1468 Climate Change and Ecoanxiety: A Comprehensive Measure

Wednesday, 15 January 2020
Hall B (Boston Convention and Exhibition Center)
Ida Sami, The Univ. of Arizona, Tucson, AZ; and G. Wofford

Climate Change & Eco-Anxiety: A Comprehensive Measure

Zeinab (Ida) Sami, Grace Wofford, and Sabrina V. Helm

Climate change is one of the greatest social and scientific dilemmas of our time (Janna et al., 2017), and is becoming a significant area of concern in the media and in the public. Climate change is anticipated to bring forward many impacts such as floods, droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes (Janna et al., 2017). While these impacts will likely have significant economic and ecological consequences, they could also significantly impact the mental health and psychological well being of those affected.

This paper aims to outline a comprehensive survey measure in an effort to identify the psychological impacts of climate change. More specifically, our survey assesses levels of anxiety and stress, or eco-anxiety, in university student populations, due to the threat of climate change. In addition to measuring the degree of climate change-related stress and anxiety individuals may be experiencing, this survey will also examine how individuals may be coping with this anxiety, and how it may be impacting their daily lives.

The paucity of the existing eco-anxiety literature resulted in very few methodical studies; however, we have identified approximately seven methodological articles that have informed the construction of our survey. The existing literature defined eco-anxiety in a variety of ways. One of which is through the experience of various emotions that have been suggested to be observed in individuals coping with Eco-anxiety. Examples of these emotions include sadness, fear, anger, hopelessness, worry, grief and distress (Böhm, 2003; Fritze et al., 2008; Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018; Higginbotham et al., 2006; Albrecht et al., 2007). Other research defines eco-anxiety as loss of well-being, levels of emotional resilience in ecological hardship or as the “unseen impacts of climate change” (Chukwuorji et al., 2015).

Additional definitions have included mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorders, or even self-harming acts such as suicide (Berry et al., 2011; Hanigan et al., 2012). Solastalgia or “the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment” (Albrecht et al., 2007) have also been noted as a symptom of eco-anxiety. Solastalgia was observed in Australian farmers and members of the Inuit community, who base their lives and culture closely around the land and environment they inhabit (Fritze et al., 2008). This research suggests that the impacts of climate change and subsequent symptoms of Eco-anxiety may vary due to the place-attachment an individual has developed with their surrounding landscape (Higginbotham et al., 2006).

The repeated observations of Solastalgia, specifically for individuals who live or work closely with the land, suggest that the experienced environmental losses and looming anticipated environmental damage may result in a feeling of grief for the loss of the landscape that once was, and had come to make up a significant portion of their sense of self or self-identity (Higginbotham et al., 2006; Doherty & Clayton, 2011). The reactions to experienced or future environmental loss are expected to be mediated by the values, and belief structures of the individual impacted (Doherty & Clayton, 2011).

Interestingly, a study conducted in South Africa reported conflicting results. Cunsolo & Ellis. (2018) examined if climate change was apart of the mental constructs of South African commercial grain farmers and found that even though many explicitly expressed concern for the impacts of climate change and demonstrated high levels of recognition with the concept of climate change (Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018), the results suggested that the farmers excluded climate change, linguistically and structurally, from their own mental constructs while also verbally expressing ways in which they planned to adapt their farming practices in an attempt to mitigate the negative climate change outcomes.

These results suggest that concern, familiarity, and proposed adaptations to combat the negative impacts of climate change may not be enough to allow foe the incorporation of climate change in our own mental constructs and resulting behaviors. These results parallel a review by Doherty & Clayton (2011) which cites denial as a potential component of eco-anxiety that can “distort{s} the perception of internal and external reality to reduce subjective distress” (Doherty & Clayton, 2011) and may be a coping mechanism for this particular population of South African Farmers.

For the purpose of our survey, we have chosen to define eco-anxiety as: “Loss of mental wellness emotional resilience, and psychological well-being” (Chukwuorji et al., 2015) due to experiences, current, or the anticipation of future negative impacts of climate change. We have chosen this definition, because it is broad enough to include mental disorders, such as depression, while also including the varied expressions of anxiety such as (fear, sadness, worry).


Albrecht, G., Sartore, G.-M., Connor, L., Higginbotham, N., Freeman, S., Kelly, B., ... Pollard, G. (2007). Solastalgia: The Distress Caused by Environmental Change. Australasian Psychiatry, 15(1_suppl), S95–S98.

Berry, H. L., Hogan, A., Owen, J., Rickwood, D., & Fragar, L. (2011). Climate change and farmers’ mental health: risks and responses. Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 23(2_suppl), 119S-132S.

Böhm, G. (2003). Emotional reactions to environmental risks: Consequentialist versus ethical evaluation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 199–212. doi:10.1016/S0272-4944(02)00114-7

Chukwuorji, J. C., Ifeagwazi, C. M., & Iorfa, S. K. (2015). Mental health emergency of climate change: Consequences and vulnerabilities. International Journal of Communication, 16, 110-131

Cunsolo, A., & Ellis, N. (2018). Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss. Nature Climate Change, 8(4), 275-281.

Doherty, Thomas J., & Clayton, Susan. (2011). The Psychological Impacts of Global Climate Change. American Psychologist, 66(4), 265-276

Fritze, J., Blashki, G., Burke, S., & Wiseman, J. (2008). Hope, despair and transformation: Climate change and the promotion of mental health and wellbeing. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 2(1), 13.

Higginbotham, N., Connor, L., Albrecht, G., Freeman, S., & Agho, K. (2006). Validation of an Environmental Distress Scale. EcoHealth, 3(4), 245-254.

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