Arguably one of the biggest, but also most overlooked, barriers preventing real climate action is the mental health phenomenon of climate fatigue.
Also known as apocalypse fatigue, Resilience defines the concept as “the exhaustion of having to make endless moral choices when they don’t seem to make a difference.”
In other words, having the feeling that your actions are futile in the face of climate disaster, a feeling that may be further compounded by the inaction of others seeming to negate your own efforts.
I have certainly felt this kind of frustration, when it appears that people just don’t care about the problems facing our environment. Seeing the recent littering, mainly caused by students, in parks around Nottingham following the reintroduction of the rule of six is one example.
It relates to feeling inadequate in comparison to seemingly perfect climate heroes like Greta Thunberg
It certainly made me feel disillusioned with the supposed idea that younger generations are leading the way in terms of sustainability and climate awareness.
But there is another facet to climate fatigue which made me re-evaluate the judgements I found myself making about the choices of others. It relates to feeling inadequate in comparison to seemingly perfect climate heroes like Greta Thunberg and realising that, for the average person, it is virtually impossible to be climate conscious all the time.
That is not to say I necessarily excuse those who leave litter in parks, because putting your rubbish in a bin is a pretty simple task.
However, it is very easy to feel helpless when you are unable, for whatever reason, to act in the best interest of the planet, whether that be through diet, shopping choices or transport. The fact that someone makes a less climate conscious choice does not mean that they don’t care at all.
After all, according to data taken from a YouGov poll cited in The Guardian in 2019, “almost half of 18- to 24-year-olds chose environmental issues as one of the nation’s three most pressing concerns.”
This suggests that climate awareness amongst young people is hugely increasing, and with this comes small changes that build up over time.
Without sounding too cheesy, everyone is on a different stage of their journey towards living sustainably.
So, perhaps the best way to personally deal with climate fatigue is to take a step back and focus on individual actions, rather than making assumptions that may be misguided and are also going to negatively affect your own mental health.
It is also necessary to take time out from news coverage and discussions about climate change if you recognise that you are becoming overwhelmed.
Keeping informed is important, but your mental health must take priority. Plus, you are likely to be little help to the planet if you are suffering yourself!
In addition to monitoring the way you internally think about climate action, changing the rhetoric used when discussing the climate is just as important when dealing with climate fatigue.
This is of course not something that is going to change overnight. Nevertheless, it is arguably the most effective way to overcome climate fatigue.
A lot of media coverage about climate change uses apocalyptic language, such as ‘crisis’, ‘catastrophe’, ‘disaster’ and ‘fight’, which has filtered into the language we might use to discuss the climate in everyday conversation.
When discussing climate issues, it is much more productive to focus on the opportunities and solutions that are out there
And while it is of course vital to stress the importance of the problems we face, this language can be very overwhelming.
In an interview with Greater Good Magazine, Per Espen Stoknes – a psychologist and economist recently appointed to the Norwegian Parliament – stressed the problems with this kind of discourse.
He stated that “if you overdo the threat of catastrophe, you make people feel fear or guilt or a combination. But these two emotions are passive. They make people disconnect and avoid the topic rather than engage with it.”
Instead, he suggests that when discussing climate issues, it is much more productive to focus on the opportunities and solutions that are out there. Remaining hopeful and celebrating the progress we are making is crucial to enabling this progress to continue.
In this way, along with the change in mindset I suggested earlier, climate action can be entirely re-framed.
Instead of trying to push back against impending disaster, we are pushing forwards and creating a better, more sustainable reality free from climate fatigue.
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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