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Exploring Ecopsychology: European Drought and climate anxiety (Eco-anxiety)

Updated: Jan 11


I am seeing and experiencing first hand the damage of this extensive European drought. The last time our small village in the Schwarzwald, Black Forest of Germany received rain was over 3 weeks ago. We have been seeing temperatures averaging 31-37+ degrees (88degrees Fahrenheit to over 95+), crops are small, local rivers and wells are drying up, and gardens are wilting. In our state, Baden Württemberg, a hub of tourism, and agriculture with over 85% used for agricultural and forestry purposes (RDP, 2010), the drought is prevalent in literally every aspect of our lives.


Black eyed Susans curl and shrivel in the oppressive european heat and drought. SEELEDU
Gardens, rivers and wells bake in the european drought as climate anxiety also known as eco-anxiety rises


Exploring Ecopsychology: European Drought

Across Europe, from Italy to France, everyone is struggling with dry spells, shrinking waterways and heat waves that are becoming more severe and frequent because of climate change. Municipalities in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence of France currently have dry water pipes and are being supplied water through trucks. In more than half of the municipalities in France, restrictions on water use have already been imposed: people are not allowed to wash their cars, water their gardens or fill up their private swimming pools. In several areas, farmers are also banned from watering their crops (Chini, 2022).


German officials have stated that water levels on the Rhein River could reach a critically low point in the coming days. This would make transport of goods, including coal and gasoline, more difficult than they already are in the current energy crisis (Euronews, 2022). Wagner and Sterling report, "in some places the Rhein was so shallow that other vessels were moored far below the quays where people walk. Signs warning people about dangerously high waters stuck out of the riverbed, and rocks lay exposed (2022).”


In the east of Germany, forest fires are raging out of control, harvests are wrecked, and rivers are bone dry. The state of Brandenburg alone has already lost more than 680 hectares of forest to over 260 wildfires this year (Zimmerman & Weise, 2022). While droughts have complex causes, there’s no doubt that the droughts Europe currently faces, and shared amongst the world, are getting worse due to climate change. Because the world is getting hotter, more water is lost to evaporation (Zimmerman & Weise, 2022). Fred Hattermann, a hydrologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in a comment to Politico stated, “Global warming also changes Europe’s wind and weather patterns so that high-pressure systems can get ‘stuck’, creating long periods without rain.”



Exploring Ecopsychology: Eco-anxiety

A freshly harvested field shows the signs of drought in yellow and orange tones. 4 barrels of hay descend from the foreground to background. IN the distance is a rolling field with light cloud coverage and soft lighting.
Exploring Ecopsychology: European Drought and Eco-anxiety. Fields were already seeing the signs of drought in June.

In our village, the stress from climate change and these new environmental norms, are apparent in everyday life. The eco-anxiety is palpable.


What is eco-anxiety?


Eco-anxiety is the psychological aftermath of the climate crisis.The American Psychology Association (APA) describes eco-anxiety as “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one's future and that of next generations”. In short, it is a feeling of environmental doom. The APA, therefore, considers that the internalization of the great environmental problems such as, water scarcity, extreme weather, overpopulation and waste management, biodiversity, sustainability and more, that affect our planet can have psychological consequences of varying seriousness in people.

Climate change is associated with increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and the impacts of discrete events such as natural disasters on mental health has been demonstrated through decades of research showing increased levels of PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and even domestic violence following the experience of storms ( Morganstein & Ursano, 2020; Clay, 2020). Eco-anxiety takes shape then, in how symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress and grief normally present.


Culturally eco-anxiety can take a larger form. Psychologists have identified “ecological grief” as a separate subset in their research of Indigenous peoples in northern Canada who are watching their homeland morph and slip away before their eyes (Cunsolo, 2018). In 2005, environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, PhD, coined the term “solastalgia,” which he defined as “the homesickness you have when you are still at home” because the land has become unrecognizable.


Exploring Ecopsychology: Managing Eco-anxiety


While Eco-anxiety is a relatively new term, providing care and best practices for anxiety, depression, stress and more are well established. At SEELEDU our ecopsychological background utilizes many tools from our clinical toolbox, such as knowledge of people’s thinking and behavior patters, physiological interventions working with the body, and working with clients to develop a stronger connection with nature, to work with their feelings of eco-anxiety. “Eco-anxiety is the perfect storm of stressors. We have climate change, a looming external stressor, influencing and bringing thoughts, ruminations, perhaps even changes in behavior which then also becomes internal stressors. At SEELEDU we work with the individual as a whole to address the concern for these external and internal stressors, as well as provide in depth eco-education and environmental actions to address the larger concerns. We believe one of the best ways to reach others, is by increasing awareness and fostering a deeper relationship with nature.”


