Eco anxiety, displacement, and international finance: the climate crisis is damaging more than just our planet.

By Cyrus Jarvis.

Up until the recent outbreak of COVID-19, it seemed as though extreme weather conditions were hitting us more often than ever before – from wildfires in Australia and Brazil to flooding in the UK. While some world leaders have either downplayed or completely denied the disturbing natural disasters occurring before our very eyes, the crisis has been destroying more than what we can see on the surface.

In 2018, an academic paper written by Professor Jem Bendell was published and subsequently downloaded by more than 110,000 people. It was titled ‘Deep Adaptation: a Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy’ and was so depressing that it sent people to therapy. The overwhelming feeling of being powerless while inching closer to catastrophe has led to a phenomenon of ‘eco-anxiety’, described by the American Psychological Association as a ‘chronic fear of environmental doom’. This is not the same as a clinical anxiety disorder, but often worsens or triggers pre-existing mental health problems. Furthermore, in countries in the Global South, eco-anxiety stems not only from fear and uncertainty about the future but from the immediate impacts of the climate crisis that they are already facing.

In these parts of the world, many families have already been displaced from their homes due to the effects of climate change – and it is expected that the number of climate refugees is only going to get higher. In 2013, a man called Ioane Teitiota applied for protection in New Zealand, claiming his and his family’s lives were at risk. He lived in Kiribati, on the island of South Tarawa where the population had increased from 25,000 in 1990 to 50,000 in 2010 due to sea levels rising and rendering other islands uninhabitable, not only leading to increased violence and social tensions, but a lack of freshwater and difficulty growing crops. Despite the hardships faced by the people of Kiribati, who have been forced to relocate to neighboring countries like Fiji and Hawaii, Ioane Teitiota’s claim was rejected – until a landmark ruling that climate refugees can’t be forced to return home by the UN human rights committee earlier this year. It is widely estimated that a further 140-200 million people are going to become climate refugees by 2050. We can almost definitely expect that this will cause a refugee crisis the scale of which has never been seen before, due to both governments’ continued inaction regarding the climate crisis, and the unwelcoming nature of Europe, as revealed to us by the ongoing European refugee crisis.

The mounting climate emergency may also cause another global financial crisis. Earlier this year, a book-length report published by the BIS (an umbrella organization for the world’s central banks) warned that central banks cannot consider themselves immune to the risks ahead of us and are incredibly ill-equipped to handle the consequences. The European Central Bank has started incorporating the threat of climate change into its economic forecasts and has pledged to do more to help tackle the climate emergency. As of yet, however, the ECB has failed to support the greening of the eurozone economy, and its bond portfolio still contains many carbon-intensive and fossil fuel-related assets. We can only hope that the world’s central banks will gradually divest under the pressure of campaigns like Positive Money, which works towards a fair, sustainable and democratic economy.