“GENERATION DREAD”

When it comes to the many dire consequences of the climate crisis, there is one that has typically not gotten a lot of attention or research – and that is the mental health toll that a warming planet can have on people and communities.  The phenomenon is known as eco-anxiety.  Increasingly, psychologists and climate activists are recognizing that the idea of impending global doom can induce feelings of fear, anger, and despair.  Britt Wray, Human and Planetary Health Fellow at Stanford University and author of the new book “Generation Dread”, joins us to discuss the intersection of mental health and climate change, and suggests helpful ways to cope with and turn climate despair into positive action.

For more information on “Generation Dread,” click here.

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

WHEN IT COMES THE TO THE MANY DIRE CONSEQUENCES OF THE CLIMATE CRISIS, THERE IS ONE THAT HAS TYPICALLY NOT GOTTEN A LOT OF ATTENTION OR RESEARCH, AND THAT IS THE MENTAL HEALTH TOLL THAT A WARMING PLANET CAN HAVE ON PEOPLE AND COMMUNITIES.

THE PHENOMENON IS KNOWN AS ECOANXIETY.

INCREASINGLY PSYCHOLOGISTS AND CLIMATE ACTIVISTS ARE REALIZING THE IDEA OF IMPENDING GLOBAL DOOM CAN HAVE FEAR, ANGER AND DESPAIR.

WHEN CHANNELLED CORRECTLY, THOSE FEARS ARE ACT AS A CATALYST FOR ACTION.

JOINING ME NOW TO TALK ABOUT ECOANXIETY AND RECOMMEND HELPFUL COPING STRATEGIES AS PART OF OUR INITIATIVE REPORTING ON THE HUMAN STORIES OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS SOLUTIONS IS BRIT WRAY.

BRIT IS A HUMAN AND PLANETARY HEALTH FELLOW AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY AND AUTHOR OF THE NEW BOOK 'GENERATION DREAD, FINDING PURPOSE IN THE AGE OF CLIMATE CRISIS'. BRIT, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US ON THIS CHALLENGING, CHALLENGING TOPIC.

HI, JENNA.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

SO, FIRST I JUST WANT TO START WITH JUST THE NOTION OF ECOANXIETY.

NOW, I WOULD SAY THIS, ALSO MAY BE A BIT OF A GENERATIONAL DIVIDE, BECAUSE SOMETIMES OLDER PEOPLE FEEL YOUNGER GENERATIONS ARE ANXIOUS ABOUT EVERYTHING.

WHAT MAKES THIS ANXIETY UNIQUE AND SPECIFIC?

WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF AN ESCALATING PLANETARY HEALTH CRISIS, WHICH IS THE IMPACT OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR ON THE ENVIRONMENT, WHICH IS NOW COMING BACK TO BITE US AS A NUMBER ONE THREAT TO HUMAN HEALTH.

SO, YES, THE CLIMATE CRISIS BUT ALSO LAND TRANSFORMATION, THE BIODIVERSITY CRISIS, ALL KINDS OF ISSUES.

WE'RE IN A PANDEMIC THAT RELATES TO ZOONOTTICS.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOUNG MEME WHO ARE BECOMING AWARE OF THIS AND THOUSAND THE THREATS ARE COMPOUNDING INTO A POLY CRISIS, SO TO SPEAK IS THEIR FUTURES ARE BEING ENDANGERED ON A DIRECT HUMAN LEVEL AS THEY'RE BEING FORCED TO COMBAT CLIMATE DISASTERS POTENTIALLY SURPASSING CLIMATE TIPPING POINTS AND RECKONING WITH THE IDEA THAT HOMELANDS AND ALIVELY HOODS AND LIVES ARE BEING LOST.

SO IT'S NOT CATASTROPHIC THINKING FORM OF ANXIETY.

IT'S NOT AN ANXIETY DISORDER YOUNG PEOPLE ARE CONTENDING WITH WHEN THEY SAY, HEY, I'M ANXIOUS.

IT'S RATHER HEALTHY TO A DEGREE AS LONG AS IT'S NOT OVERWHELMING AND DEBILITATING THEM, NORMAL RESPONSE TO A SET OF THREATS THAT ARE IMPINGING ON THEIR ABILITY THE FLOURISH INTO THE FUTURE.

HOWEVER, THE IDEA THAT IT IS A BELIEF OF DOOM THAT'S CREATING THIS IS REALLY SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE PICKED APART, BECAUSE YOUNG PEOPLE ARE NOT DOOMED.

HUMANITY IS NOT FACING IMPENDING, INEVITABLE CATASTROPHIC LOSS HERE.

