Monday, September 26, 2016

It'll Drive You Nuts

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.

“We may not currently be thinking about how heavy the toll on our psyche will be, but, before long, we will know only too well,” warned a 2012 report from the U.S. National Wildlife Federation.

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.

“People may, indeed, suffer from anxiety about climate change but not know it. They will have a vague unease about what is happening around them, the changes they see in nature, the weather events and the fact that records are being broken month after month. But they won’t be sufficiently aware of the source, and furthermore, we all conflate and layer one anxiety upon another.”

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.


Toby said...

What gives me anxiety about climate change is that our leaders don't have anxiety about climate change.

The Mound of Sound said...

I've been thinking quite a bit about our leaders' indifference, Toby. I have a draft post dealing with this in the works.

There are some powerful conflicts in play that may be thwarting government action. The public isn't clamouring for the sort of measures that would be needed. I expect they would punish any government that moved to decarbonize our society and economy.

Another factor is our petro-economy. Pretty hard to think of giving that up.

Then there's the commercial sector which, with the exception of a few groups such as insurers, would oppose meaningful action.

The "wink, wink - nudge, nudge" opposition isn't holding the government's feet to the fire nor is our corporate media cartel.

So just where is the impetus for change? Why can't the government get beyond Harper's meagre emissions cuts target? It's a disgrace. We should all be deeply ashamed but we're not.

Lorne said...

You and I have discussed this before, Mound, but I must say that climate change, from all I have learned from you and other sources, does preoccupy me in many ways. Not the least of those ways is the consternation, even contempt i feel over the average person's apparent indifference toward, or ignorance of, the threat. Every time I see people sitting in their cars idly while waiting for someone in the store, every time I see people hopping into their cars to go to the corner store, every time i see people driving big and unneeded trucks and SUVs, I feel real discouragement, even despair. Our conveniences and our own complete comfort seem to take precedence, no matter the long-term costs incurred.

Anonymous said...

Anyong: The Sunday Edition on CBC yesterday morning has revealed another environmental problem. This will keep raising its ugly head.

We have become accustomed to the idea that we may, someday, run out of oil. The world's great forests are being stripped away. Underwater aquifers, a vital source of water for millions, are being depleted at an alarming rate.
But very few of us have ever imagined that we are also in danger of running out of sand.
Sand is easy to ignore. It is, after all, one of the most abundant resources on the planet. But when you look at what sand becomes — concrete, glass, and silicon — you begin to realize that we are living in a world made out of sand...a world that would look very different if we were ever to run out.
According to award-winning journalist Vince Beiser, that is exactly what is starting to happen.
Sand is the thing that our cities are made out of... Every concrete building that you see is basically just a huge pile of sand glued together with cement. All the roads that connect all those buildings — also made of sand. All the windows in those buildings are made from sand. The silicon that powers your computers, your cell phones, the chips in your electronics, that's also from sand. So basically, without sand, we have no modern civilization. - Vince Beiser
Because the sand found in deserts often isn't suitable for making concrete, miners strip sand from riverbeds and beaches. Usable sand is a finite resource.
Beiser says rapid urbanization all around the world is causing us to consume concrete at an unprecedented rate. That means sand miners are digging deeper and deeper, disrupting sensitive ecosystems, and in some rare cases, swallowing up entire islands

This picture taken on May 31, 2016 shows workers gathering pebbles at a sand excavation site along the Mekong River in Vientiane. Grain by grain, truckload by truckload, Laos' section of the Mekong river is being dredged of sand to make cement — a commodity being devoured by a Chinese-led building boom in the capital. But the hollowing out of the riverbed is also damaging a vital waterway that feeds hundreds of thousands of fishermen and farmers in the poverty-stricken nation. (Photo credit should read LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images)
The growing demand for sand has also created a deadly black market, sometimes controlled by "sand mafias." In India and Indonesia, sand mafias are believed to have killed hundreds of people in the last few years alone, including police officers and journalists.
Beiser's reporting on sand is supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and he is currently at work on a book about the deadly global war for sand for Penguin Random House.

Anonymous said...

Anyong: The growing demand for sand has also created a deadly black market, sometimes controlled by "sand mafias." In India and Indonesia, sand mafias are believed to have killed hundreds of people in the last few years alone, including police officers and journalists.
Beiser's reporting on sand is supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and he is currently at work on a book about the deadly global war for sand for Penguin Random House.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong, have you got a link to the stuff you posted?

I was aware of the sand issue and it infuriates me that our local regional district scrapped glass recycling, now preferring that it just be discarded to the landfill.

The Mound of Sound said...

Worse yet, the Brits are now copying the Americans' practice of trying to restore recreational beaches by trucking in ever more sand even as the rising seas strip it away. It's a perpetual, "lose/lose" proposition.

Toby said...

Mound, this may be what you are looking for.

The world is starting to run out of sand