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Greta Thunberg Delivers Impassioned Speech to World Leaders at U.N.

Just days after leading the largest climate protest in history and testifying before Congress about climate change, 16-year old activist Greta Thunberg delivered an impassioned, angry, and scathing speech directed at world leaders at the UN today. Thunberg, whose home country is Sweden, has captured the imagination of American youth for her emissions-free voyage by boat to the US, her outsider’s view of American society, which she observes as being characterized by excessive waste and denial of climate change, and for her blunt, impolite, and unapologetic manner of speaking. Despite her sudden rise in popularity and widespread admiration, Thunberg has urged adults not to celebrate her, instead shifting the focus towards the problem that has animated her protests. As her written testimony for Congress, Thunberg submitted the 2018 global warming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, saying “I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists.”

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Last night, Thunberg in cooperation with a team of activists, projected a message onto the side of the U.N. building in 30 languages in advance of today’s summit. The message, signed with Thunberg’s name, insisted that for the sake of humanity global economic and political systems would have to undergo rapid and drastic change, urging leaders to “wake up” and saying that “everything needs to change and it has to start today.”

Although she has drawn criticism from people who have claimed she is naive, Thunberg readily admits she is not an expert in climate science, but insists that scientists ought to be listened to, and that world leaders have failed to heed their warnings. During her speech today, Thunberg was unapologetic, as she excoriated world leaders for their failure to act and essentially accused them of robbing her and her generation of their future. “How dare you,” Thunberg said, seemingly fighting back tears, “you have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.” 

Thunberg warned that the consequences of continuing not to act would be remembered by her generation and generations to come.

In addition to castigating world leaders for their inaction on what she understands to be an urgent matter, Thunberg warned that the consequences of continuing not to act would be remembered by her generation and generations to come. “You are failing us, but young people are starting to understand your betrayal,” she said. “And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.” Thunberg also described the goals set by nearly every country in the world to reduce their carbon emissions as inadequate, noting that even if countries reach the targets set at the Paris Climate Accords, there is only a 50% chance that global warming will not exceed 1.5 degrees celsius. Also, Thunberg chided current strategies for dealing with climate change for relying on her generation to invent and deploy technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, essentially leaving them with the burden of cleaning up their mess.

Alongside her emotional speech, which Thunberg delivered next to a panel of climate change experts, she and 15 other child plaintiffs filed a legal complaint against five countries, alleging that they violated a treaty protecting the rights of children by knowingly contributing to climate change. The complaint is addressed to Germany, Brazil, France, Argentina, and Turkey, five countries that have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and asserts that these countries had an obligation to “prevent the deadly and foreseeable consequences” of climate change, and have long had the opportunity to do so but chose not to. On her Twitter account, Thunberg urged media outlets to report not just on her contributions to climate change activism, but to report on the countless number of other child activists and victims of climate change. This lawsuit resembles one filed by young people in the United States against the federal government, arguing that the government has a responsibility to protect young people from climate change. The lawsuit is currently being deliberated by judges from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and its outcome could have drastic effects on environmental law in the United States.

Climate Change

Studies Detail Impact of Climate Change on Mental Health

One of the concerns associated with climate change is the effects of rising global temperatures, pollution, and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events on human health. Typically, this concern is related to people’s physical health; heavily polluted air can lead to respiratory illnesses, contaminated drinking water can contribute to all manner of illnesses, and extreme weather events can cause traumatic injury as well as dehydration and starvation resulting from damage to infrastructure. But another aspect of the health impacts of climate change is often overlooked, which is the psychological impact of understanding the global threat imposed by the phenomenon.

Climate change has been in the news with increasing frequency lately for a number of reasons. One reason is the increasing number of extreme weather events, some of which have been shown scientifically to have been worse as a result of climate change. Another reason is the work of activists, particularly young people such as Greta Thunberg, to raise awareness about the scope of the impacts of climate change, including the historic global protests on Friday. As I write this article, the U.N. is holding a climate summit to discuss the problem and potential solutions, where Thunberg is speaking. And in the United States, democratic presidential candidates are discussing the policies they’d implement to fight climate change, many of which call for unprecedented political change.

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A meta-analysis, which will be published in the April 2020 edition of Current Opinion in Psychology, takes a holistic approach of understanding the health impacts of climate change by reviewing research that has been conducted on the subject over the past several years. This study identifies three different forms of climate-related events and how they relate to mental health. These events are “acute events” such as hurricanes and wildfires; “subacute or long-term changes,” like droughts and heat stress; and “the existential threat of long-lasting changes, including higher temperatures, rising sea levels and a permanently altered and potentially uninhabitable physical environment.” The various ways in which these factors impact mental health is broad, and the authors specifically point to the development of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Children and poor people are particularly vulnerable, as these are populations most directly threatened by the effects of climate change.

For psychologists, eco-anxiety is a natural and reasonable reaction to the science of climate change, and the best response to eco-anxiety is to take action.

The term “eco-anxiety” has been introduced to describe the sense of being overwhelmed by the nature of climate change as an existential threat, and has been identified as an area of concern among psychologists. The phenomenon impacts even people who do not have a history of mental illness, and is characterized by “a chronic fear of environmental doom,” according to a 2017 report produced by the American Psychological Association. Sufferers of eco-anxiety, a condition which is thought to be rapidly growing among the global population, worry about the future of themselves and their children, and experience feelings of loss, helplessness, and frustration owing in part to their conceptualization of themselves in relation to the global environment. According to psychologist Molly S. Castello, sufferers of eco-anxiety use denial to distance themselves from their existential concerns, but that denial only serves as a distraction from their anxiety, worsening the condition in the long term.

Several therapies have been proposed to treat eco-anxiety. Both cognitive behavioral therapy and medication have been shown to be useful treatments for the depression and anxiety that can result from environmental concerns, but psychologists who specialize in environmental concern recommend additional steps. These steps involve changing your lifestyle to reassert control over your feelings and instilling yourself with the knowledge that you are not remaining complacent in the fact of climate change. Duncan Greere, who edited a report detailing solutions to the climate crisis, recommends that individuals “make climate change a factor in the decisions you make around what you eat, how you travel, and what you buy,” “talk about climate change with your friends, family and colleagues, and “demand that politicians and companies make it easier and cheaper to do the right thing for the climate.” For psychologists, eco-anxiety is a natural and reasonable reaction to the science of climate change, and the best response to eco-anxiety is to take action.