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

While talking to the report 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 an increase in temperature on Earth, burning in the Amazon, melting of Increasingly frequent glaciers and environmental disasters make Luz nervous. When faced with the topic, he feels tachycardia and cold sweat on the palms of his hands and back.

Until recently, he did not really understand what he felt, until he discovered that he suffered from the so-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 the environmental destruction accompanied by the feeling of guilt for individual contributions and the impact of this on future generations.

The first time Luz paid attention to climate issues was after the tsunami in Fukushima, Japan, when waves giants killed 16 a thousand people. Today, he lives in Salvador, but says he is thinking about moving to the interior. “I talk to my girlfriend about living far from the coast, but I know that these places will also be affected”, says he, who reports living in a big dilemma.

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

The lawyer, however, also criticizes the government about its stance on the climate crisis. For him, for example, the priority of authorities should be to change 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, the high school student Mariana dos Santos, 16, remembers crying profusely as a child after watching reports on climate change. Today, she says that despite not collapsing in front of the news, the anxiety turns and still stirs the shakes.

She tends to fear, for example, the rise of the water level in the oceans. “I think about the cities that can disappear and the consequences that this can bring. This becomes a snowball. I know there is not much to do and that’s what triggers despair”, he says.

The environmental management student Maria Antônia Luna, 18, also recently discovered that the chest tightness, the feeling of breathlessness when reading news about the fire that hit the Pantanal in 2020 they refer to eco-anxiety.

“The feeling is of an anguish that nothing will get better”, she defines that she is now looking for a therapy to help her facing 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 analyzed 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 18 thousand young people from 16 a 18 years and pointed out that most feel fear, anger, sadness, despair, guilt and shame in the face of ecological problems.

To all, 58% believe that their governments have betrayed young people and future generations. Only the French and Finns largely disagree 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 (2021 %).

According to Alexandre Araújo Costa, a physicist and climate crisis researcher for 18 years, the survey points out also for an optimistic look, that is, the potential for greater awareness among younger people.

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

The teacher still analyzes that the situation should not be seen only as an individual suffering, as 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 hijacked by economic interests that only seek short-term profits”, he says.

Biologist Beatriz Ramos follows the line of Costa. For her, the danger of eco-anxiety is the desire not to know what is going on. “By moving away from the facts, we can enter into 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 a increase in extreme events, but there are ways to adapt and we still have time to mitigate this. It is not possible to act only with optimism or just with an 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 to work 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 fogs of smoke in 2020.

“I breathe smoke from It’s sad, but it’s a way I found not to hide. The feeling of impotence lessens, I feel like I’m not standing there watching the destruction,” she says, reporting that in the worst moments of last year she witnessed desperate scenes of animals dying alive .

The anguish in the face of climate crises seems increasingly latent and affects, mainly, the younger people. 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, according to specialists.

Anthropologist Rodrigo Toniol, for example, does not believe that this diagnosis will succeed. “I don’t think we’ll get to an office and it will be a diagnosis available to 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 notes in his office the growing feeling of injustice regarding situations that would demand actions that are not being taken, such as social inequality, racism, homophobia and gender inequality.

“No At the heart of this change in our indignation appears the situation in which we started to see the planet as someone and not as something”, he analyzes.

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