by Judith Curry
Global warming in the coming years will foster trauma, depression, violence, alienation, substance abuse, suicide, psychotic episodes, post traumatic stress disorder and many other mental health-related conditions.
The National Wildlife Federation has a new report out entitled ‘The Psychological Effect of Global Warming on the United States‘, with subtitle And Why The U.S. Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared.
The Report was generated from a Workshop convened on this topic. From the Preface:
Having the reality of the destructive forces presented by climate change fully register with people, so they will to act with the needed urgency, is indeed a challenge. And, while the physical and environmental effects of global warming are studied and described, what has rarely been addressed, and is as compelling a topic as any, are the psychological impacts.
This report aims both to fill in the gap in our awareness of the psychological impacts of climate change, and by exposing the emotional side of the issue, to find the place in our hearts that mobilizes us to fly into action, forewarned, determined, relentless. It also is a call for professionals in the mental health fields to focus on this, the social justice issue of all times, with their capacity to work through denial and apathy, to bring insight and commitment before it is too late.
The language of science is, admittedly, not a stirring call to action. Scientists are by nature cautious, and restrained. While this report does not aim to present the forum participants as flame throwers, for this work to accomplish a primary goal, the reader will need to feel something in reading it. The language used here, and some of the questions asked, may feel uncomfortably probing, as they pierce our armor. After all, most of us want to be patriotic, to be optimist about the future. But we need to fully confront certain realities.
If we continue the adolescent-like disregard for the dangers we are being warned of, driving green house gasses up with only casual concern, there will be consequences. As our world begins to unravel and our role is undeniable, all eyes will be on us.
From the Executive Summary:
In November of 2011, the U.N. sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed this in a report entitled: Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. The report finds that changes in weather, due to climate warming, will be felt everywhere in the world. The physical and economic destruction surely boggles the mind but what is not being addressed are the human psychological consequences of all this devastation.
To begin with, the incidences of mental and social disorders will rise steeply. These will include depressive and anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, suicides, and widespread outbreaks of violence. Children, the poor, the elderly, and those with existing mental health disorders are especially vulnerable and will be hardest hit. At roughly 150 million people, these groups represent about one half of the American public.
The American mental health community, counselors, trauma specialists and first responders are not even close to being prepared to handle scale and intensity of impacts that will arise from the harsher conditions and disasters that global warming will unleash. It is not that we haven’t experienced natural disasters before, but the scientific data show that what lies ahead will be bigger, more frequent, and more extreme than we have ever known.
There are even broader implications, many of them beyond our shores. As climate related disasters and burdens spread across the world, the U.S. military will increasingly be called upon to help keep order. Service members will be faced with stressful, even horrifying conditions. They will see people – the young, the old, the innocent – suffer terribly. Back home their families will experience the ripple effects, suffering vicariously and experiencing their own disruptions in finances, relationships and child-rearing. There will be the disorders from the immediate trauma, and in some cases chronic psychological disorders will follow.
Another major problem for the military is a high rate of active service member suicide. Even though the numbers have recently declined after reaching a high of nearly double the rate of the civilian population, the problem persists. While suicide is the result of many complex factors, the linkage to global warming with respect to military personnel must be acknowledged. Burning fossil fuels for energy means depending on foreign areas where those supplies are most abundant. To the U.S. military this can mean sending young people into battle to protect our energy sources or to calm related unrest. Our service members will recognize that their own lives and limbs were sacrificed even though alternate renewable sources of energy could be more available. Our national need to put these young people in harm’s way would also decline if we were simply more energy efficient. How will we answer these service members’ questions about why we didn’t work harder at fixing this problem?
Moreover, the United States is increasingly disliked, worldwide, as a global warming villain. Though representing less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. emits about 25 percent of the world’s green house gasses. As the link between climate disasters in other countries and the production of green house gases in the U.S. becomes clearer, Americans will be blamed for inflicting harm on other countries. Critics may point to emissions from China (now surpassing the U.S.) and India as reasons why the U.S. can “share the blame” but our per capita emissions are second to none. Alarmingly, our perceived indifference is already the subject of rallying cries against us. It is used by leaders of terrorist groups, for example, as a tool to recruit new members. The President of one African country hit hard by drought linked to climate change addressed countries emitting high levels of green house gases: “We have a message here to tell these countries, that you are causing aggression to us by causing global warming.” The President of Bolivia, faced with unprecedented flooding from heavy rains, threatened to sue the U.S. in international court.
JC comment: Well, I have identified one case where there has been adverse psychological impact of global warming: Greg Craven. Although in this particular instance the “peril” comes from alarmism itself.