Climate anxiety has been felt by many this week after a UN report found the world is facing longer droughts, and more severe floods and bushfires.
As the world becomes more unstable, some young people are questioning whether to have children, whilst grandparents have expressed fear for their families.
While the enormity of rising temperatures may feel overwhelming, Doctors for Environment Australia psychiatrist Dr Robert Llewellyn-Jones believes it’s important to remember one key thing.
“Every fraction of a degree of global heating that we can avoid matters,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“Every year between now and 2030 and beyond matters.
“Every choice we make matters, and I think that's that's a really critical issue.”
While Dr Llewellyn-Jones is optimistic that the world can take urgent action to address climate change, he said that results cannot be achieved by individuals alone and that government must take the lead.
“My belief is that Australia needs to cut emissions by 75 per cent by 2030,” he said.
“If our government fails to do this, then our leaders will have failed us and our children and grandchildren.”
How individuals can tackle climate change
When individuals feel powerless by government inaction to tackle the climate crisis, Dr Llewellyn-Jones remembers that individuals have been able to impact the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We've had millions of individual people wearing masks, socially isolating, using hand hygiene and that’s made a massive difference to the outcome of the pandemic,” he said.
“We know that change can occur very quickly.
“I think it's important to to be optimistic that we can meet this challenge.”
Climate crisis becoming real for many
The last several years, Dr Llewellyn-Jones says, have driven home that climate change is not just a distant concept, but it is affecting us now.
“I think it's just becoming a whole lot more real to people,” he said.
Bushfires, worsening air quality, heat waves and floods create spikes in a general hum of anxiety caused by the ongoing murmur of the climate crisis.
Yesterday, a patient told him they have stopped reading climate change news because they found it too upsetting.
Even when climate change is not directly impacting Australians, they are able to see incidents like wildfires in Greece on the television, and that can bring back memories crises like Black Summer.
Father motivated to respond to climate crisis
Dr Llewellyn-Jones believes it is normal to be upset about the forecasts in the UN’s IPCC report into the impact of climate change.
As the father of a 13-year-old daughter he “absolutely worries” about the future, but that anxiety he says can also be motivational for some to be part of the solution.
“It certainly motivates me, but you've also got to be careful that it doesn't overwhelm people,” he said.
“Then they could get to the point of responding with a fight flight response; either becoming angry about it, or going into a denial response.”
“What we're looking for, is for people to be motivated to find sensible, cooperative solutions needed to save the planet, and in fact our species.”
Seasoned climate campaigner shares what keeps her motivated
Dr Llewellyn-Jones's sentiments are echoed by Greenpeace climate campaigner Fiona Ivits who took to Twitter after the IPCC report was released to express her dismay.
“Big climate anxiety today,” she wrote.
“It's weird, I've been working on climate for years and generally hold it together reasonably well, but occasionally the enormity of what we're facing sneaks up and gives me a massive punch in the guts.”
Speaking with Yahoo News Australia, Ms Ivits said despite knowing what the IPCC report would likely include, seeing its predictions laid out in black and white shocked her.
“It took me by surprise how much it affected me emotionally,” she said.
“For a lot of climate activists, there was this sense of shock, and dismay at seeing a warning like that laid out by the top climate scientists in the world.”
As the mother of a five-year-old son, Ms Ivits has learned to transform some of her own anxieties into hope.
“The young people are our hope, they’re our future, and we have to do everything in our power to help them to meet the future head on,” she said.
“I’ve been talking to my son about the report in terms of what a five year old can understand, and what it means - and he gets it.
“He understands what we need to do: We need to reduce emissions, we need to make changes to lifestyle, we need to make changes to the way we use energy.
“To see a five year old grasp those concepts, and take them on board, that gives me hope that this generation coming through will know how to deal with this crisis.”
Five tips from Beyond Blue to help manage climate change worries
Try to keep things in perspective, as there are many global issues that the world has had to contend with, and this is a challenge for this generation.
Never feel like you have to manage the problem on your own and get involved with other people who are also concerned about climate change issues.
Take time to switch off from bad news if you are feeling overwhelmed.
Put your energy into being part of the solution.
Working to cultivate hope is an important protective factor against being overwhelmed by climate anxiety.
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