I took some time this summer to look into the mental health effects of climate change. I put together a collection of links. Serious stuff - the Lancet, American Psychological Association, Center for Disease Control, that sort of thing.
It began with the burnout phenomenon. Professionals, scientists, directly and indirectly involved with climate change, month after month, who just can't handle it and flee to industry or some backwater community college to protect what's left of their sanity. Plenty of horror stories there.
Then it was on to the public at large - first those already savaged by severe weather events such as floods, droughts, heatwaves or cyclonic storms, the post-traumatic stress disorder crowd. That led me to an even larger group. This last group has not yet been hammered by climate change but they see it coming and it preys on their minds. They're being called the "pre-traumatic stress disorder" victims. Climate change will drive you nuts.
Then, this morning, there it was in the Toronto Star - "Climate change is wreaking havoc on our mental health, experts say." Yep.
As a provincial coroner and past palliative care physician, Dr. David Ouchterlony has seen suffering and death up close, experiences that have occasionally led to brief moments of sadness. But Ouchterlony describes such emotions as “trivial” compared to the dread he feels when thoughts about climate change linger, as they often do. He worries almost obsessively about a future he won’t see. How will younger generations be affected? Why are we failing to act on the threat?
“I was completely blind to it, and then five years ago it just hit me,” Ouchterlony, 74, said. “I went through this stage of losing sleep, thinking about my grandchild, wondering what I could do.”
He described the feeling as an “absence of hope” characterized by despair and, at times, exhausting guilt. Some researchers have called it a “pre-traumatic” stress disorder that, in some, is feeding anxiety and depressive thoughts.
Even the US National Wildlife Federation has weighed in.
It predicted that cases of mental and social disorders will rise steeply as the signs of climate change become clearer and more frequent, and as more people are directly affected by heat waves, drought and other extreme events that put pressure on clean water resources, food prices and public infrastructure.
“These will include depressive and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, suicides and widespread outbreaks of violence,” predicted the report. It singled out children, the poor, the elderly and those with existing mental health problems as those likely to be hardest hit.
Bear in mind that what we're seeing, what is making its way into the professional research and analysis, is all the "early onset" stuff. We're now at 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. With the greenhouse gases we have already emitted we've "locked in" 1.5C of warming but it may take a decade or two to manifest. Every extra tank of SUV juice we burn adds to that 1.5C which is why we're looking at a realistic 3+ degrees Celsius of warming by the time we get around to banning fossil fuels. But there's a kicker. That is man-made global warming. That's our part.
What's not factored in to those numbers are sources of natural warming that have been triggered by the man-made component. The loss of Arctic sea ice, the retreat of glaciers and especially the Greenland ice sheet, the warming (and acidifying) oceans, the release of lakebed and seabed methane, major shifts in atmospheric circulation patterns (jet streams), the thawing of the permafrost - for starters. These are called "natural feedback loops" which are the tipping points we've been warned could trigger runaway global warming. These things that are underway now are the very things we were supposed to avoid triggering.
With this mental health blight setting in, and worsening, we're left with yet another reason to transition Canada - our society and our economy - away from fossil energy as rapidly as possible. Yet our current prime minister, just like the prime minister he replaced, sees it as his solemn and overriding duty to pimp as much bitumen as he can onto world markets. Think of it as Justin Trudeau's way of saying that he really doesn't care what this may be doing to your mind. We have come to the point where we have to choose. No matter how much lipstick he puts on that pig, Trudeau has made his choice.