‘And Then The Climate Changed’
Beth Haase MD writes:
The amount of mental disorders including depression, violent behavior, post-traumatic stress, that could result from global warming is massive in scale. Up to forty percent of people exposed to significant climate hardship could be affected. That means, for example, that if sea levels rise as predicted, 280 million of 700 million coastal world residents could survive with a diagnosable mental condition. And of course, disadvantaged children and the elderly will bear the brunt of this hardship.
We know already that our children will face significant mental stress even if climate change is controlled. Reduced exposure to nature in itself undermines mental health. The expected impacts will cause profound deprivation, loss, and terror, difficult emotions for humans of all ages. To be secure and resilient leaders, children need to start in a world that builds self-esteem, secures attachment to family, home and habitat, and provides them with survival skills and moral abilities that preserve both themselves and a civil society. We cannot hide the risks they face, but we must not overwhelm them with fear.
Making the long-range plans needed for sustainable and resilient societies will conflict with personal and immediate self-interest. It will cut against human instincts and require advanced cognitive and psychological skills. We are guided by cognitive biases, mental short cuts that tell us we are more important and less vulnerable than we are, and skew our assessment of risk towards choices that make us happy in the moment and unhappy longer term.
Climate change will pose specific psychological challenges. Children will need more complex modes of problem-solving, more long-range planning, skills for more rapid adaptation to loss and change than are innate. We owe them these psychological skills as much as we owe them our beautiful planet.
The greatest threat to our planet and our kids is human behavior. Inability to feel, think, and act in new ways is what slows our response to global changes. Emotional and behavioral change is our only hope.