Tomorrow: Bridget Read
New York magazine|October 25 - November 7, 2021
Weathering the Weather Mental-health professionals are trying to figure out how to talk about the climate.

SEVEN YEARS AGO, when I started talking incessantly about the climate crisis, my parents thought I was having a mental breakdown. It was 2014, and the drought in California that summer was particularly bad—the driest year in nearly a century before that record was surpassed this past summer. My dread stretched beyond what I saw in my suburban Los Angeles surroundings, in the crunchy grass and smoggy skies. After staying up into the night reading about melting ice sheets, I began having nightmares about tsunami waves swallowing my family’s house. My parents sent me to my therapist, Ken, who gently suggested my condition was related to post-traumatic stress disorder from a sudden loss a few years earlier, and that made a comforting kind of sense.

In September, I asked Ken if, should I present the same symptoms again today, he would offer the same diagnosis. It was a few weeks after Hurricane Ida set a record for rainfall in New York, breaking the one that had been set less than two weeks before and turning the streets of my low-lying neighborhood into toxic lagoons. After thinking about my question for a few days, Ken told me that his approach had changed: “It would be easier now for me to tell you, honestly, that you’re in good company.”

Ken meant that, in 2021, I am just one of many patients coming into his office wanting to talk about the climate crisis. It’s a lot harder to argue today that negative emotions related to what is happening to the planet might really be about something else—there is no longer anything else. According to a Yale study, 70 percent of Americans are now “very or somewhat worried about global warming.” One recent survey of 10,000 young people found that more than half agreed with the statement “Humanity is doomed.” A term for this collective malaise is having its moment: climate anxiety, a catchall for emotions including dread, grief, fear, depression, and sadness about the climate crisis. (Variations include climate grief, ecogrief, and ecoanxiety.) According to Grist, Google searches for the term worldwide increased 565 percent over the past year.

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