Despite everything that has been said about climate change, we haven’t heard nearly enough about the everyday effects of living in a warming world. Have we ever attempted to reflect on how our changing environments endanger our mental, social, and spiritual well-being? We have seen trends, such as Hurricane Sandy, for increased PTSD and suicidality following extreme weather events. Still, there are effects of climate change that we are already experiencing in our daily lives, even if we are unaware of them or prefer to ignore them.
The hottest 20 years on record occurred within the last twenty-two. The UN expects that two-thirds of the global population may face water shortages only six years from now. The World Bank predicts that by 2050, there will be 140 million climate refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. And other estimates put that number at over one billion. Mass migrations and resource scarcity increase violence, war, and political instability risk. The UN reported recently that we are pushing up to a million species to extinction, many within decades, and our emissions are still increasing, even after the Paris Agreement. Are you someone with climate-linked pre-traumatic stress? Is climate change affecting your mental health?
Climate change is all-encompassing, which is how it messes with our minds. In the age of climate change, people are now debating whether they should have children. Since hurricanes, floods, and wildfires are already standard, any child born today will have to live in a world where these events, which we used to refer to as “natural catastrophes,” will be commonplace. People who are hesitant to have children because of climate change are not motivated by ascetic pride. They are terrified. There is even a movement called “Birth Strike,” whose members have declared that they will not have children because of the current state of ecological crisis and government inaction to address this existential threat. It is a miserable state of affairs that most people now believe having more than one child is unethical because children increase greenhouse gas emissions. People who want children give up their right to have them because they have been told that their lifestyle choices are to blame.
The fastest warming is occurring in the north, where people like the Inuit in Labrador are experiencing an existential crisis as they see the ice, a significant component of their identity, melt away in front of their very eyes. Psychological reactions to climate change exist, including powerlessness, aversion to conflict, and resignation. Because we require all of those things to deal with what we have created, our conscious and unconscious brain processes are preventing us from recognizing the root causes of the issue for what they are, developing solutions, and strengthening our psychological resilience.
Another psychological effect of global warming is the disruption of our sleep. We are getting less sleep. Approximately 60 percent of people worldwide believe they do not get enough sleep. What is the reason? Specifically, the rise in temperatures. There are now many more nights during the hottest months when it is impossible to sleep. This is a direct cause, but there are indirect causes as well, such as the anxiety felt by those affected by fires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. If these devastating phenomena are increasing, so is the number of people suffering from this type of stress and struggling to sleep.
Other effects of global warming on our daily lives include more traffic congestion. When we travel by car, we are affected by climate change because we are subjected to increasing traffic jams. Because weather patterns are becoming more erratic, materials and transportation infrastructure are under increasing strain. What happens when a road, bridge, or tunnel fails? Until it is repaired, traffic conditions will deteriorate.
Food is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive. Supermarkets have become places of superabundance in many parts of the world over the last century, where food from all over the world, regardless of the growing season, can be purchased. However, as climate change disrupts global food production, this era of convenience is ending. Soon, staple crops like rice and wheat products, fruits like peaches and cherries, and seafood like sardines and scallops may be challenging to find or afford.
Furthermore, we are losing natural spaces. High temperatures, a lack of precipitation, and desertification prevent rain in some areas. This means that river levels in these areas are dropping, causing lakes, ponds, and wells to dry up and, in some cases, disappear. The environmental impact is clear, as is the effect on humans, who have fewer places to visit in the summer to cool off, deal with the heat, and enjoy nature.
We need to be more open and truthful about what is taking place and our respective obligations towards each other. Because the other issues of science, technology, politics, and the economy fell hard while this one feels soft, we cannot afford to overlook the psychological effects of global warming as some afterthought. Any climate change survival strategy that requires financing and ethics of equity, care, and public awareness must include mental health as a critical component because there is no rug big enough in the world to hide this under, even if you are the most emotionally avoidant person on the earth.