Climate change is stressing us out, literally.

Climate change is stressing us out, literally.

How is climate change impacting your mental and emotional well-being? And what could this mean for global conflict?

A handful of recent studies have explored the way our current climate crisis is impacting mental health, and the anxiety, stress, and depression that play into human adaptation to climate change. (And, no, I’m not just referring to the “temporary insanity” Robert De Niro recently attributed to the United States.)

One study, in particular, explores three distinct forms of concern – egoistic (one’s own health/possessions), social-altruistic (future of societies and the human race), and biospheric (plants, animals, nature) – and how each of these concerns impacts stress and coping strategies. The study goes on to discuss the ways that stress and coping can result in both more proactive and more depressive behavior.

The study was limited – it only surveyed 342 people, and did so online – but the results imply that public policy on climate change may only be impactful for those who “already show high concern for all living creatures, while failing to affect those motivated by egoistic or altruistic concern.” The researchers assert that this could potentially add to the laundry list of risks associated with deferring adaptation to climate change and increase the potential for widespread negative mental health effects. 

Another recent report looks past the ways stress over the potential of climate change affects our communal mental health to the way the reality of climate chaos – “the decline of economies, infrastructure, and social identity that comes from damage to the climate” – takes its toll on individuals and communities.  The report also points to “higher rates of aggression and violence, more mental health emergencies, and increased sense of helplessness, hopelessness, or fatalism, and intense feelings of loss.” Yikes.

So, if our individual mental health is likely to worsen with climate change, what implications might that have for our global well-being?

In a world already wrought with conflict over natural resources, researchers understand the correlation between rising temperatures and increased conflict but are hesitant to claim causality. When you look at all of the potential effects of climate change – heat stress, public health crises, food shortages, strained economies – it’s not hard to understand the ways in which governments might also become less stable. David Wallace-Wells of New York Magazine points out, “For every half-degree of warming, they say, societies will see between a 10 and 20 percent increase in the likelihood of armed conflict.” This isn’t due to rising temperatures alone, but also to agricultural and economic strain, individual irritability, and – last, but surely not least – forced migrations and overwhelming placelessness. (For more on this, take a listen to this brief, harrowing interview with Wallace-Wells.)  

Many conservatives, of course, beg to differ. In a recent interview, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was asked about global warming and whether it represents an existential threat. While he admitted that humans contribute to climate change “to a certain degree,” he advanced an alternative perspective to the research mentioned above, claiming humans have flourished during warming trends: “I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100? In the year 2018? That’s fairly arrogant for us to think we know exactly what it should be in 2100.” Pruitt’s statement came just a few days after a Pentagon study found that nearly half of all US military installations worldwide are endangered by natural disasters exacerbated by climate change.

Looking for a way to relieve your environmental melancholia and simultaneously get involved in your own community? Patagonia recently launched Patagonia Action Works, a platform that connects people to their local environmental action groups. In the brief video about the company’s newest engagement tool, Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard says, “I’ve always known that the cure for depression is action.”


Coastal states, red and blue, are at odds with Ryan Zinke.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the majority of coastal states were riled up about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s plan to allow drilling offshore of 90 percent of the US outer continental shelf. After Zinke struck a deal exempting Florida’s coastline from drilling (which may or may not be moot), other coastal states organized to express their opposition to the plan.

In a letter to Zinke on February 1st, the attorneys general of 12 coastal states laid out their concerns about the proposal, saying it would create “problems for nearly everyone who participates in or benefits from our states’ coastal and maritime economies.” They also drew attention to the economic detriment offshore drilling would pose by threatening industries that, in 2014 alone, generated upwards of $350 billion in GDP, employed 3.1 million people, and created $123 billion in annual wages.


Geothermal energy is v hot right now

Geothermal energy, or heat energy that’s generated by and stored in the earth, has been referred to as “the forgotten renewable,” but it’s making a comeback as California strives to phase out fossil fuels.

This form of heat energy is most commonly harnessed by taking super-heated water from geothermal wells in hotspots and rift zones, which is then converted to power when water turns to steam. Part of what’s kept geothermal from being a major power player is the expense of investing in this complicated technology.

The benefits of geothermal energy include a much more carbon-efficient form of energy production (it releases about one-sixth the amount of CO2 that natural-gas-fueled power plants produce), and the possibility of continuous production – it’s not reliant on the weather the way solar and wind energy are.

Some of the environmental drawbacks include water contamination and consumption. Most geothermal plants use closed-loop systems that would prevent contamination and recirculate any water used for energy production; however, at least some of the water is lost as steam and outside water must be re-injected to maintain the total water volume. Another associated risk is increased frequency of earthquakes. Some forms of geothermal energy extraction involve pumping hot water at high pressures, fracturing underground rock in a way similar to hydraulic fracking (a method of natural gas extraction). And since geothermal plants are mostly on hot spots and rift zones – areas already prone to earthquakes – there is evidence that these plants can increase earthquake frequency.


Bonus round:

A study that examined 90,000 US schools shows exposure to pollution is occurring along distinctly racial lines, with students of color being majorly and disproportionately affected, even when considering the urban-rural divide.


 

Elon Musk launched a Tesla into outer space.


 

A new finding that hydrothermal vents are nurseries re-emphasizes the fact that we don’t know much about the deep ocean: “’We’re hoping to send rockets to the Moon and Mars, but we have a whole alien world next to us that hasn’t been explored.’”


 

Cities that are fighting hard to cut their emissions – Denver, San Francisco, and DC, to name a few  – are growing too fast to keep up with their own standards.

header image: "scott pruitt," gage skidmore / flickr

Puerto Rico is privatizing its electric grid.

Puerto Rico is privatizing its electric grid.

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