This month it hit 47 degrees in Portugal. And it looks like the extreme weather is linked to global warming.
Dr Friederike Otto, one of the scientists who pioneered studies spelling out the role of global warming in extreme weather events, has said every heatwave today is made more likely, frequent and intense by climate change.
The heat itself is overwhelming enough, so what if it’s also causing you to worry about the state of the environment?
Do you have eco-anxiety right now?
Hilda Burke, psychotherapist, couples counsellor and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook, says anxiety usually relates to things that may or may not happen in the future. So when it comes to eco anxiety, “it’s a fear related to our ecology, our environment – but it’s a future fear.
“I think what’s happening is eco-anxiety is in the past, because it’s happening now,” Burke adds. “If you look at any credible climate science, it is happening now – the world is heating up, and there’s our lived experience to support that.”
Burke thinks the stage we’re in now is more an “eco grief”.
She explains: “Our climate is changing, people are dying as a result of this extreme weather, and nature is being destroyed… We’re in the grieving stage, where it’s not a future-dated fear, it’s actually a response to what’s happening in the here and now.”
What are the signs you might be experiencing eco-related grief?
First, you might feel a sense of loss over the more stable weather conditions of the past. “Many people are feeling the grief of a loss of a climate that was comfortable to live in. No matter how much we complained about the British weather, it sustained life, and it was reasonably comfortable,” says Burke.
But for Burke, the biggest sign of eco grief is a feeling of helplessness. “The helplessness of, well, what can I do? There’s a helplessness – you see it around war, you see it around Covid – [a feeling] like, it’s too big. How am I actually going to impact this or improve it in any way?
“We can feel very small, very defenceless, and very helpless, which is a state that [can] really lead to depression, when we have that sense of powerlessness.”
What can you do to navigate it?
First, Burke recommends “feeling that grief” – instead of ignoring it and pretending nothing is happening. She indicates navigating eco grief is different to managing anxiety. “A lot of my clients are anxious about things that may never happen, will never happen, could never happen” – but climate change is already in progress.
“The approach is to feel that [grief] and then go: What do I do with that? What action do I need to take to help? It’s probably going to be something that is related to helping the environment, to do something that eases the pressure on the environment. So it will be personal action that will help shift the person out of that helplessness state.”
There are techniques you can do to help calm yourself too – such as meditation, breathing exercises or tapping. “Anything you find relaxing will help, but the problem is still there. So I think there needs to be some connection to the problem, and some commitment to action that you feel is meaningful,” says Burke.
“There are things we can do, if only to help with our own sense of helplessness – how are we living our lives? Are we driving big SUVs, are we taking 12 flights a year, or are we buying lots of fast fashion?”
When it comes to tackling global warming, she acknowledges “systems need to change” but suggests extreme weather like we’re experiencing right now can be a “wake-up call” too, to push us into considering our own impact a bit more.
These might seem small and insignificant, but as Burke adds: “I think in terms of our personal eco grief, it can certainly help, if we feel like we’re acting responsibly to what’s going on.
“Yes, it’s a tiny piece of the puzzle, but if everyone were to look after their own personal responsibility, it would affect massive change.”