RATHER WE'RE CONTENDING WITH THE IDEA THAT SCIENCE IS SHOWING US WE'RE IN A DIFFICULT PLACE ALREADY AND IT'S BECOMING MORE DIFFICULT, AND YET WE NEED TO STEP INTO ROLES OF AGENCY, WORK WITH OTHERS TO SHIFT THE NEEDLE BEFORE MORE CATASTROPHIC EVENTS BECOME INEVITABLE, RIGHT?

SO THERE'S A TENSION THERE AND IT BRUCES ANXIETY WITHIN PEOPLE.

BUT IT CERTAINLY ISN'T A DEAD END.

IT'S AN EMOTIONAL GRAPPLING WITH HOW PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE AT THIS TIME.

IT'S INTERESTING YOU TALK ABOUT THE EMOTIONAL GRAPPLING OF HOW PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE AND HANDLE THIS.

BECAUSE SOMETIMES ANXIOUS OR TENSION DRIVEN SITUATIONS CAN BRING OUT DIFFERENT RESPONSES IN PEOPLE.

SO WHAT HAS -- I MENTIONED AT THE BEGINNING THAT FEAR AND DREAD BUT ALSO ACTIVISM.

WHAT AT LEAST HAVE YOU FOUND THAT THIS IS BRINGING OUT IN POPULATIONS?

SO, IT'S NOT A MONOLITH.

IT SHOWS UP IN REALLY DIVERSE WAYS ACROSS VARIOUS KINDS OF PEOPLE'S EXPERIENCES RIGHT NOW.

WHETHER THAT BE JUST SHORT-TERM DISTRESS WHEN CONFRONTING THE NEWS, FOR EXAMPLE, OR SOMETHING THAT ACTUALLY TRAPS PEOPLE IN A PIT OF DESPAIR, WHEREBY THEY START BELIEVING THAT IT IS TOO LATE TO MAKE A MEANINGFUL DIFFERENCE, AND THIS IS NARRATIVELY -- THEIR FUTURE AND CREATE DEBILITATING STRESS AND IMPAIR FUNCTION.

MIGHT CAUSE PANIC ATTACKS OR SLEEP DISTURBANCES OR EVEN FORMS OF SELF-HARM.

THE LESS SEVERE END WE HAVE PEOPLE RECOGNIZING THAT THEY ARE WORRIED, THEY ARE DISTRESSED ABOUT SOMETHING THAT IS ABSOLUTELY VERY SENSIBLE AND COMPASSIONATE TO BE STRESSED ABOUT, BUT IT'S POINTING OUT WAYS IN WHICH THEY CAN ADDRESS THE THING THAT'S STRESSING THEM IT BECOMES A NAVIGATIONAL TOOL, BECOMES SOMETHING THEY CAN MOVE THROUGH, EMOTIONAL WEIGHT TRAINING SO THEY DON'T BECOME SO BURNED OUT ON THE TOPIC, APPLY SELF-CARE AND MOVE TOGETHER WITH OTHERS TO TRY TO IMPROVE THE OUTCOME.

SO IT'S -- I'M SEEING A SIMPLIFICATION THESE DAYS, WHERE A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE SAYING, CLIMATE ANXIETY.

THAT EQUATES TO DOOMISM, FATALISM.

THAT EQUATES TO PEOPLE GIVING UP.

AND THAT'S NOT TRUE.

MANY PEOPLE SAY THEIR CLIMATE ANXIETY IS THE SUPER FUEL THAT ALLOWS THEM TO DO THE WORK.

THE QUESTION IS, WHAT DEGREES CAN WE LIMIT IT TO IN OUR OWN LIVES WHILE BRINGING IN THE NOURISHING, JOYOUS ASPECTS OF BEING HUMAN THAT CAN SUPPORT NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOING THIS WORK AND NOT CHECK OUT FROM MENTAL EXHAUSTION.

LET'S GET INTO THAT, TERRIBLE PART ABOUT NOT CHECKING OUT AND WHAT IT IS WE CAN DO.

WHAT SIT FIRST OF ALL THINGS THAT ARE STILL TANGIBLE THAT THE AVERAGE, EVERYDAY PERSON CAN DO?

IT SEEMS OFTEN THAT WE HEAR STORIES ABOUT, YOU KNOW, OH, RECYCLING ISN'T AS BENEFICIAL AS YOU THOUGHT IT WAS.

OR, OH, LIKE, YOU MIGHT DO THIS ONE ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFIT, BUT IT HAS THIS NEGATIVE IMPACT AS WELL.

SO WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS WE CAN DO THAT ACTUALLY HELP?

WELL, THERE'S INTERNAL ACTIVISM AND EXTERNAL ACTIVISM IN THE CLIMATE CRISIS, AND BOTH ARE WHAT'S PART AND PARCEL OF WHAT'S NEEDED HERE.

