Understanding Apathy as a Response to Climate Change

Cheyenne Sundance • November 23, 2023

Apathy, characterized by a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern, is a complex emotion that can be influenced by many things in relation to the climate crisis. In 2015, the researcher Renee Lertzman of the Great Lakes region in Wisconsin, found that underneath the apathy and lack of engaging with environmental issues, were actually emotions of distress due environmental decline. The Green Bay area of Wisconsin, the locale she researched for her paper ‘Environmental Melancholia’ , has been an area that has been depleted through development and farming. In this case it wasn’t apathy, it was that they cared too much and it has had a deep psychological effect on them, making them feel in a frozen state.

Within feelings of distress, eco-anxiety may come up. Eco-anxiety is a term used to describe the feelings of stress, fear, or unease associated with the environmental crisis, including concerns about climate change, biodiversity loss, and other ecological challenges. This type of anxiety is often characterized by a deep sense of worry about the future of the planet, the well-being of ecosystems, and the impact of human activities on the environment. . When it comes to youth and climate change, several elements contribute to this disengagement. One being, a lack of peer-to-peer connection.

Human connection plays a crucial role in addressing apathy, including apathy towards critical issues like climate change. Learning how to discuss individual and collective feelings toward climate change can increase climate change related mental health effects such as eco-anxiety. Youth having opportunities to learn, articulate and share their feelings can decrease social isolation as well.  Here are several ways in which human connection, such as having peer-to-peer spaces to discuss difficult topics such as climate change, can help lower apathy:

Shared Values and Goals: When youth connect with others who share similar values and goals, they are more likely to feel a sense of purpose and motivation. In the context of environmentalism and climate change, this can look like what they envision for their school, university or broader community to do in regards to finding grassroots solutions.  For instance, forming communities or groups focused on environmental sustainability can create a support system that reinforces the importance of taking action against climate change.

Empathy and Understanding: Human connection fosters empathy by allowing people to understand and share in the experiences and perspectives of others. Hearing personal stories and witnessing the impact of climate change on different communities can evoke a stronger emotional response, making individuals more likely to overcome apathy and take meaningful action.

Collective Action: Tapping into the power of collective action can combat feelings of helplessness. When youth realize that they are part of a larger movement working towards positive change, it can inspire a sense of efficacy and significance. This is particularly important in the context of climate change, where collective efforts are essential for meaningful impact. There is no small scale in regards to collective action, it can be as simple as forming a group, club or collaborating with a local environmental group to start.

Communication and Dialogue: Engaging in conversations about climate change with friends, family, and peers can create a space for exchanging ideas, sharing concerns, and building a collective understanding of the issue. In Break The Divide’s Climate Emotions program,  students can confront how climate change affects them emotionally and physically. Students also become more comfortable with dialogue engaging with other communities and their own to find solutions.

In the context of climate change, where the scale of the issue can be overwhelming, human connection serves as a critical antidote to apathy. By fostering a sense of shared responsibility, empathy, and community, individuals are more likely to overcome feelings of helplessness and take meaningful actions towards building a more sustainable future.

Addressing apathy among youth in the context of climate change is a crucial step toward building a sustainable future locally and on a global level. By understanding the roots of apathy, acknowledging its consequences, and implementing targeted strategies to inspire action, we can cultivate a generation that actively contributes to the global effort to combat climate change. This can be grassroots through programming to engage on the peer-to-peer level to policy and governance changes. We all hold the key to unlocking a more sustainable and resilient future – a future that depends on their engagement, passion, and commitment to environmental stewardship.

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