Eco-Anxiety: Salvation through Terror

The American Psychological Association (APA) does not yet consider it a condition per se, although it is affecting more and more people; but he has already provided a definition: Fear that may occur chronically due to an environmental cataclysm or by observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change. This is eco-anxiety, a psychological condition linked to the climate emergency.

Awareness of a hypothetical climate apocalypse is reportedly causing more and more people to fall into grief and despair, suffer panic attacks and give up on life plans, such as having children, because they see the planet’s overpopulation and a high quality of life as incompatible. And while adults are extraordinarily worried, children are terrified, warns Danish environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg.

To address this condition, in addition to recommending that politicians, media and activists stop trumpeting incessantly that we are on the verge of extinction, it would make sense to recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to eco-anxious people, in order to restore balance between their perceptions and reality. However, many experts seem to believe that the problem lies not with the eco-afflicted, but with the indolence of those immune to climate terrors.

According to them, this indolent attitude, in addition to being a further stress factor for those suffering from ecoanxiety, is due to a phenomenon called psychological distance, which prevents the subject from becoming aware of the danger. Therefore, those in need of therapy would be the ones immune to panic, because their immunity would not be due to considered judgment insensitive to catastrophism, but to a lack of judgment. As for the eco-anxious, if anything they would need support to face the inexorable reality, not to perceive it correctly, because they are already participants in the revealed truth.

How to qualify this inverted approach, in which healing is not about healing the sick but about making the healthy sick? To save the planet, apparently, it is not enough to demonize capitalism and give up economic growth, with all the harmful consequences that this entails; it is also necessary to make people feel bad at heart.

Terrifying stories are published and spread almost every day about how climate change will alter our living conditions, threatening food security, causing floods, droughts and all kinds of natural disasters, a process whose medium and short term horizon is the collapse economic and social. Reversing this process, we are told, requires radical awareness; that is, it requires people to have a continuous perception of being threatened, to feel insecurity, fear and even panic about the future. Saving the planet therefore requires exhausting people, which makes them feel really bad. Those who do not suffer from ecoanxiety will become a threat to collective survival, a defective piece in the machine of salvation.

This may sound unfamiliar to young people, but it is reminiscent of Soviet policy, which has always treated nonconformity with communism as a mental illness amenable to treatment in special psychiatric hospitals. In this regard, Nikita Khrushchev left no room for doubts about how the Soviet regime dealt with dissent: crime implies a deviation from generally approved norms of behavior, and often its cause is a mental disorder… It is obvious that mental state of people who call because opposition to communism is not normal. Today the way to address dissent with the climate emergency discourse seems essentially the same.

Psychiatrist tells us that people anticipate what they fear more than what will actually happen. This means that fear tends to distort our perception of reality. However, it would seem that too many social psychologists are more determined to support the fears of eco-anxieties, to give them meaning, rather than to help them get rid of them. But why?

Perhaps some light will be shed by what happened in 2011 at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Jonathan Haidt spoke to professors, students and postdocs in social psychology. But before starting his speech, Haidt asked the audience to declare their political orientation by show of hands. First, he asked who considered themselves progressive. Hundreds of hands emerged from the room, about 80% capacity. He then asked the moderates to do the same and 20 hands went up. Then came the hands of libertarians. Finally, the conservative hands. Social psychology, concluded Haidt, had an obvious problem: the lack of political diversity. And that was dangerous.

Conducting political battles through science or the so-called social sciences must be seen in the same way as any other conflict of interest, as the scientist, social psychologist or sociologist aspires to be both a source of scientific information and an advocate of a certain position. Research work and value judgements, or moral considerations, are separate tasks that the same person cannot perform simultaneously. This will only add to the confusion inherent in complex and controversial debates. Worse, it will unethically represent personal values ​​as if they were scientific information.

This explains why most of the public is unaware that for every 500,000 deaths caused by heat, cold causes 4.5 million deaths (nine times as many). Or that livestock has become a legitimate target for planet saviors, when in fact it contributes a paltry 3.9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions to global warming. Or that deaths from natural disasters are said to be on the rise, when the global annual death rate from natural disasters has decreased by 99% since the 1920s. Or willfully ignore the fact that mortality from a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, is affected by the level of economic development, not climate change. If the hurricane hits a poor, underdeveloped region, the death toll could be in the hundreds of thousands, but if it’s a prosperous, developed region, chances are there will be no fatalities.

I could fill pages and pages with references telling us that the planet’s temperature is indeed rising but that we are not heading towards the apocalypse. Indeed, the temperature is increasing less than expected, which is why, among other strategic reasons, the term global warming is being replaced by climate emergency.

This does not mean that action should not be taken to gradually ensure a balance between progress and the environment, which we have been doing for some time; but we must face it through economic development, technology and, above all, enterprise, which are the best tools at our disposal, the ones that have brought us here safe and sound. We cannot create such a balance by fueling a catastrophism which gives off a suspicious ideological and mercantilist aroma, and which, in addition to killing flies with cannons (with unsustainable costs and pathetic results), is making us sick with fear. And fear, as Edmund Burke warned, is the most ignorant, the most harmful, and the cruelest of counselors.

#EcoAnxiety #Salvation #Terror

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