How does climate change make you feel? Are you anxious about the future or depressed about the current state of affairs? Are you angry?
A perennial question of climate activism is how dealing with the only-barely-proverbial end of the world makes people feel, and what messengers should do about that. Does focusing intently on the worst of the doom and gloom – on how bad it’s going to be or already is – motivate people to take action, or does it just leave them overwhelmed and depressed? Is it better if audiences feel anxious about how pollution is going to sicken and ruin lives and ecosystems, or is it better if they feel angry at those blocking action?
The Denier Roundup has been pretty firmly in the “everyone should be super-mega-pissed about deniers lying about climate change on purpose for money for decades as deaths stacked up” camp, and though we are uniquely immune to saying “we told you so,” we are happy to report that a new paper confirms we’ve been right all along.
According to a new study in The Journal of Climate Change and Health, the more angry Australians reported being about climate change, the more likely they were to engage in collective climate activism and individual emissions reduction efforts. Those who reported feeling more eco-anxiety and/or eco-depression, on the other hand, did not appear to take more personal actions, and were less likely to join collective actions than the outraged were.
Eco-anger was the strongest, and only, significant predictor of both individual and collective actions, “suggesting that more intense experiences of frustration and anger in relation to climate change are associated with greater attempts to take personal actions to address the issue.”
Additionally, they write:
“Our findings highlight that frustration and anger about the climate crisis are adaptive responses. Experiences of injustice or unfairness tend to provoke group-based anger, motivating collective (and not individual) action. If we think about climate change as an injustice (e.g., generationally, socially, and geographically), the equally strong eco-anger–personal behaviour association suggests that, in the climate change context, the eco-angry recognise the importance of addressing their own daily behaviours as part of the collective goal of mitigating climate change.”
Eco-anxiety, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to make people more likely to join collective actions, and in fact reduces engagement levels, suggesting “disengagement with the pro-climate movement.” Eco-depression, fittingly, didn’t seem to do all that much either way, showing only a weak but positive relationship with collective action, and a not statistically significant but barely reduced effect on individual action. But eco-depression also makes people feel bad, so they “do not suggest encouraging eco-depression to motivate climate action. Instead, our results suggest encouraging eco-anger may promote positive pro-climate behavior change, while preserving mental health.”
Because in addition to the climate-specific-feelings question, the survey included a component about mental health generally. It found that those who were angry reported better overall mental wellbeing, making it a more adaptive (healthier) response. While eco-depression and eco-anxiety are more common among those experiencing poorer mental health, the study says “eco-anger may be a uniquely adaptive response to the climate crisis, as it related to lower anxiety, depression, and stress (moderate effects).”
Not only is being angry good for the climate, it’s also good for your mental health!
So you know all those times you read something here about the greedy, lying scumbags whose lives are dedicated to protecting polluter profits at the expense of public health and it really pissed you off?