We are living in times of extremes. From floods in Kerala to unprecedented heavy downpours in Karnataka, images of a crumbling infrastructure and human despair in the wake of the ravages of climate change are there for everyone to see. As governance falters, climate change is on everyone’s mind, with anxiety and a sense of helplessness taking over.
In the 1980s, scientific concerns about global warming had given impetus to the initial debate on climate change. International bodies such as the United Nations Environment Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had swung into action, emerging as leaders of research and suggesting action points on these issues.
Today, however, climate change has progressively moved from a topic of debate in international conferences to daily newspaper reads and neighbourhood conversations. Within the last decade, there has been a deluge of information on climate change and the impending doom, which has made its way into our homes and hearts. An unwitting impact of this influx of information has been a proliferation of worry and fear, which has been verbalised in the form of ‘climate anxiety’.
Climate anxiety is a term that most of the younger generations are familiar with as they try to make sense of the magnitude and uncertainty of the environmental problem. It has been described as ‘a chronic fear of environmental doom’ by the American Psychological Association. The term covers emotions like anger, worry, guilt and grief.
Youth, in particular, are among the greatest victims of a warming world, as well as a feeling of helplessness in these acute circumstances. A recent survey of 10,000 young people around the world revealed that the largest proportion of worried young respondents were from the Philippines, India and Brazil. This double distress of developing countries, which are already grappling with the adverse effects of climate change, is a point of concern.
In keeping with how relevant and important the issue of climate change has become, there is a new futuristic game set in 2050 called ‘Survive the Century’. The game expands on the political, economic and environmental choices that humans will need to make as a result of climate change between 2021 and 2100. The game is an attempt to draw the youth away from a feeling of helplessness towards making positive, informed choices for a better future.
While this effort to involve and thereby give power to ordinary citizens is indeed positive, it also needs to be viewed in light of an additional burden they need to carry. This is especially relevant in the wake of the current pandemic, which has brought mental health issues to light. A new and unwelcome inclusion in our midst has been the explosion of terms such as ‘panic attacks, insomnia, and obsessive thinking – linked to worry about the threat of environmental disaster' – more so among the youth.
Climate change has, of course, impacted different parts of the world in a varied manner. There have been raging wildfires in California, floods in China and typhoons in Japan. In the recent rainfall deluge in Bangalore, most households have been caught off-guard. Torrential rains accompanied by heavy wind have led to the uprooting of trees and severe waterlogging in several areas. In this context, there are immediate consequences for infrastructure in the already strained planning of the city’s roads and crumbling civic amenities.
The Voice of the People
In the recent heavy downpour in Bangalore, the floods outside the house of Meenakshi Shanmugam rose to alarming levels. She lives in one of the few independent houses on Rhenius street, Richmond town. Recent digging and re-laying of the road and pavement have led to uneven pathways, resulting in the house being much lower than the street. Proximity to an exposed stormwater drain has further exacerbated the situation, with mosquitoes emerging as a menace.
As knee-deep water in the compound becomes a frequent occurrence, Meenakshi has decided to take recourse to the media to highlight her distress. This has already prompted a response from the chief engineer of the Smart City project, who has made an opening in the drainage area to allow the water to drain out of the house and street. Meenakshi hopes that the authorities’ response and future plan of action for the city will keep her home and family safe! Her story of distress is an example of the severity of the problem which extreme weather events can cause in the daily lives of the urban community.
- In recent times, the narrative on climate change has evolved to accommodate the concerns of ordinary individuals. This, in turn, incentivises them to make positive choices in improving their immediate environment.
- Given that the young, vulnerable and marginalised sections of the society are once more at the heart of this distress, policymakers need to address this urgently so that climate anxiety does not assume threatening proportions.