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Our Environment at Risk: Experiencing climate change anxiety?

Our Environment at Risk: Experiencing climate change anxiety?

From the COLLECTION: Letters, columns, cartoon and editorials from our weekend Opinion pages series
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I think about the impending adverse consequences of climate change every day. Each time it brings me anxiety and I am not alone in feeling that way.

According to an online October 2020 Scientific American article about climate change, “nearly three fourths of Americans now think it’s occurring, more than 60% believe it is caused by humans, and more than two thirds report they’re at least “somewhat worried” by it.” Climate scientists specifically, knowing all too well the terrible effects climate change will have on our world, are having their mental well-being weakened by anxiety.

Over the past several years you could not help but increasingly hear about climate change and its adverse effects in the news, on TV and radio, or in social media. Some of the climate change related topics covered have included extreme weather events, US security, business risk, rising sea levels, flooding, droughts, climate migrants, and unusual changes in the Gulf Stream. The range of concerns is broad and growing.

Most recently the Midwest experienced more than a week of unseasonably cold temperatures due to the polar vortex that migrated south over the central US, all the way into Texas and Alabama with disastrous results. Understanding how this happened is important.

The polar vortex is a large area of cold air and low pressure around the North Pole. It’s usually contained in the Arctic by a strong polar jet stream that circles the globe. A significant temperature difference across the jet stream keeps it stable and contains the cold air to the far north. But as Arctic sea ice melts due to global warming, the darker ocean water absorbs more heat from sunlight that was once reflected away by white sea ice. Due to this warming, the temperature difference across the polar jet stream is reduced and the jet stream weakens allowing portions of it to dip south and bring with it colder Arctic air.

The recent extreme cold in the central southern states resulted in the deaths of over 50 people and thousands of farm animals, billions of dollars of property damage, and a lack of heat and drinking water for residents. I can’t imagine the amount of human and animal suffering involved in just this one climate change related weather event. And unusual, extreme weather events are nearly a daily occurrence across the planet

In 2019 and 2020 it seemed like the world was on fire, literally. Numerous, intense wildfires in Australia, Siberia, the Amazon rainforest, and the western United States resulted in the loss of untold numbers of wildlife, dozens of human lives, thousands of buildings, and billions of dollars of damage while burning millions of acres of land and forest. According to the Washington Post, California’s “wet season is beginning nearly a month later than it did in the 1960s and…the autumn season has become progressively drier. Both of these patterns have been tied at least in part to human-caused climate change.” The fire season is now longer. The situation is getting worse.

One cannot forget the horrendous images of people driving through walls of flame hoping to escape being trapped by a fast-moving, raging wildfire or koalas in Australia being treated for terrible burns. Are you also experiencing some anxiety while reading how climate change is affecting our world?

We are being bombarded by dire, science-based information about climate change, yet little is being done by most governments around the world. While we only learned about COVID-19 at the beginning of 2020, the worldwide response to develop vaccines to combat the pandemic has been unprecedented. Governments and corporations rallied with massive funding and resources to bring the virus under control and support businesses, schools, health care facilities, families, and individuals impacted by COVID-19.

Yet we’ve known about human-caused climate change for decades and have willingly ignored taking aggressive measures to control it. While the Biden administration has prioritized action on climate change, Congress appears to be content to continue with its partisan infighting. It is not adopting strong, effective climate change legislation for dealing with the looming catastrophe before us. There is no excuse or defense for leaving young people and future generations to deal with the worsening dystopia to come. Reach out to your U.S. representative ( and US Senators ( urging them to take climate change action seriously and act decisively.

In the meantime, we can expect that climate change anxiety levels will continue to rise for more and more Americans.


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