‘Mental health support for climate anxiety is essential’

‘Mental health support for climate anxiety is essential’

Prachi Raturi Misra

When you grow up close to nature, it inevitably guides you. At least that is what the case seems to be, with Mr. Aditya Pundir, Director, India and South Asia, Climate Reality Project, who was trained by former US Vice President Al Gore in 2009 and is a recipient of the Australian Leadership Award Training 2013 in Environment. A renowned expert in climate change and sustainability, his initiatives in climate education have trained over 11,000 teachers. He has also authored books for UNESCO, and created environmental education CDROMs, and comics for children. He also serves on climate change consultation committees in India formed by UNDP, World Bank, and UNESCO. Mr Aditya Pundir, spoke to The Mind Diaries on climate anxiety and how to deal with it. 

Excerpts from the interview: 

Mr Pundir, could you explain what climate anxiety is?
Climate anxiety reflects a growing concern among people, particularly the youth, about the future implications of climate change. Initially, the concept was less understood, but with increasing educational efforts and visible climate events, like the recent flooding in Dubai, awareness has heightened. This awareness has led the younger generation to connect the dots between these events and the larger climate crisis, which results in a pervasive worry about the future – what we refer to as climate anxiety.

Does climate anxiety affect all age groups?
Absolutely. While it can affect anyone who delves deep into the topic, young people are more susceptible. They are forward-looking and when they perceive potential threats to their future, their anxiety tends to be more pronounced. Older generations, juggling various life challenges, might not focus as much on this singular issue.

Do you think mental health support is important for managing climate anxiety in India?
Absolutely, mental health support for climate anxiety is essential, yet it’s a relatively new concept in India. In Western countries, there are more open discussions and established support systems for addressing climate-related mental health issues. India is currently lagging in this area, with limited recognition and resources available to tackle climate anxiety. It’s crucial for us to start more conversations and develop targeted support mechanisms to help those affected by the psychological impacts of climate change. 

You work extensively with schools through your green campus programmes. Could you elaborate on these initiatives?
Yes, the green campus programme is central to our efforts to instil a culture of sustainability in educational institutions. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the programme’s structure and its impact: 

Phase A: Transforming into a Green Institution
Initially, we focus on transforming schools into green facilities. This begins with comprehensive teacher training to foster an environment supportive of sustainable practices. We help schools develop a robust green policy, which serves as the foundation for the following five key domains:

    1. Clean Energy: Installation of solar panels to harness renewable energy. 
    2. Water Conservation: Implementation of rainwater harvesting systems. 
    3. Waste Management: Establishing protocols for composting and minimising waste, particularly organic waste. 
  • Green Spaces: Developing areas such as butterfly gardens, herbal gardens, and tree plantations to enhance biodiversity and provide green lungs for the school.
  • Air Quality: Measures to monitor and improve the air quality within the school environment

Post-training, schools conduct a pre-audit to assess their current environmental impact, followed by a post-audit after six months to evaluate improvements and changes implemented. 

Phase B: Application of Knowledge and Engaging Students
In this phase, activities are designed to apply the knowledge gained in Phase A. Students engage in projects that address water and energy issues, utilising the campus as a learning model. This part of the programme is aligned with national campaigns on environmental awareness and conservation, encouraging students to think critically about these issues and explore practical solutions. 

Phase C: Community Engagement
The final phase involves extending the impact beyond the school by engaging the local community. Schools become centres of influence, sharing their achievements and sustainable practices with parents and local residents. This interaction fosters a broader community awareness and commitment to environmental issues. 

Have you noticed a change in the outlook of students after participating in these programmes?

Definitely. The transformation is profound. Students engage in various environmental projects, from waste management to energy conservation, which instils a sense of responsibility and hope. Positive stories of impact, like schools turning their community plastic-free or starting seed banks, are testaments to the efficacy of these programmes. 

What strategies do you recommend for dealing with climate anxiety?
Addressing climate anxiety effectively requires clear communication about the ongoing efforts to mitigate climate issues. Ensuring that people, especially the youth, understand that proactive measures are being taken can help alleviate feelings of despair and helplessness. 

Can you elaborate on the concept of a ‘hope budget’?
The ‘hope budget’ represents the level of optimism people feel about the future. It tends to be high in children but can diminish with age as realities of the world set in. It’s crucial to nurture this hope, especially in younger generations, to empower them to face future challenges with a positive outlook. 

What role do green and blue spaces play in combating climate anxiety?
Natural environments are therapeutic. Spending time in green spaces like forests or blue spaces like lakes and seas can significantly boost mental health and aid in dealing with anxiety, acting as natural retreats from stress. 

Do you get climate anxiety and how do you deal with it?

I did get very anxious about climate change after I saw Mr Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth and that is exactly how my journey into doing something more about it in a more organised manner began. My take is we need to do our bit however small it might seem because that inevitably makes us feel better. Also spending time close to nature is my go to formula. I like photography, I like talking long walks. All of these things keep me going. 

How do you view the future of transportation in addressing climate issues?
Transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) and enhancing public transportation systems are crucial for reducing reliance on fossil fuels. However, the sustainability of EVs also depends on the sources of electricity used for charging. A holistic approach that includes clean energy sources is essential for making transportation sustainable. 

Does the production of lithium-ion batteries for EVs conflict with sustainable practices?
It does present challenges, such as the environmental impact of lithium mining. However, the benefits of transitioning to EVs potentially outweigh these impacts if we also focus on improving recycling technologies and reducing the overall demand for raw materials through more efficient designs and shared transportation solutions. 

How can we foster a global ecosystem to combat climate anxiety?
Building a global ecosystem involves educating and involving professionals from various fields – doctors, psychologists, educators, and policymakers – in understanding and addressing climate anxiety. This comprehensive approach will ensure that we are not only aware of the psychological impacts of climate change but also equipped to address them effectively.