. WE NEVER TALK ABOUT THE INTERNAL, BEING ABLE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, EMOTIONS THAT MIGHT BE EXISTENTIAL SO YOU DON'T DROWN WITH THEM WHEN THEY SHOW UP IN ONE'S LIFE, IF THAT IS SOMETHING THE PERSON IS CONTENDING WITH.

AND SO THAT REQUIRES THINGS LIKE SELF-CARE, WHICH WE LEARN FROM FEMINISTS LIKE AUDREY LORD THAT IT'S A POLITICAL ACT TO CARE FOR ONE'S SELF-IT'S AN ACT OF POLITICAL WARFARE TO FILL ONE'S CUP SO YOU CAN TAKE ON THE WORLD AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES.

THAT'S JUST AS RELEVANT HERE.

WAY OF COMMUNING.

PUT IT OUT ON THE TABLE, NOT SUPPRESS IT AND MALADAPTIVELY COPE LATER BECAUSE THE STRESSING STOPS WORKING.

BUT ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO PROCESS THIS AND SAY, HEY, THIS IS VALID, LEGITIMATE.

WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO TO SUPPORT EACH OTHER THROUGH THIS?

COMMUNITY BUILDING, HIGH SOCIAL TIES ARE WHAT HELP PEOPLE MOVE THROUGH ADVERSITY AND STRUCTURAL DIVERSITY WHEN DISASTER HITS OUR TOWN, FOR EXAMPLE.

BUT WHEN WE CAN THEN UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS A NORMAL NATURAL RESPONSE THAT WE HAVE PEOPLE TO MOVE THROUGH IT WITH, THAT WE CAN START REINVESTING THE ENERGY WE'RE LOSING FROM BEING DISTRESSED INTO ACTIONS THAT MATTER THAT WERE PURPOSEFUL AT THIS TIME, THAT'S WHERE THE EXTERNAL ACTIVISM IS WHERE WE'RE SHIFTING OUR FOCUS.

THE INDIVIDUAL ACTIONS ARE NOT GOING TO GET US THERE.

WE KNOW THAT.

IT CAN BE DEBILITATING TO THINK OF ONE'S RECYCLING WHICH ISN'T MAKING A DENT.

COLLECTIVE CHANGE IS REQUIRED.

THIS MEANS VOTING ON ISSUES THAT ARE STRESSING YOU RELATED TO CLIMATE AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

THIS MEANS PAYING ATTENTION TO WHERE YOU'RE PUTTING YOUR MONEY.

YOUR BANKING.

WHICH ORGANIZATIONS YOU'RE SIGNED UP WITH AND SUPPORTING AND WHERE THEY ARE INVESTED.

ARE THEY FULFILLING FUTURE EXISTENCE OF THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY WITH THEIR INVEST MS.

PRESIDENTS, OR ARE THEY DIVESTING AND PUTTING IT ELSEWHERE?

PENSIONS, FORMS OF COMING TOGETHER WITH CLIMATE ACTIVISM GROUPS, WAY OF BRINGING THE TOPIC INTO YOUR CLASSROOM IF YOU'RE A TEACHER OR INTO THE HEALTH-CARE SETTING IF YOU'RE A HEALTH-CARE WORKER.

REALLY BECAUSE IT'S A CRISIS THAT TOUCHES ALL ASPECT OF LIFE, WE CAN ATTACK IT FROM ALL ANGLES, WHETHER IT'S ACCOUNTANTS RESTRUCTURING HOW THEY'RE DOING THEIR BUSINESS OR CHILDREN STRIKING FROM SCHOOL.

SO IT'S REALLY ABOUT IDENTIFYING WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL ALIVE, WHAT GETS YOU OUT OF BED, WHAT YOUR SKILLS AND TALENTS ARE AND HOW YOU CAN BRING THAT TO THE ISSUE TOGETHER WITH OTHERS RATHER THAN GET STUCK IN THOUGHT OF BEING A CLIMATE HYPOCRITE BECAUSE YOU HAVE A SUV AND YOU TOOK A FLIGHT THAT TIME, THESE THINGS WHICH REALLY FEED THE ENVIRONMENTALIST CRITIC AND TEAR AWAY OUR ABILITY TO ACT AND UNDERSTAND THAT PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF GOOD, AND WE CAN ALL DO THINGS HERE TO HELP BE PART OF THE COLLECTIVE SOLUTION EVEN IF WE AREN'T PERFECT, AND DO UNDERSTAND WE UPHOLD PARTS OF THE STRUCTURES THAT ARE MAKING US UNWELL, BECAUSE WE'RE ALL IN THE SYSTEM WHICH RUNS ON FOSSIL FUELS.

