In recent years, the term ‘climate anxiety’ has transitioned from a fringe concept to a globally recognised phenomenon. Recent data from Google, shared exclusively with BBC 100 Women, reveals a startling increase in online searches for “climate anxiety,” highlighting a growing global concern. This trend underscores not just the physical impacts of climate change, but also the profound effects it has on our mental well-being.
The Surge in Climate Anxiety
Climate anxiety, characterised by distress over the impacts of climate change, has seen a dramatic uptick in awareness. Google Trends data indicates that searches for this term in the first 10 months of 2023 were 27 times higher than in the same period in 2017. This surge isn’t confined to the English language; significant increases have been noted in Portuguese, Chinese, and Arabic as well, demonstrating a worldwide spike in concern.
Women at the Forefront
Interestingly, the data suggests that climate anxiety impacts women more than men. Studies published in “Sustainability” and findings from the European Social Survey both point to this gender disparity. Women report greater levels of concern and negative emotions about climate change, contrasting with men’s generally more optimistic outlook and faith in governmental action.
Climate Anxiety vs. Eco-Anxiety
It’s crucial to distinguish between climate anxiety and eco-anxiety. While both terms are often used interchangeably, they have nuanced differences. Climate anxiety is specific to climate change, while eco-anxiety refers to a broader range of environmental threats, including pollution and biodiversity loss .
Global Search Trends and Insights
Nordic countries have shown the highest global search queries for climate anxiety over the past five years, with Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway accounting for over 40% of these searches. Contrastingly, countries in the Global South like Chile, the Philippines, and South Africa represent smaller shares, indicating varying levels of awareness and concern across different regions .
The Gendered Impact of Climate Change
Research indicates that women are more vulnerable to the direct and indirect impacts of climate change. Increased risks of domestic and sexual violence post-natural disasters, health risks during pregnancy, and higher mortality rates in climate-related disasters disproportionately affect women. Additionally, cultural and societal factors can exacerbate these impacts, with early marriages in economically stressed families due to climate change being one example .
The Growing Recognition of Mental Health Impacts
The mental health implications of climate change are finally gaining the attention they deserve. The IPCC’s inclusion of these impacts in their reports and the discussions at COP28 in Dubai are testament to this growing recognition .
As the physical consequences of climate change become more evident, so does the need to address its psychological impacts. Understanding and addressing climate anxiety, particularly its disproportionate effects on women, is crucial. This growing awareness is a positive step towards holistic climate action that considers not just the environmental but also the human element.
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- Clayton, S.D., Pihkala, P., Wray, B. and Marks, E. (2023). Psychological and Emotional Responses to Climate Change among Young People Worldwide: Differences Associated with Gender, Age, and Country. Sustainability, 15(4), p.3540. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/su15043540.
- Poortinga, W., Whitmarsh, L., Steg, L., Böhm, G. and Fisher, S. (2019). Climate change perceptions and their individual-level determinants: A cross-European analysis. Global Environmental Change, 55, pp.25–35.
- Climate change: Rise in Google searches around ‘anxiety’. (2023). BBC News. [online] 22 Nov. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-67473829.