results show that it’s not just those in wealthier countries like the United States who are wrestling with tough emotions as a result of climate change. Ogunbode thinks developing countries should play a bigger part in the conversation, since the link between emotions and mental health is “just as strong” as it is in rich countries.
“We very rarely find anyone talking about how people in Ghana or the Philippines feel about climate change,” he said. “It’s almost like, ‘Look, as long as we can provide the basic stuff — people can eat, they have a place to sleep, they have water — that’s it. That’s fine.’”
The new study found that across the board, people’s concerns about climate change motivated them to want to take action. But anxiety played a role in motivating people to adopt environmentally-friendly behaviors, especially in richer, more individualistic countries — places where people are more likely to fly carbon-guzzling planes or drive large cars for small trips.
The most apparent barriers to direct action were political. It’s not as easy to protest climate change in a country that doesn’t protect the right to free speech or demonstrations. People worrying about the climate were more likely to engage in demonstrations in just under half of the countries studied, most of them in Europe. The connection was the strongest in Finland, one of the world’s most democratic countries, and the weakest in China, among the world’s least.
In three-quarters of the countries studied, climate anxiety appears to lead to eco-friendly behaviors — avoiding food waste, for instance, or walking and biking instead of driving. The exceptions were Egypt, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, and Tanzania.
In some places, people don’t have access to much information about what kind of actions are effective, Ogunbode said. Looking at open-ended responses to the survey, people in countries like the Philippines and Malaysia indicated that the survey questions themselves — about saving energy and reducing waste — had provided them with new information, Ogunbode said. “I got the sense that a lot of people only realized when they were reading through the questions, ‘Oh, maybe there’s something I can be doing.’”
“We MUST respect this earth - it is all we have
Claudio Dametto - South Australia
“I will always Vote to Preserve Our World.
Liam McGregor - Western Australia
“A simple message that even a politician can understand
Felicity Crombach - Victoria
“Please show you care about our future generations!!
Phil Harmer - New South Wales
“Save our world , Life & health before profits.
Kerry Lillian - New South Wales
“Close down all coal mines and Do not mine gas . Make these Companies
Daniel Johnson - New South Wales
“We want carbon free energy!
Edan Clarke - New South Wales
“Feels good to be taking a voter action step
Beaver Hudson - New South Wales
“Great Initiative. Let’s Hold elected officials Accountable to their bosses, us!
John Paul Posada - New South Wales
“We need actions not words we need honest democratic govt We need a pm
Bob Pearce - South Australia
“Thank you for this great resource. I was feeling helpless. Even this small step
Silvia Anderson - Victoria
“If political parties continue receiving political donations, we will rarely have politicians working for
Dan Chicos - New South Wales
“I only vote for people who will take urgent action to restore a safe
Susie Burke - Victoria
“Current government is not representing the opinion of the majority of Australian to meet
Neil Price - Tasmania
“We are fighting to rescue our kids' future from those who seek to steal
Vanessa Norimi - Queensland
“No time to waste Now or Never My vote is for NOW
Rosalie White - Victoria
“I am only 9 but I already care
Ava Bell - New South Wales
“From New Lambton Uniting Church - Caring for our world is a moral imperative.
Niall McKay - New South Wales
“Our federal govt is an International climate Embarrassment - its about time they stepped
Oriana Tolo - Victoria
“Vote earth this time!
Sue Cooke - Queensland
“We are in one on the wealthiest countries in the world. we have the
rowan huxtable - New South Wales
“The climate Emergency is the public health opportunity and urgent priority of the 21st
Mike Forrester - Victoria
“If they want my vote they better act now
Barbara McNiff - New South Wales
“We need to act locally now for the earth. Our only home. Vote Earth
Anne Miller - New South Wales
“I often look at the places I've known all my life and see how
Jim Baird - New South Wales
“Strike one For people power!!! Democracy might prevail outside the current cronyism that faces
Lorraine Bridger - New South Wales
“Our federal politicians Are Afraid to make action on climate change a major election
Jennifer Martin - New South Wales
“climate election, let's go!
Fahimah Badrulhisham - New South Wales
“Great to see this website that is a focus on action for climate change
Lynette Sinclair - New South Wales
“Let’s show politicians and the Murdoch media that climate change is by far the
Jane Aitken - Australian Capital Territory
“If you want to stay in power You need to take action to stop
Jane Bulter - New South Wales
“We are all that stands between terminal climate change and the vulnerable. We are
Carol Khan - Queensland
“We need a Government that Believes this is real and not taking money from
Ken Gray - New South Wales
“I'm voting for my childrens future
Anneliese Alexander - New South Wales