I CAN'T BELIEVE WE'RE ALMOST OUT OF TIME.

WE'VE GOT ABOUT TWO MINUTES LEFT.

I WANT TO ASK THE QUESTION, AS WE COMPARE THE INDIVIDUAL TO THE COLLECTIVE, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE'RE SEEING YOUNGER PEOPLE SAY IS, YOU KNOW, I DON'T THINK I WANT TO HAVE KIDS AND ADD TO THE COLLECTIVE PROBLEM OF A CARBON FOOTPRINT.

AND I UNDERSTAND THAT'S A QUESTION YOU WRESTLED WITH YOURSELF.

NOT QUITE.

I WRESTLED WITH A DIFFERENT QUESTION, WHICH IS WHAT WILL A WARMING WORLD DO TO THE SAFETY AND WELL BEING OF A CHILD THAT I PUT INTO IT?

SO LESS OF THE IDEA THAT HUMAN FOOTPRINT EQUALS CARBON FOOTPRINTS AND THEREFORE IT'S AN ECOLOGICAL SIN TO CREATE MORE HUMANS WHICH IS A LONG STAND TROPE IN ENVIRONMENTALISM WHICH HAS BEEN DANIELING AND CURTAILED THE CIVIL LIBERTIES OF PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD, PREDOMINANTLY IN POOR NATIONS.

HOWEVER, THERE'S THIS OTHER WORRY, WHICH MANY PEOPLE ARE -- ESPECIALLY YOUNG PEOPLE CONFRONTING WHICH IS YES, SOMETIMES THAT CONCERN ABOUT THE FOOTPRINTISM, BUT MUCH MORE SO I'M DISCOVERING IN MY RESEARCH, WHICH IS GOING BACK MANY YEARS AGO NOW FOR MY BOOK ON THIS MATTER, THAT PEOPLE ARE WORRIED ABOUT WHAT CLIMATE DISRUPTION SCENARIO IS GOING TO DO TO ENDANGER CHILDREN'S WELL BEING AND TRAUMATIZE THEM IN THE DECADES AHEAD.

SO THAT IS WHAT OFTEN CAN BURR THE PAINFUL DILEMMA FOR PEOPLE THAT WANT TO BECOME BIOLOGICAL PARENTS BUT CONSIDER IT'S NOT A MORAL THING FOR THEM TO DO AND HAVE TO WRESTLE WE CO -- BEFORE COMING TO A DECISION.

OF COURSE.

WITH ABOUT A MINUTE OR SO LEFT, WE'RE SUPPOSED TO HAVE AN ACTIVE HURRICANE SEASON, AND I KNOW THAT'S SENTAWAYS OF ANXIETY FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY IN THE NEW YORK AREA THAT REMEMBER SUPERSTORM SANDY.

HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE PEOPLE TO TAKE THAT ANXIETY ABOUT MORE HURRICANES -- YOU KNOW, STRONGER STORMS COMING.

HOW DO YOU TURN THAT INTO SOMETHING POSITIVE?

I'D SAY GET TO KNOW THE PEOPLE WHERE YOU ARE LIVING.

INVEST IN COMMUNITY.

COME TOGETHER AND TALK ABOUT HOW YOU'RE FEELING.

BE ABLE TO PROCESS BY SHARING.

THAT'S IMPORTANT.

BUT WHAT'S EVEN MORE VITAL FOR PROTECTING PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL BEING, WHEN THOSE HURRICANES ARE COMING IS TO KNOW YOU HAVE HIGH SOCIAL CONNECTEDNESS, PEOPLE TO RELY ON, AND FEEL THAT LACK OF ISOLATION, LACK OF ALIENATION IN ALL THIS WHICH UNDERGIRDS RESILIENCE.

IT BUILDS OUR RESILIENCE TO KNOW WE CAN -- SHARED GOALS.

TIME AND AGAIN, THE RESEARCH CHOSE PEOPLE HAVE LESS PTSD AND -- REBUILD AFTER LIVING IN THAT COMMUNAL EFFECT.

ECOANXIETY CAN BE A TOOL FOR POINTING OUT'ing THAT'S SOMETHING YOU CAN DO FOR YOURSELF.

I'D LIKE TO THANK MY GUEST, BRIT WRAY, A HUMAN AND PLANETARY HEALTH FELLOW AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY, AND OF COURSE THE AUTHOR OF THE NEW BOOK 'GENERATION DREAD, FINDING PURPOSE IN THE AGE OF CLIMATE CRISIS'. BRIT, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING TIME TO JOIN US ON 'METROFOCUS.'

JENNA, THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

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