How do you feel about climate change?

Perhaps you feel a nagging sense of unease, uncertainty, or numbness. Perhaps its confusion regarding the contrasting information provided by the media, climate science communicators, the fossil fuel industry, and Government. Or maybe you feel a deep sadness, grief and yearning for what we have already lost, what we will lose in the future, and what our children may never have.



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Danielle Cerantonio


Perhaps you feel a nagging sense of unease, uncertainty, or numbness. Perhaps its confusion regarding the contrasting information provided by the media, climate science communicators, the fossil fuel industry, and Government. Or maybe you feel a deep sadness, grief and yearning for what we have already lost, what we will lose in the future, and what our children may never have.

Perhaps you feel an overwhelming sense of fear, anxiety, or terror about weather events you have seen or experienced firsthand. Maybe you feel angry, bitter, or betrayed by those who can make a difference but continue to choose indifference in the face of decades of scientific evidence. Perhaps you feel guilt, shame, and regret for the way we have contributed to the current reality and for the world we are leaving our children. Or maybe you feel like a hostage; paralysed between feeling the urgency of the climate crisis, but lacking the societal support required to make a real difference. Maybe you feel all these emotions in a seemingly muddled, tangled and overwhelming mess.

Is this how you feel? You are not alone.

Climate emotions are slowly gaining attention as we are becoming increasingly aware of the threats associated with our warming planet.

While the effects of climate change were once invisible and a problem of the “future”, it’s becoming clear that the future is here and now. Climate change is no longer invisible, and as a result it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore with many now seeing it as impossible to dismiss given the overwhelming micro and macro data and measured changes that are inexplicable outside climate theory.

We see climate change in the floods, the fires, and the “unprecedented” weather events that are vastly becoming the norm. We see it in oscillation between extremes, the hottest of the hot days to the wettest of the wet. We see it in the loss of the sounds of frogs in creeks, the decrease in bee stings, and the lack of insects hitting our windscreen. We see it in the staggering 60% decline of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians over the past 40 years. We see it in our own backyards; in the indigenous plants and trees that just don’t thrive anymore despite having grown in that location for thousands of years.

We are increasingly hearing climate change in our children’s narratives. In our children, we feel the guilt and anguish of knowing they are inheriting an impossibly difficult world, and that we are largely powerless to protect them and undo the damage. I know firsthand the grief of a nine-year-old child holding my hand, looking up into my eyes and asking “Mum, will I be able to have children? Or will they die from climate change?”.

If you are also feeling this, you’re not alone.

Humans tend to avoid difficult emotions.

We live in a world where hard emotions are rarely discussed, especially in public. We prefer to show positivity, stoicism, and a sense of calm and control. And in doing so, we feel our pain in isolation. This tendency is particularly evident with climate emotions. We do not talk about them. We feel as if our distress is invalid. We question whether there is something wrong with us for feeling what we feel.

Clinical Psychologist and founder of The Climate Mobilization, Dr Margaret Klein Salamon likens this phenomenon to a fire drill in the workplace. When a fire alarm goes off at work, the first thing we do is look for others to see how they are responding. We especially look to our leaders. If they are not reacting, we assume it is ok. If they are moving quickly, looking alarmed, and are calling us to action then we too become alarmed. When we feel climate fear we look to others; our leaders, our neighbours, our friends and family, and our community to see how they are responding. What we see is everyone else behaving normally. So we too keep our distress quiet, accentuating our feeling of isolation.

Despite the relative silence of climate distress, research shows this is a deeply shared experience. In a 2021 global study of 16,254 people, a staggering 72 percent of respondents stated they were “somewhat worried” or “very worried” that climate change would impact them personally. More recent research conducted in Australia in 2022 revealed 83% of respondents are concerned about climate change, and 70% consider that Australia is already being affected by climate change.

Remember, if this is this how you feel, you’re not alone.

The moment of connection with the reality of the climate crisis has been labelled by Psychologist Dr. Sarah Anne Edwards and Lindy Buzzel as “Waking up Syndrome”; a consciousness raising that is extremely destabilising. We feel a rush of complex and painful emotions that can feel overwhelming and impossible to process. For many of us the enormity of the climate crisis is too much, and rather than turning towards the emotions, we turn away. Paradoxically it’s when we avoid and deny how we feel that it becomes most painful. Unfortunately avoiding our climate emotions does not mean a climate emergency is not occurring.

