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Climate anxiety is an important driver of climate action – new study – Scientific Inquirer

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The first-ever detailed study of climate anxiety among UK adults suggests that, although rates are currently low, people’s fears about the future of the planet could be an important trigger for action when it comes to adapting our high-carbon lifestyles to become more environmentally friendly.

In recent years, there has been increased interest in climate or environmental anxiety, which the American Psychological Association characterizes as a chronic fear of environmental destruction that arises as a result of observing the effects of climate change. Loud Studying at the University of Bath in 2021 found that it is particularly prevalent among young people worldwide.

This is the latest research led by a team from Center for Climate Change and Social Transformationsalso based at the University of Bath, sought the views of 1,338 British adults at two points in time (in 2020 and 2022) to explore the prevalence of climate anxiety, the factors that predict it, and whether it can predict individual behavior change and climate action.


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Although more than three quarters of the UK population are concerned about climate change, only 4.6% of the population reported facing climate change restlessness in 2022 (only marginally higher than in 2020, when 4% reported this). Younger people and people with higher generalized anxiety were more likely to experience environmental anxiety.

However, climate anxiety has not always been negative; for many, this can be an incentive to take action to reduce emissions. This included saving energy, buying used, borrowing, renting or repurposing things. Lifestyle changes, such as reducing red meat consumption, have not been linked to climate change, despite being very effective at reducing emissions.

Notably, the study found that media exposure — such as television images of fierce storms or heat waves — predicted climate anxiety more than direct personal experience of climate exposure. The authors say the findings have important implications for organizations responsible for communicating about climate change.

Research published in Journal of Environmental Psychology coincides with a new instructional paper from the Center for Climate Change and Social Transformation focused on the UK’s public preference for low-carbon lifestyles. His analysis suggests that lifestyle changes (such as reducing car use or eating less meat) are increasingly seen as possible and desirable.

An environmental psychologist from the University of Bath, Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh MBE, supervised the study. She explained: “With increasing media coverage of climate impacts, such as droughts and fires in the UK and devastating floods in Pakistan, climate anxiety may be on the rise. Our findings suggest that this may encourage some people to take action to help tackle the problem – but we also know that there are barriers to behavior change that need to be addressed through more government action.”

In the article, the authors emphasize the importance of the media as a motivating force for the lifestyle changes required as decarbonization progresses. They suggest that the media and public discourse about climate alarm can create a positive vision of a greener future that is much less dependent on fossil fuels.

Lois Playerco-author of the study, also from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, explained: “Our findings suggest that the media can play an important role in creating positive pro-environmental behavior change, but only if they carefully communicate the reality of climate change without creating a sense of hopelessness.” .

IMAGE CREDIT: AdobeStock


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