In addition to those who have lost their homes to floods and
megafires, millions have endured record-breaking heat waves. The crisis also
hits home in subtle, personal ways — withered gardens, receding lakeshores and
quiet walks without the birdsong that once accompanied them.

To understand what the effects of climate change feel like
in America today, we listened to hundreds of people. In cities already
confronting the long-term effects of climate change, and in drought-scarred
ranches and rangeland, many are trying to cope with the strains of an
increasingly precarious future. As temperatures rise, extreme weather events
will become more and more common.


Some people grieve the loss of serene hiking trails that
have been engulfed by wildfire smoke while others no longer find the same joy
or release from nature. Some are seeking counselling. Others are harnessing
their anxiety for change by protesting or working to slow the damage.

“​​This is becoming a No. 1 threat to mental health,” said
Britt Wray, a Stanford University researcher and author of “Generation Dread,”
a forthcoming book about grappling with climate distress. “It can make
day-to-day life incredibly hard to go on.”

Psychologists and therapists say the distress of a changing
climate can cause fleeting anxiety for some people but trigger much darker thoughts
for others. In a 2020 survey, more than half of Americans reported feeling
anxious about the climate’s effect on their mental health, and more than
two-thirds said they were anxious about how climate change would affect the


A survey of people 16 to 25 in 10 countries published in The
Lancet found that three-quarters were frightened of the future. More than half
said humanity was doomed. Some feel betrayed by older generations and leaders.
They say they feel angry but helpless as they watch people in power fail to act

Almost 40% of young people say they are hesitant about
having children. If nature feels this unmoored today, some ask, why bring
children into an even grimmer future?

Some of the worst physical effects of climate change are
disproportionately felt by Black and Latino communities and Indigenous nations
— who often live in places with a legacy of mining, energy drilling and other
pollution. And while these groups are among the most concerned about the
changing climate, community resources to deal with the emotional fallout may be
more limited.

Experts are quick to emphasise that people are justified in
their emotional response. The threat is real and growing as carbon levels in
the atmosphere pass dangerous new thresholds. With rising temperatures, extreme
weather events will become more and more common.

“Sometimes I feel hopeless or sad or worried,” said Andrew
Bryant, a social worker in Seattle who treats patients with climate anxieties.
“That’s part of being a human being at this point if we’re paying attention.”

A new world of drenching hurricanes and deadlier summer heat
is also straining professions that once seemed removed from the front lines of
climate change. Hospitals and police officers in the Pacific Northwest grappled
with 500 heat deaths when temperatures shattered records in the summer. Along
the Gulf, emergency workers are facing down larger, more frequent storms that
make their jobs even more dangerous.

Millions of Americans now brace for seasons with a sense of
heightened worry. Will children be able to play outside without smoky skies?
What storms will shroud the Atlantic Coast? Will the house survive another
wildfire season?

The challenge going forward, therapists say, is not being
overcome by those fears and sorrow.

To cope and find resilience, experts say, people must now
figure out ways to forge ahead individually and collectively. Researchers added
that humans have one significant built-in advantage: the ability to adapt.


My community has to fight and be resilient and be strong,
and sometimes you just want to be protected. It’s constant environmental fight
after environmental fight. And that causes a lot of anxiety. It causes

— Tonyisha Harris, climate activist in Chicago

I know folks who have stopped fishing or stopped hunting
because they don’t see a future in it. There’s just a deep and abiding sadness
that comes with seeing something like climate change and recognise that we’re
responsible for that.

— Todd Tanner, hunts and fishes in western Montana and is
the founder of the nonprofit Conservation Hawks

The land that we come from, it stands tall with the trees.
And it goes deep down into the depths of all your emotions, all your feelings,
just like the depths of the ocean.

As a tribal senator, I am responsible for not just the
people of my community, but the land, the water and our nonhuman relatives that
live alongside us.

I always hear stories from my great-grandparent’s and
great-great-grandparent’s time, when there were so many salmon that they were
able to walk across them in the rivers and streams. And now we have nowhere
near those numbers. The sea is warming; the river is warming. We’ve had massive
heat wave like we’ve never experienced before. That has been devastating for
the salmon, clams, crab.

Who we are, our livelihood is at risk. I feel depressed and
powerless because I can’t control what’s happening in the ocean or what’s
happening beyond. And the people that are in the positions of power do not hold
our Indigenous values like we do.

What keeps me moving forward is all that we have to fight
for. I truly believe that when it comes to combating climate change, our people
will pull together as we always do, as we have always done. That’s what keeps
me motivated, is our kin and our relationships with each other, and the future

— Alana Quintasket, Swinomish tribal senator in Washington

When I am going to work. I am thinking about the worst-case
scenario in every scenario. Because if you can imagine it, we respond to it.

It’s just part of life now that you have the hurricanes
here. You come from an already stressful job, and then you add 100% more stress
to it. That’s the reality of being a first responder in New Orleans.

When Katrina occurred, I had been working for a year. I
didn’t know what I was getting into. There was calls that would keep me awake
all night long. I’ve since worked through several tornadoes, many flash floods,
and then the latest being Hurricane Ida.

In the future, storms will continue to happen. And climate
change will have a major impact with New Orleans. But everybody that works at
New Orleans EMS knows that this is part of it. And you have these obstacles
being thrown at you. Is my house OK? Are my family OK?

I started EMS under the belief that you never showed your
emotions, and it was always, “this is what you signed up for.” But during a
major storm, I know that this is very important. We lose so many people in our
field because we don’t talk about our feelings. Doing this work is very stressful.
It is to be expected. It is nobody’s fault. But the burnout is real. It happens
to everybody.

— Laura Russell, a paramedic in New Orleans

Farmers, ranchers don’t really talk about their feelings
that much, I don’t think, and it’s just the way we were brought up. But I guess
climate scares me; it’s very volatile.

— Donald Nelson, farms and raises cattle in North Dakota

©2022 The New York Times Company

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