What Do You Need to Know About Climate Change and Anxiety?

Sun, Apr 09, 2023 12:17PM • 25:43

Watch and Subscribe to The Health Collective

Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Health Collective Talks. I’m Amrita Tripathi, a former journalist and the founder editor of The Health Collective, where we’ve been collecting stories, mainly of lived experience, looking at mental health and mental illness from an India lens. We also take the opportunity to talk to experts across the field, to look at how some of these intersections play out in our day to day life. 

I’m delighted to bring on today, two wonderful speakers and guests to talk about something that is really buzzing, something many of us need to know more about, and that topic is climate change. I’m going to introduce Anu Jogesh, my friend and wonderful former colleague who’s a climate adaptation practitioner and a doctoral researcher at LSE’s Department of Geography and Environment. Thanks so much for joining us. Anu’s research sits at the intersection of domestic finance, community vulnerability and climate adaptation in South Asia. She was also a very well-known former journalist, a Chevening scholar and a fellow of the US Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Thanks so much for joining us.

Anu: Thank you so much Amrita.

Amrita: And bringing in Dr Karan Thakur as well with an equally impressive introduction. Firstly, Karan, thank you so much for joining us. Friends of the health collective know Karan from his videos from his articles. And it’s really been a privilege and a delight to work with you all these years on a subject we’re so passionate about. In this avatar Karan is joining us as the group lead sustainability and ESG; he’s the Vice President Public Affairs at the Apollo hospitals group in New Delhi. Karan  is also an Eisenhower Fellowships Global Fellow 2022. And I just discovered he’s part of the G20 Climate change and health track being organised by ADB, UNEP, and G20. Thank you so much for joining us, Karan, and taking the time.

Karan: Thanks. Thanks for having me.


Amrita: So I want to start by unpacking a little bit of something we’ve been hearing a lot more of in the recent past, which is climate anxiety. We know now that there’s a strong connection really between climate change and mental health. And of course, both of you will have been seeing this for quite a while and reading about it. I think it’s really picking up now in the mainstream in terms of conversations. We certainly know during the pandemic, we saw a lot more younger people talking about actual anxiety and climate anxiety, and it’s not hyperbole to talk about, can you take us through a little bit about what that actually means? Karan , I can start with you. And then I know talk us through a little bit about what climate anxiety actually means, in a sort of real world case scenario.


Karan: Yeah, thanks for discussing the subject, I think it’s becoming more and more important. When we talk about climate change, usually, and climate change and health specifically, usually, you will think of a lot of things that could mean heat waves, air pollution, etc. 

But we don’t often discuss how this impacts our mental health. And we do know that there are a lot of external determinants, which impact our mental health and well-being. And climate change being the subject that it is given the impact that it has, in every aspect of our life, is going to cause mental health issues, which include anxiety, but could also mean just worry about the future, about the future generations, and so on, and so forth. 

So these two subjects, the intersections are something that are very important and are going to become equally important as we, as we progress in this journey of how do we want to tackle climate change. This is not an issue just of the young, we are seeing climate anxiety, which means being anxious or worried about the future of the planet, or of our loved ones, about our own health. And how we’re going to see through this challenge is across all ages, and one primary driver for this is all the information and news that is making its way rightly so on our screens, on our cell phones, etc. But also a lack of agency. People feel that they are not empowered enough to really tackle this crisis, unlike, say, a health crisis, or any other issue that you may be facing, whether it’s job loss or loss of a loved one, etc. So so that’s the those are the gamut of issues at play, when we talk about climate change and anxiety.


Amrita: So thanks so much, Karan. Anu, can you add to that? You know, as a layperson, we first heard about it in the context of young people. We heard about it in the context of this, as Karan is saying it’s not just young people — climate change anxiety and the mental health impact is something that impacts across the spectrum. Why are we seeing more of this, if you can layer to that context as well?


Anu: Absolutely. I think first to start off with when you think about climate anxiety, I, you know, there are multiple scales at which you see it, right? There’s the global climate linked anxiety, which is, what’s the future? You know, what does it hold? What’s it going to look like? What our lifestyle is going to be? What’s the biodiversity going to be like, what our city is going to be like? So there is very much the future and what that means.

