Is “Climate Grief” Impacting Our Mental Health?

Coined by environmentalist Aldo Leopold in the 1940s, the term “climate grief” describes the emotional distress associated with loss due to climate change. Today, the effects of the warming climate are more readily felt and the need to take action is more urgent than ever. With sea levels rising, glaciers shrinking, and other catastrophic news emerging, society is grappling with what these changes mean for our environment and our mental health.

According to a Pew Research Center study, 71% of Millennials and 67% of Gen Z say that climate should be a top priority to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations. Younger generations are reenergizing environmental activism on a global scale, however, they are likely to experience dread or climate grief as a result of the changes to the environment. In a 2020 Deloitte study, half of the Millennials and Gen Z respondents surveyed said they believe it is too late to repair the damage caused by climate change.

In her book, A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool On a Warming Planet, Sarah Jaquette Ray provides a roadmap for dealing with the despair arising from the effects of climate change and the importance of building resilience and avoiding burnout. Jaquette Ray chairs and teaches in the Environmental Studies Department at Humboldt State University, where her scholarship focuses on environmental humanities, environmental justice, and climate psychology.

She recently sat down with Racquel Joseph, Chief Experience Officer at Kindred, to discuss how climate grief and climate anxiety affect younger generations and the implications for employers and workplace practices. She also shared insights on the connection between environmental justice and racial justice, the role corporations play in advocating for environmental justice, the importance of committing to environmental policies to support younger generations of workers, and how organizations and individuals can build resilience while advocating for climate justice. 

During the conversation, she highlighted key terms to know when discussing the mental health impact of climate change and its effect on communities and stakeholders. These include:

  • Climate Grief describes the emotional distress associated with loss due to the changing climate. This may also be referred to as “eco-grief” or “ecological grief,” which has a broader application to a sense of loss or grief around the environment, even when not connected directly to the climate. 
  • Climate Anxiety refers to anxiety or dread about the future given the impact of climate change on the planet. According to Jaquette Ray, it may also be known as “global dread” or “ontological instability” and is often caused by apocalyptic stories about the climate or other issues “around what an unstable planetary climate will mean for society and for life on earth.”
  • Solastalgia is a neologism developed to describe the distress felt due to the impacts of environmental change on one’s home environment. Coined by Glenn Albrecht, the term combines the words “nostalgia” and “solace” to capture “homesickness in place and experience the loss or mourning or grief around the environment in which you live being degraded or destroyed,” Jaquette Ray said.

Listen to the full conversation above and dig deeper with these recommended resources:

Urey Onuoha

Published on June 15, 2021