A new study from the UK’s Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST) at the University of Bath has discovered that while climate anxiety remains low among UK citizens, it may be an important driver for taking climate actions such as reducing waste. This is the first-ever in-depth study of climate anxiety among the UK’s adult population.
The American Psychological Association defines climate anxiety as “chronic fear of environmental doom,” which stems from observing the results of global warming. A 2021 study by the University of Bath in the UK discovered that eco-anxiety is especially prevalent among the young globally.
The newer study asked 1,338 UK adults over two time points – once in 2020 and once in 2022 – to share about the prevalence of climate anxiety, the factors that provoke it, and whether it could foresee individual behavioural changes and climate action.
More than three-quarters of the population said they are worried about climate change. However, only 4% reported climate anxiety in 2020 and only 4.6% did so in 2022. Those most prone to eco-anxiety were people with higher generalized anxiety and younger people.
Many shared that climate anxiety can have a positive effect as it can motivate actions to bring down harmful emissions such as cutting down energy consumption or buying or renting second-hand items. The study discovered that eating less red meat was not due to climate anxiety even though it brings great environmental benefits.
The CAST study also found that media exposure, for example to images of natural disasters on TV can predict climate anxiety rather than personal experiences of environmental impacts. According to the authors, these findings have important implications for the organizations that communicate climate change.
“With increasing media coverage of climate impacts, such as droughts and fires in the UK and devastating flooding in Pakistan, climate anxiety may well increase,” said Environmental psychologist at the University of Bath Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh MBE, who led the study. “Our findings suggest this can spur some people to take action to help tackle the issue – but we also know there are barriers to behaviour change that need to be addressed through more government action.”
Another recent UK paper – a briefing paper from the Centre for Climate Change & Social Transformations – looked at the low-carbon lifestyle preferences in the country. According to its analysis, lifestyle changes such as driving less or eating less meat are increasingly seen as both possible and desirable.
The CAST paper emphasizes the importance of the media in motivating lifestyle changes that will be needed to achieve a low-carbon future. Media and public discourse can shape a vision of a greener future that depends less on fossil fuels, the study said.
“Our results suggest that the media could play an important role in creating positive pro-environmental behaviour change, but only if they carefully communicate the reality of climate change without inducing a sense of hopelessness,” said Lois Player, co-author of the study also from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath.