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Do you lose sleep over the earth’s changing climate? While some people barely think about climate change—seven in 10 people never or rarely talk about climate change with family or friends, according to Yale University research—others feel anxious and depressed because of it, new research shows.
It all depends on the kind of person you are, according to researcher Sabrina Helm, associate professor of family and consumer science at the University of Arizona, and her team.
They found that even though Yale research says that six in 10 people in the U.S. feel climate change is at least somewhat important to them, one category of person feels the emotional impacts of climate change harder than everyone else.
There are three categories of people concerned with climate change, according to Helm and her team:
- Those with egoistic concern worry about how changes to the environment will impact them as individuals, like how air pollution could affect their breathing
- People with altruistic concern worry about impacts to all of humanity, including future generations, like how many people around the world would lose their homes if sea levels rise
- Individuals with biospheric concern worry about nature, plants, and animals, like how the tiny pika might become extinct if its home in the Yosemite Valley continues to get warmer and warmer.
In a survey of 342 parents of young children, the ones with high levels of biospheric concern, a.k.a. the animal- and plant-lovers, reported feeling the most stressed out about climate change. They were more likely to report signs of depression, too. No link to depression appeared for the other two categories.
Plants and animals are already feeling it
That’s probably because “people who worry about animals and nature tend to have a more planetary outlook and think of bigger picture issues,” Helm said in an article published by the University of Arizona.
“We already talk about extinction of species and know it’s happening,”she said, which means that people who care about animals are already feeling the impact of climate change.
“For them, the global phenomenon of climate change very clearly affects these bigger picture environmental things, so they have the most pronounced worry, because they already see it everywhere.”
On the other hand, “people who are predominantly altruistically concerned or egoistically concerned about their own health, or maybe their own financial future, climate change does not hit home yet,” Helm said. Consequences for humans might not be as obvious or as deadly at this point, so people tend to overlook them. But, very slowly, our changing climate will seep into our collective consciousness and affect more people’s mental health.
Caring leads to action
Animal- and plant-lovers typically do more environmentally friendly things daily, like recycle or save energy, the researchers found. Altruistic folks also had some environmentally conscious habits, not as many as the nature-lovers.
If you find you’re often stressed about climate change and want to do more to help, talk about it every day, said Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and host of PBS Digital Studios’ “Global Weirding,” in a recent Rewire Facebook Live Q&A.
A surprising number of people rarely confront the concept of climate change and its effects, she said. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, fewer than half of people in the U.S. hear climate change mentioned in the media at least monthly. One in four never hear it discussed by people around them.
“Start talking about how it matters to us in the places where we live,” she said. “And if you don’t know, just look for the U.S. National Climate Assessment. It has a section for each part of the U.S. It tells you in detail exactly what’s happening in the places where you live.”
This story is part of our partnership between Peril and Promise and Rewire. Rewire is a public media national initiative that offers smart, fresh, original, thought-provoking content that inspires individuals to make their lives better. It’s for people who are getting started in their adult lives—people who want to grow, thrive and build a better world.