Ecoanxiety and Meteoranxiety

Ecoanxiety and Meteoranxiety

From Earth Emotions (2019 Cornell University Press).

In psychology, there has been research on a branch of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) focused on the environment for many decades. The ‘environment’ in this context has meant anything connected to the suite of settings, external to the sufferer, which might be the cause of anxiety. For example, the school yard or work place might be a factor in GAD and hence be investigated as a sub-branch of GAD known as “environmental anxiety”. However, the investigation of anxiety more specifically tied to what we would nowadays see as ‘the environment’, connected to nature, has created more nuances within anxiety theory.[1]

The origins of new directions in what is now called “ecopsychology”’ do not always come from within academia. The concept of ecoanxiety, for example, emerged from the public domain as people began to explore the specific anxiety or stress connected to the degradation of their home environment. In 1990, a journalist, Lisa Leff, was the first to introduce the term ‘ecoanxiety’ into the English language in a newspaper article that discussed residents’ concerns about the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay area in the USA.[2] A ‘green’ issue of a major national newspaper in the USA in 2008, featured the theme ‘ecoanxiety’ and it also included the concept of solastalgia in this emerging new field.[3] From that point onwards, “ecoanxiety” has featured in many academic and non-academic publications world-wide.

In a 2011 publication devoted to the emergent negative psychoterratic impacts of climate change, I identified “ecoanxiety” as “related to a changing and uncertain environment”.[4] With future uncertainty being one of the hallmarks of climate change prediction, a generalized worry about the future is now commonplace. For people such as active climate scientists and those who are fully informed about the science, heightened anxiety is a burden carried on a daily basis as yet more information pours in about negative trends in the biosphere. My 2011 book chapter has now been used a primary reference in a number of academic and government publications to define the field.[5] In addition, in a landmark article in 2011, Thomas Doherty and Susan Clayton summarized the then literature and clearly identified the movement from popular to academic contexts for many psychoterratic conditions, including ecoanxiety.[6] 

An extreme departure from generalized eco-anxiety has been defined as “… severe and debilitating worry about risks that may be insignificant”.[7] However, as Verplanken and Roy have argued, “… even high levels of ecological worrying (habitual worrying) are constructive and adaptive, i.e., are associated with pro-environmental attitudes and actions, and are not related to maladaptive forms of worrying such as pathological expressions of anxiety”.[8]

Ecoanxiety occurs in those who still have an element of concern left in them for ‘the state of the environment’. However, for some, the next big distraction can easily take then back into the labyrinth of the Anthropocene, where anxiety is more frequently associated with such things as internet speed, competitive conspicuous consumption and toxic work relationships. There is also a mild version of ecoanxiety that is connected with personal failure to conform to modern environmental standards by, for example, using and recycling waste such as plastic bags.


“Meteoranxiety” is a sub-set of ecoanxiety that I have defined as specifically connected to the vicissitudes of the weather.[9] While a traditional form of anxiety is tied to known meteorological extremes, such as thunderstorm or tornado seasons, humans can now become anxious about the likelihood of severe weather events via technologies such as satellites, that deliver data and forecasts to 24/7 weather channels and in-person to mobile (cell) phones. In an era of climate change enhanced meteorological extremes, this form of ecoanxiety is likely to become more widely felt.

There can also be meteoranxiety about not getting rainfall on a particular place during a dry period or drought, while all around rain is falling, or unwelcome rain heading in the direction of a farm when harvest is about to occur. Satellite imagery of local weather viewed in real time makes such forms meteoranxiety a real possibility. Climate change is now delivering extreme weather world-wide and a reasonable response to this heightened risk of weather-related catastrophe is heightened anxiety. Those who live in flood prone areas, or close to the sea on cliff tops, now have meteoranxiety as soon as severe storm warnings are given by meteorological agencies. A strong wind on a hot day stimulates fire anxiety and sends anxiety about the weather into abnormal heights. People living in high risk zones become glued to the weather channel screen or smart phone and the repetition of the same forecast and warnings only increases their anxiety.

I have experienced meteoranxiety about the extreme heat in Eastern Australia, during the summer of 2016-17. On a 47 degree Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit) day, I felt deep anxiety about the real possibility of an explosive fire in the local eucalyptus forest, because of the volatile haze that was in the air. It was an immediate and disturbing feeling, similar to that I experience in a thunderstorm, when lightning is crackling the air all around me. How close will it get? The summer of 2018 featured a record-breaking heatwave that lasted three months with so little rain that I was forced to purchase water and have it trucked in. Wallaby Farm lost many trees as the drought and heat killed even the hardy native vegetation. I now have meteoranxiety for the whole summer season as it no longer fits within known former extremes.

[1] There is also a form of environmental anxiety linked to the anxiety felt when colonizing people are surrounded by an alien landscape that presents novel difficulties and /or where the colonizing act creates unintended consequences that threaten the chance of colonizing being successful (see Beattie 2011).

[2] Leff 1990.

[3] Dickinson 2008.

[4] Albrecht 2011.

[5] See, Helma et al. 2018, Clayton, et al. 2017.

[6] Doherty and Clayton 2011.

[7] In Gifford and Gifford 2016.

[8] Verplanken and Roy 2013.

[9] Albrecht 2016b.


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