The first comprehensive examination of climate stress among the adult population in the United Kingdom implies that, while rates are low, people’s concerns about the planet's future may be an important trigger for action when it comes to adjusting our high-carbon lifestyle choices to be more eco-friendly.
The American Psychological Association defines eco-anxiety as a persistent worry of environmental catastrophe brought on by watching the effects of climate change, and interest in this topic has increased recently. In 2021, a well-known University of Bath study discovered that it was especially common among young people worldwide.
This most recent study sought the opinions of 1,338 UK adults over two-time points (in 2020 and 2022) to dig deeper into the occurrence of climate anxiety, variables that anticipate it, and if it could predict individual changes in behavior and climate response. A group from the Centre headed the study for Climate Change and Social Transformations, based at the University of Bath.
Even though more than 75% of UK citizens claim to be concerned about climate change, only 4.6% of the populace reported having anxiety related to it in 2022 (only slightly more than in 2020, when 4% stated this). Eco-anxiety was more prevalent in younger individuals and those with greater levels of generalized anxiety.
However, concern over the environment was not always unfavorable—for many, it served as an inspiration to take steps to cut emissions. This includes reusing, borrowing, renting, buying used items, or conserving energy. Even if changing one’s lifestyle and eating less red meat are quite effective in lowering emissions, these changes are not associated with anxiety about the environment.
Notably, the study discovered that media exposure, rather than direct, personal experiences of climate impacts, such as TV depictions of roaring storms or heatwaves, anticipated climate anxiety. According to the authors, these findings have significant ramifications for organizations in charge of addressing climate change.
The study that was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology comes out at the same time as a brand-new briefing paper on UK public preferences for low-carbon lifestyles from the Centre for Climate Change & Social Transformations. Its data indicates that altering one’s lifestyle—for instance, driving less or eating less meat—is becoming more and more accepted as both doable and desirable.
Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, MBE of the University of Bath, conducted the study.
She explained: “With increasing media coverage of climate impacts, such as droughts and fires in the UK and devastating flooding in Pakistan, climate anxiety may well increase. Our findings suggest this can spur some people to take action to help tackle the issue – but we also know there are barriers to behavior change that need to be addressed through more government action.”
The authors of the paper stress the significance of the media as a driving force behind the necessary lifestyle changes as we decarbonize. They contend that public discussion and the media can foster a vision for a cleaner, greener future, and substantially less reliant on fossil fuels.
Our results suggest that the media could play an important role in creating positive pro-environmental behavior change, but only if they carefully communicate the reality of climate change without inducing a sense of hopelessness.
Lois Player, Study Co-Author, Psychology, University of Bath
Whitmarsh, L., et al. (2022) Climate anxiety: What predicts it and how is it related to climate action? Journal of Environmental Psychology. doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2022.101866.