The Current

Fears around climate change are causing some people to seek out support groups

A new report argues that climate change is having a measurable impact on our physical and mental health, and policymakers need to plan accordingly.

Eco-anxiety is a 'sense of heightened anxiety' about environmental changes, says expert

Smoke and flames from the wildfires erupt behind a car on the highway near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, May 7, 2016. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

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After the birth of her daughter, Dana Snell began worrying more and more about the changing climate in which she was raising her child.

Snell says she developed "eco-anxiety", a term she uses to describe her specific anxiety around climate change.

"If it was above 30C I would really feel my heart sink, and it wasn't just about: 'Oh this is going to be an uncomfortable day'. This was: 'What's going to happen? What does this mean? What's going to happen for the future?'" Snell explained.

Her anxiety worsened as she felt Toronto summers grow warmer in 2016 and 2017.

"I was very concerned about my young daughter's future," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

The physical and mental health effects of climate change are examined in a report published today called The Lancet Countdown 2018 Report: Briefing for Canadian Policy Makers. It was launched in tandem with an annual international report tracking global public health and climate change, called The Lancet Countdown.

A man kayaks down a flooded street in New Brunswick. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Both reports analyze the measurable effects that wildfires, landslides, floods, storms and heat waves are having on the physical and mental health of the public. It looks at phenomena such as solastalgia — a feeling of being homesick because your home now looks and feels different because of a changed climate.

Memorial University professor Ashlee Cunsolo researches culture, health and environment. She said she sees eco-anxiety in the Inuit population she has worked with, defining it as a "sense of heightened anxiety," about environmental changes, and "compassion for other people."

To combat her fears, Snell found help through an online support group. They meet weekly through an online meeting app and structure their discussions around an Alcoholics Anonymous-type 10 step program. They talk through the different steps and discuss how they are coping.

"I've kind of moved past feeling like my daughter's safety... my daughter's life is in danger," added Snell.

To discuss the physical and mental impact of climate change on the public, Tremonti spoke to

  • Dr. Courtney Howard, physician and lead author of The Lancet Countdown 2018 Report: Briefing for Canadian Policy Makers.
  • Annita Mcphee, B.C. wildfire evacuee.
  • Dana Snell, member of online support group for people worried about climate change.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Produced by The Current's Alison Masemann and Danielle Carr.


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