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Weather by Jenny Offill:

An exploration of ‘eco-anxiety’ and the challenges it poses to medical practice -- part 2

The eco-anxiety encapsulated by Offill can be grossly categorised as a subacute impact of climate change. These impacts are indirect effects of climate change and relate largely to the survival of the planet and human species as a whole. [6] This largely pervades Western countries that are, for the most part, relatively shielded from the direct physical impacts of climate change. The aspect of eco-anxiety that pervades Offill’s novel does not stem from an immediate fear of natural disaster—though the two are not mutually exclusive concepts—but rather from uncertainty about the future. Much like the weather itself, climate change is not a linear system but one that causes oscillations and fluctuations in timescales that are impossible to predict. This creates uncertainty, which in turn creates internal panic. However, as Greta Thunberg noted in her speech at Davos in 2019, panic is not necessarily a destructive emotion and can be desirable if it incites a population to action. [7] Additionally, the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion have also begun to offer ‘Grief Workshops’ which are group sessions designed to help individuals process internal anxiety around climate change. Using techniques known as ‘grief tending’, these workshops aim to harness negative emotions such as grief and panic and transform them into the stable foundations necessary to build a sustainable, regenerative culture. [8]

The impact of climate change on mental health is an emerging field in medical research. Although environmental concern may be desirable as a driving force for more sustainable living, it becomes detrimental when it negatively affects an individual’s psychological wellbeing to the extent that they are unable to function. Eco-anxiety is not classified in the ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases), meaning that it is not officially recognised by the medical profession as a mental health condition. [9] However, with a recent YouGov poll demonstrating that 70% of 18-24 year olds feel more worried about climate change than they did in the preceding year, the medical profession has a professional responsibility to offer advice on how best to constructively harness the potential of eco-anxiety at an individual level. [10] This may include:

1. Community: studies have shown that being part of small-scale local action (e.g. local rallies, community orchard projects etc.) can help to combat the feelings of overwhelming powerlessness that often accompanies eco-anxiety. Examples of local projects in Bristol include: Horfield Organic Community Orchard, Black and Green Ambassadors for Bristol and Online Green Mingle August 2020. [11]

2. Carbon Footprint: try and make small, achievable changes that factor in ways to reduce carbon emissions. For example, take public transport where possible, walk more and aim to reduce meat consumption. This will contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gases and will have a positive impact on general health.

3. Chat: talk to friends and family about how you feel and raise awareness of climate change within your sphere of influence. This will help you to feel more connected. Equally, write to your local MP about your concerns and ask them about their plans for sustainable development in your local community.

Much like its natural counterpart, Weather offers a literary complement to the chaotic, scattered and unpredictable approach that global powers are adopting towards climate change. Although it offers no solutions, Offill’s reflection on a world adrift forces readers to confront the change that is happening all around us. Weather is a brilliant and bleak love letter to a society teetering on the brink of self-destruction: ‘ Roses are red, violets are blue, I feel slightly less dread when I am with you.’ [1]

Jasmine Virk, Junior Doctor, 2020

1. Offill, Jenny, Weather (London: Granta Books, 2020).

2. Schlanger, Zoë, 'Climate Change Is Causing PTSD, Anxiety, And Depression On A Mass Scale', Quartz, 2017. [Accessed 17 July 2020]

3. IPPC, “Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C”, IPPC, 2019. [Accessed 17 July 2020]

4. Nugent, Ciara, "Terrified Of Climate Change? You Might Have Eco-Anxiety", Time, 2019. [Accessed 17 July 2020]

5. '5 Natural Disasters That Beg For Climate Action | Oxfam International', Oxfam International, 2020. [Accessed 17 July 2020]

6. Cianconi, Paolo, Sophia Betrò, and Luigi Janiri, 'The Impact Of Climate Change On Mental Health: A Systematic Descriptive Review', Frontiers In Psychiatry, 11 (2020). [Accessed 17 July 2020]

7. Thunberg, Greta, '"I Want You To Panic": 16-Year-Old Issues Climate Warning At Davos – Video', The Guardian, 2020. [Accessed 17 July 2020]

8. 'Extinction Rebellion: Feeling Nature – Grief Tending Workshop – Extinction Rebellion UK', Extinction Rebellion UK, 2020. [Accessed 21 July 2020]

9. 'ICD-10 Version:2019', Icd.Who.Int, 2020. [Accessed 17 July 2020]

10. ‘Over Two-Thirds Of Young People Experience Eco-Anxiety As Friends Of The Earth Launch Campaign To Turn Anxiety Into Action | Friends Of The Earth’, Friends Of The Earth, 2020. [Accessed 17 July 2020]

11. Evans, Milly, Patient.Info, 2020. [Accessed 17 July 2020]


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