In recent years, psychologists have noticed an uptick in a new condition called eco-anxiety—what the American Psychological Association says is a “chronic fear of environmental doom.” The media is constantly feeding us exaggerated information regarding climate change.
For example, in 2019, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez claimed “the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.” These apocalyptic statements, which are based on inaccurate and over-simplified interpretations of climate science, are having a tremendous impact on people’s mental health. As a society, we need to make informed statements about climate change to help stop the spread of eco-anxiety.
Eco-anxiety is most commonly found in teenagers and children, and it can be detrimental to a child’s development. In September, the Washington-Post Kaiser Foundation released a poll that concluded 57% of teenagers feel scared about climate change, whereas only 29% of teenagers feel hopeful about it.
Many teenagers feel a personal responsibility to fix these environmental problems, but teenagers suffering with eco-anxiety can take this to an extreme. For example, one medical journal tells the heartbreaking story of a teenage boy who refused to drink water during a drought and as a result was hospitalized. Some teenagers and children want to skip school, because they think that the world is burning. Anxiety about the environment should not be getting in the way of teenager’s mental and physical health and their education.
The media’s tendency to promote simplistic, attention-grabbing headlines instead of nuanced policy conversations fuels a false narrative about an apocalyptic future due to climate change, and this can only heighten people’s eco-anxiety. Politicians supporting the Green New Deal claim the world is going to end in 12 years — or less. But there is no evidence to support this claim. Two years ago, the Associated Press published, “There is no scientific consensus, much less unanimity, that the planet only has 12 years to fix the problem (of climate change).
A report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, drawn from the work of hundreds of scientists, uses 2030 as a prominent benchmark because signatories to the Paris agreement have pledged emission cuts by then. But it’s not a last chance, hard deadline for action, as it has been interpreted in some quarters.” In fact, data models used by these same scientists show how microscopic the impact of cutting manmade greenhouse gas emissions would be.
Instead, politicians and the media should be publishing claims about climate change that have scientific evidence to back them up rather than publishing doomsday predictions that cause anxiety with no hard evidence to support them.
It seems like the majority of news articles only report about the human causes of climate change, but there are many other causes that are completely out of our control that affect the earth’s temperature. For example, the way that the earth is orbiting around the sun is changing. The earth is starting to have a more elliptical orbit rather than a circular orbit around the sun; as a result, the north and south poles are positioned closer to the sun, causing an increase of temperatures in the poles.
In 1920, Milutin Milanković discovered that the Earth’s orbit, position, and torque can affect the Earth’s temperature. This is rarely discussed in the media as a cause for climate change. Instead, the media implies that climate change is only a manmade problem, causing unnecessary stress and anxiety.
As a society, we have the ability to reduce eco-anxiety cases in children and teenagers by reporting facts about climate change rather than doomsday scenarios with no scientific evidence. Some teenagers today are more concerned about the environment than going to school or taking care of themselves, which is incredibly damaging to a child’s development. AOC believes the world is going to end in 12 years; however, it is 100% more likely that in 12 years we are going to be seeing an increase in anxiety disorders in adults if we do not return the policy conversation to sound science and reason.