A-Z of climate anxiety: how to avoid meltdown

(The Guardian, 8 Dec 2019) With the climate emergency putting our mental health at risk, Emma Beddington presents an everyday guide to eco wellbeing.


Much like the planet, people have a tipping point. Mine came last summer, when a respected scientist told me matter-of-factly that he thought it was “at least highly unlikely” that his teenage children would survive beyond late middle age. At that point, three decades of climate unease crystallised into debilitating dread, and I’m far from alone.

“There are hundreds of people contacting us, looking for support,” says Caroline Hickman of the Climate Psychology Alliance. It’s not just individuals either. “We’ve reached a level where organisations are asking for professional help to support their staff: civil servants, museums, universities… They’re noticing massive increases in anxiety and concern.”

Eco anxiety isn’t pathological: it’s a legitimate reaction to the climate crisis. “It’s mentally healthy to feel this way,” says Hickman. “It’s a sign of empathy.” The real problem is how we manage our feelings.


We know that global species extinction – already at a rate that is unprecedented over the past 10m years – is accelerating, but here’s a chilling example: the UK has lost 97% of its hedgehog population since the 1950s.

“You look at these horrific headlines about habitats and mass extinctions,” says Emma Mitchell, author of The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us. “People say, ‘What can we do, we feel completely powerless?’ My answer is: we can do a great deal.”

If you have outside space, follow gardener and author Kate Bradbury’s advice and plant native. “Native plants have specific relationships with native moths, which lay their eggs on the leaves,” she says. “Birds then feed the caterpillars to their young, and hedgehogs, frogs, mice, wasps… pretty much everything eats caterpillars. So by planting native shrubs and trees you’re creating a food chain in your garden and, literally, preventing further decline of species.”

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The Guardian, 8 Dec 2019: A-Z of climate anxiety: how to avoid meltdown