Climate change can frighten you. But what if the fear doesn't go away? The phenomenon of climate fear could harm movement.
January 2, 2020, 6:30 a.m.
When Friederike sits in the lecture with tired eyes in the morning, the sea level rises by a few micrometers. Tens of thousands of people pack their things to escape a drought or flood when she meets up with friends in the afternoon. And when she falls into bed exhausted in the evening, eight centimeters of ice have melted away from the glaciers of the earth that day. Sometimes, says Friederike, climate change grows over her head.
Friederike Freitag is 21 years old and worries about climate change every day. It makes her restless, anxious, sometimes cynical, she says. Then she wonders: "Does it make any sense what I'm doing here? In the end we die." Why commit yourself to CO2-free travel? Why bother to introduce a composting facility at the university? And why your studies? Friederike enrolled a year ago for "Global Project and Change Management" in the Dutch town of Windesheim, a course of study that deals with sustainable business practices and social responsibility. "I've always had an urge to do something meaningful, something sustainable in my life," she explains. But after the euphoria of the first months, in winter, Frederike fell into a dark hole. The burden of climate change, the desire to change something and the feeling of failure failed to catapult them into a depressed mood.
As early as 2008, the American Psychological Society (APA) was evaluating studies that looked at how people respond to the threat of climate change. In their report, the psychologists state: "Even in the absence of direct effects, fear of climate change can affect mental health."
Even in pop culture, the phenomenon has already arrived: in the US series Big Little Lies , a nine-year-old schoolgirl panicked from climate change and hid in a closet.
Hamburg psychologist Katharina van Bronswijk calls this feeling: fear of the climate. A state of persistent anxiety caused by dealing with the consequences of global warming. Van Bronswijk is involved in the Psychologists for Future, an association of psychologists who support the movement. "On Fridays," van Bronswijk calls the young climate activists, "there are several who feel this fear." Young people also exchange ideas on social media. British climate activist Finn Harries admitted to his followers on Instagram that he was overwhelmed by despair, grief and depression due to the daily flood of information about the state of nature. Dozens thanked the 26-year-old and commented that it was similar to them.
"There are several people on Fridays who feel this fear." Katharina van Bronswijk, psychologist and activist
Whoever listens to the psychologist van Bronswijk gets the impression that the protest, which has been going on for more than a year, has its price. That there are young people who are so concerned with climate change that they suffer from it. The fear of the climate, says Van Bronswijk, is only one of several psychological abnormalities that she observed. Another is ecological grief, a persistent despondency about the loss of habitats due to environmental degradation. And at the moment their group is debating whether there is also a "pre-traumatic stress disorder" as a result of climate change: "Traumatization through the terrible images that threaten the ideas of the impending Trigger a climate catastrophe in us. " The psychologist and her colleagues try to be there for the young people. They are on demonstrations when one of the activists wants to talk and give workshops where young people can learn to deal with their feelings. The offers, says van Bronswijk, are being actively used.