But then there’s the here and now, right? That often is more, better and broader environmental related, and things that are immediately palpable. Now, if you add a layer to that there’s also differential privilege, who are the people who are despairing about the future, who are the ones who are young, and thinking about what that future holds for them, but then also, who are the socio economically vulnerable, who don’t likely have the luxury of despair, but are actually facing it as well. So there’s trauma there that is very much sort of post traumatic, you know, symptoms that you would you would have, you know, where you’re seeing, say, in a city where floods become a regular feature, and there is displacement link to floods. So, you know, very different layers and all of this, I think, the most important thing to also think about when you think about climate related anxiety is that it doesn’t sit in isolation, like with everything linked to climate change, right? It is very much an exacerbation of all other things that are likely causing stress and anxiety in our society today, whether it is increasing or rising inequality, whether it’s geopolitical tensions, whether it’s inflation, whether it’s crop loss, whether it’s indebtedness, there’s the pandemic, there’s displacement and migration linked to all of these and more, right, there’s a loss of community, there’s loss of state interventions and social infrastructure, there’s so much to unpack that. 

And climate really sits on top of that. Now, if you add biophysical risk, to what you’re seeing, you’re seeing your own green cover and your city degrade, you’re seeing groundwater loss, you’re hit by floods more often, you’re seeing, you know, curating air quality, all of these things sort of get linked up into things you think about that are affecting you now, or likely to affect you in the future. And I completely agree, you know, I think you’re seeing much more of this amongst the youth, because there is community and activism that’s driving some of this, and it’s giving them some level of agency is what

Amrita: I just want to ask you a little bit more personally, both you and Karan  as parents, that it must hit differently when you think about climate anxiety, when you think about the legacy, what the next generation has actually just been saddled with. How do you cope? What are some of the things that are helping you deal with this?

Anu: I mean, I can tell you my personal experience, you know, my son was still young some years ago. So really not in a space where he was comprehending what it means for the future. But I very quickly noticed that he was mirroring my anxiety. And this was this was a very sort of hyperlocal anxiety. We’ve had increased wind speeds. I don’t know if you’ve noticed in Delhi every time it rains, erratic, shocked rainfall, high wind speeds, lots of trees falling, right. Then we had this beautiful tree in in, in my neighborhood, it faced my balcony. It was the thing I loved — green spaces are hard to find, in the big metropolises and this was important for us. And every time we had monsoon — as a monsoons a time to celebrate, right. In India, it’s a joyous thin — but every time we’d had these winds and the rain, I would panic. And I would see my son panicking as well. He was just basically mirroring my anxiety and now of course, as he’s getting older, they’re these questions about you know, what’s the world going to look like when I’m 50? 

These are these are real questions. I think it’s a hard one, it’s hard to talk about this, I am very much I use my export hat. Often, you know, and I quote, Rebecca Solnit and say, you know, that despair is sometimes the luxury of the privileged, the people who really face the years now just need to get on with it, they cope. But also importantly, to talk about the fact that we are seeing the future play out based on what socio-economic pathways are going to be right. What is that sort of carbon intensive future we’re envisioning, and other ways for us to work to make sure that that’s not the future we see. Right. Tlking about how likely there is some agency not necessarily individual, but community agency, agency to hold institutions and governments to account in in trying and stewarding what our future will be. Yeah, so you know, I am preaching a bit of activism, but that’s the only way you can quell these fears for children.

Amrita: Absolutely. I will be asking you both what you think a call to action is for individuals, corporates, teams and so on. Karan, can I ask you, as a parent with your parent hat on? How do you cope with climate anxiety, because it is certainly stressful. And as I know, saying, it’s something the kids are also, even younger kids are picking up on


Anu, a lot of the things that you just said, you know, what was taken as normal, something very joyful, whether it was the monsoons, or the hot weather, the summer vacations that we used to have, have now really turned on their head. And you know, you’re always worried whether your child is being exposed to poor quality of air or water, and things like that. And yes, it does stress you out. And you are anxious about a lot of things that are happening, which are which relate to the climate around you. And it reflects on the children as well. Having said that, I think there is some reason for hope as well

I think the younger generation children are much more attuned to climate change, and the fact that the call to action is here. And now. I remember growing up for us whether climate change is a reality or is real. Is it science-based /evidence-based were all question marks. And thanks to a lot of disinformation that was out there by a whole host of actors, I think that question is now settled. And that issue is that the debate is now over. And I see that young children, young adults, they are much more aware about what needs to be done. I’ll give you a small example, in the north of India, Lohri is a very big festival, the traditional bonfire is put out there. And this year, I had an experience where my daughter asked me that, I mean, how is this really helping? You know, we could celebrate in a myriad of other ways. But why do we have to actually create this fire, it’s causing smoke and suchlike. And we see similar responses for things like Diwali and other festivals. And, and these are small steps. I mean, obviously, there is a huge amount of work that needs to be done. But that level of awareness, you know, it offers some hope.