Labels such as “eco anxiety” and “climate anxiety” are becoming more prevalent, however they are often misconstrued as a pathology or a clinical condition. It is crucial to stress that climate distress is a normal and healthy response to the frightening ecological threats we are facing. Climate psychology research consistently tells us that we should be feeling distress; that if we are not feeling some level of fear or grief, we are in denial. Research tells us that rather than suppressing our distress, we need to open up to these emotions and accept them as an inevitable response to the climate crisis. Australian Climate Scientist Joelle Gergi describes this beautifully:

“When we are finally willing to accept feelings of intense loss for ourselves, the planet, and every child’s future- we can use the intensity of our emotional response to finally propel us into action. We must have the heart and the courage to be moved by what we see. Because the truth is that life as we know it hangs in the balance; every fraction of a degree of warming matters.”

This message is reinforced by psychological associations across the world; the Australian Psychological Society (APS), the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry (RANZCP), the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA), Psychology for a Safe Climate (PSC) and the American Psychological Association (APA) to name just a few.

The emotions associated with the climate crisis are so unique and complex it can be difficult to make sense of them. This is problematic, as the labelling and understanding of our emotions play a significant role in our capacity to understand, process and regulate. Australian Environmental Philosopher Glenn Albrecht has created a climate vocabulary, new words, for a new world. He describes terms such as “terrafurie” (protective anger and rage targeted to those who command the forces of earth destruction), “solastalgia” (the grief experienced through lived experience of environmental change) eco paralysis (feelings of powerlessness to do anything meaningful to positively affect climate change), “tierratrauma” (the moment when you experience sudden and traumatic environmental change such as, a bulldozer demolishing bushland or a fire destroying your local area), and” terradread” (the experience of angst, nausea and despair when empathising with those who will exist within a future state of climate faced with the constant risk of catastrophe). These terms help to validate and make sense of our emotional responses.

Despite the immense difficulty of facing the climate reality, it’s not only painful emotions that arise. When we harness the courage to face these challenging emotions head on, we can also feel positive emotions. We can feel inspired, connected, and gritty hope for the future.

Glenn Albrecht has words for positive emotions too; “Topophilia” (a strong sense of attachment to a particular place), “Biophilia” (a love of life and the natural world), “Endemophilia” (the deep, satisfying feeling of being truly at home with one’s place and culture), “Eutierria” (the positive feeling of oneness with the earth and a deep sense of peace and connectedness), and “Sumbalere” (to nourish and care for living beings at all scales).

To feel these positive emotions, we must first face the climate truth and welcome the fear, grief and pain. Perhaps the greatest challenge of all is to find a way to do this without being crushed and immobilised by the weight of them. This may seem an impossible task, but the answer is right there in front of us, sitting deeply in our intuition. We must be vulnerable, connect with those around us who feel what we feel, and speak our truth.

When we share with others, we no longer feel alone, and this is an extremely powerful way to honour and engage with our emotions. When we share with others, we also allow them to share their pain.

For me, the painful emotions of climate change are ever present. As the clock clicked to 12am on the 1st of January 2024, I watched my children dance with sparklers under a stunningly clear and star-filled sky and whispered to myself “Please don’t let 2024 be as bad as science predicts it will be”. I felt solastalgia, and an intense grief, but alongside this was deep awe, connection and hope. We can hold the tension between these seemingly opposing emotions.

Is this how you feel? You are not alone.

If climate change is causing you anxiety or affecting your mental health, you might benefit from talking to a qualified counsellor. Through your employer, you might have access to Converge free counselling services.

To access Converge services and check if you’re eligible, simply call 1300 OUR EAP (1300 687 327), book online or in the Converge App (Android or iOS).

About the author: Danielle Cerantonio, Psychologist / Principal Consultant, Accredited Climate Aware Practitioner at Converge International. 

Danielle is a Psychologist with a Masters in Organisational Psychology. She is passionate about the critical role that psychology plays in driving positive climate behaviour. She works with individuals and groups to help people connect with and accept the painful reality of the climate emergency. These programs facilitate movement through emotions such as grief, fear, solastalgia and despair to values driven behaviour and gritty hope. Danielle is a climate aware practitioner through Psychology for a Safe Climate and is active in this professional group. She has trained in addressing climate concerns in clinical work and is currently completing an Advanced Certificate in ecopsychology.

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