The apocalyptic coverage of severe wildfires throughout California has had many, including Gov. Jerry Brown, wondering if this is the new face of climate change. Seeing it so close to home may come as a shock to those who thought this was a distant possibility, something they wouldn’t live to experience.
People often react to news about climate change with fear, anger, despair or disbelief, which can hinder their ability to act on it. But on the bright side, maybe the recent destruction from the fires will be the catalyst needed to take action and prevent further damage.
“I think it’s important to tell it like it is,” said psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren by phone from Washington DC. “Talk about extinction rates, talk about sea level rise, talk about the impact of despair on society, and then say, this is what we can do about it if we capture all the energy of the fear and the anger and turn it into action.”
Van Susteren is a member of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance and expert on the physical and mental health effects of climate change, who is trying to help people overcome their resistance to change and begin working on solutions.
She contributed to a report by the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica last year, “Mental Health and Our Changing Climate,” which found that climate change is already having impacts on mental health.