image of students at tables

Climate anxiety is more common than you think. These students want to help.

Christen Martines | June 20, 2023

By Conrad Swanson, The Denver Post, May 26, 2023

You might have felt the symptoms before: A pit in your stomach, panic, existential dread, hopelessness, disenfranchisement, frustration and even anger.

Greenhouse gases are seeping into the atmosphere, warming the planet. Polar ice caps are melting, rising sea levels and altering the chemistry of the planet’s oceans. Wildfires spark more frequently, burn hotter, spread faster and wider. Waterways like the Colorado River are dwindling. Deforestation threatens even the planet’s most wild forests and jungles. Mining operations scar and poison beautiful, even sacred landscapes, endangering the way of life for those living in the area.

For some — especially young people facing decades of uncertainty – it’s too much.

And so the paralyzing fear sets in, the anxiety and depression. These problems are indeed existential threats, scientists repeatedly confirm, but what can any one person do to stop them?

“Anxiety stems from not being able to control or do anything,” Lizzie Weinreb, a student at the University of Colorado Boulder, said. “And, for the most part, we can’t do anything.”

A majority of Americans suffer from some form of climate anxiety, according to a 2020 survey by the American Psychological Association. The anxiety is particularly pronounced in younger generations and can lead to a greater risk of developing depression, other forms of anxiety and substance abuse.

Weinreb, a senior and environmental studies major, and four other students – Andre Delay, Ella White, Emma Morris and Miles Sinderman – wanted to learn more about climate anxiety, how it’s affecting others at CU Boulder and to see whether they could offer any help. Their project started as an assignment in Lee Frankel-Goldwater’s Environment, Media, and Society class and ended up as a website and Instagram account to share their findings.

Frankel-Goldwater, an assistant teaching professor at the university, said the guidelines for the assignment were intentionally vague and he was pleased to see the group settle on the topic.

Sinderman said he pitched climate anxiety to the group to seize on an opportunity to delve deeper into a feeling that has plagued him since a trip to Costa Rica while he was in the eighth grade. While in Central America he looked around and realized that none of what he was seeing would be the same within a decade.

“It feels like everything’s slipping,” Sinderman, a junior and environmental studies major, said.

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