“Eco-anxiety is a perfect storm of stressors. We have climate change, a looming external stressor, influencing and bringing thoughts, ruminations, perhaps even changes in behavior which then also becomes internal stressors. At SEELEDU we work with the individual as a whole to address the concern for these external and internal stressors, as well as provide in depth eco-education and environmental actions to address the larger concerns. We believe one of the best ways to reach others, is by increasing awareness and fostering a deeper relationship with nature.” -J. Ferland, Psychologist, Founder of SEELEDU

Eco-anxiety: creating a climate for change

Given the emotional weight of the topic, and the systemic larger forces at play, it can seem daunting at times but remember even a small action is positive action. According to the February 2020 APA poll, 4 in 10 people have not changed their behavior in light of climate change, but 7 in 10 say they wish they could do more, while half of respondents reported they don’t know where to even begin. Landry (2018) expanded on this demonstrating that even when people are concerned about climate change and the environment, they may feel paralyzed or useless when it comes to taking action. This learned helplessness acts as a barrier to pro-environmental behavior in the face of climate and environmental concern (Landry, et al., 2018). However, educating others about specific actions they can take is a valuable tool to increase their efficacy and engagement in public discussions (Geiger, 2017).


“Developing a deeper relationship with nature, leads to an empowerment and further call to action on others. This energy trickles into others. I can only hope this behavior becomes the new ‘influencer’”. J. Ferland- Psychologist, Founder of SEELEDU


3 SEELEDU Tips to get involved in the Solutions

  • Commit to Responsible Consumption. Ex: What does your community offer for recycling? Could you purchase less products with plastic?

  • Do sustainable activities. Consider a pollinator garden in that awkward section of your lawn, or a balcony garden. Become part of your community or urban garden. Grab a plastic bag and bring it with your to pick up rubbish on your next walk, hike, or run.

  • Commit to sustainable practices like mending, mobility/transportation, building, and sustainable food. Your health and that of the planet will be grateful!

So climate change is not just an environmental problem, but also a psychological one. The exceptional drought we are currently experiencing is depriving many communities of water and is a tragedy for our farmers, our ecosystems, and our biodiversity, as well as causing psychological, emotional, and physiological stress. Earlier this year, German officials debated rationing drinking water during droughts; only time will tell where both our civil policies and leadership bring us, but one thing is for sure, these issues are here to stay and intensify. In the meantime with weekend temperatures again projected to be 30+degrees (88 degrees Fahrenheit +) and rain not projected till later next week, we are buckling up to see how we fare through this next round of being baked.


Want to deepen your relationship with nature, and experience all your senses? Check out our SEELEDU Explorers Offerings


Or are you feeling stressed? Or that you can’t slow down your thoughts of concern towards our environmental issues? Let’s have a more in depth conversation on climate change and your eco-anxiety. Schedule your free first consultation.

What can SEELEDU do for you?


SEELEDU explores the journey of being human and nurtures nature connections for health and well-being. SEELEDU is based in science and grounded in nature. Practicing in ecopsychology and recognizing the mutual compassion and nurturing ability between nature and humans, SEELEDU offers live and online programming, development and learning for holistic, whole-body well-being.




References

Albecht, G. (2005). “Solastalgia” A new concept in Health and Identity. PAN: Philosophy, Activism, Nature. https://bridges.monash.edu/articles/journal_contribution/_Solastalgia_a_new_concept_in_health_and_identity/4311905


Clay, S. (2020). Climate anxiety: Psychological responses to climate change. Journal of anxiety disorders. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0887618520300773

Chini, M. (2022). More than 100 municipalities in France without drinking water. Brusselstimes. https://www.brusselstimes.com/267801/more-than-100-municipalities-in-france-without-drinking-water


Cunsolo, A., Ellis, N.R. Ecological grief as a mental health response to climate change-related loss. Nature Clim Change 8, 275–281 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0092-2


Euronews. (2022). Drought in Europe: : Shipping threatened in Germany as Rhine water levels continue to drop. https://www.euronews.com/2022/08/10/germany-drought-river-rhine-water-levels-could-fall-to-critical-low

Geiger, N., Swim, J.K., & Fraser, J. (2017). Creating a climate for change: Interventions, efficacy and public discussion about climate change. Journal of environmental psychology. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272494417300440


Landry, N. Et al. (2018). Learned helplessness moderates the relationship between environmental concern and behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272494417301706


Morgenstien, J. & Ursano, R.J. (2020). Ecological Disasters and Mental Health: Causes, Consequences, and Interventions. Frontiers in psychiatry. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00001/full


Rural Development Program (RDP). (2010). Rural Development Programme (RDP) of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. European Network for Rural Development. https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fms/documents/RDP/RDP_Baden-Wuerttemberg%20_Germany.pdf


Schreiber, M. (2021). Addressing climate change concerns in practice. American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/03/ce-climate-change


Wagner, R., & Sterling, T. (2022). Low Rhine water levels threaten Germany's economic growth. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/low-rhine-water-levels-another-drain-germanys-economy-2022-08-10/


Zimmerman, A. & Weise, Z. (2022). Germany’s drought hotspot scrambles to adapt. Politico. https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-drought-hotspot-scramble-adapt/






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