I think without the awareness, without the conversations, I don’t even know where we would be right, because this is also after so many people have been, you know, trying to understand that the climate change advocacy, the movements, the activism has been going on for so long to make people literally pay attention. If we’re not able to have these conversations, it remains to be seen how many of us can keep our heads in the sand for how long? 

I do want to ask you both a little bit in terms of as an individual corporate, what are the roles and responsibilities? But Karan, will you talk to us a little bit about ESG? Now, that’s something that of course, everyone is talking about at the corporate level? What does that imply? And what are the implications for climate change? And as we’re talking intersectionally on the subject,


ESG as we all know, it really looks at three pillars, the environment, the social impact that organizations have, and their own governance structures that are in place. And, you know, it looks at the impact the material impact that organizations have on the environment other than other social determinants of you know, off where they operate, how they operate, what our labor relations like, do you do really I have a diverse organization and such like, but I limit the discussion on ESG to environmental affairs since it’s a large subject otherwise. And what we find here is that with mandated reporting, and India has taken some progressive steps in terms of of actual reporting that needs to be done. It means that corporates cannot hide under the veil of non -disclosures, these disclosures have become mandatory. And the larger stakeholder community is actually judging you, on your performance on those. Having said that there are challenges around ESG reporting. 

One is the multitude of standards that exist, so I can hide under one report under another. And the other is it’s very difficult to compare one organization with another. This is not to take away from the work that is being done by these organizations. 

The third challenge is greenwashing — a term that we hear more often than not, which is sad and regrettable — of companies trying to green wrap everything that they do in terms of it having a net positive carbon impact on the environment. And lastly is externalities. I think ESG really does not take into consideration various externalities, if I’m, if I’m creating potato wafers as a product, I’m probably selling a product to a customer. But have you really taken in the externality of what it does to the levels of obesity into, you know, poor health outcomes, etc. So those are some of the things that we really need to move towards. But as a first step, and for corporates, at least in terms of disclosures, risk management framework ESG has been a welcome step.


As Karan is talking about potato wafers, I’m like the landfills, actually even looking at the landfills that India has to deal with is enough to cause anyone major anxiety. And yet, as consumers as individuals, not all of us are taking those steps. I know some people are really trying to spearhead that movement to be more eco friendly, sustainable, conscious consumers are conscientious consumers, you have some thoughts in terms of what individuals should be doing. I mean, we shouldn’t be so quick to pat ourselves on the back though, right? Just because of recycling. What are some of the thoughts you have in terms of again, individuals, companies, teams, what do we need to be doing? Is?


Okay, let’s talk about it from the perspective of institutions. I like that word better, because it includes public and private institutions. And that’s important, because, you know, that’s how sort of structures are, and specifically on the sort of the climate impacts and responsibilities and many ways to attack this. So you know, you can look at how institutions, whether public or private, and their actions, whether the policies they’re making the buildings, directing the goods, the manufacturing, the supply chains they’re working with, have an impact in sort of exacerbating climate change, whether in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions, or their resource use, and so on. Right. So that’s one aspect of it. The other is, how are their activities? Again, policies, goods, services, having an impact on on? Or are themselves vulnerable to the physical impacts of climate change, whether the floods the wildfires, whether the cyclones, you know, so what does that actually mean, both for that physical infrastructure, whether it’s the bridges directing, or the factories that you have, but also social infrastructure? What does this mean for your wider workforce? Are they at risk? What does it mean for your consumers? What does it mean for the wider community in which you operate? So there’s that sort of, you know, risk in terms of your own carbon footprint, there is the physical risk of the impacts you’re likely to take. But then there’s something called the transition risk, which I won’t get into. But it’s important to note that, what is it, you know, you transitioning to a low carbon society? What are the risks to your businesses, and to the economy, and all of the sort of the underlying space, I should also add this the whole thing called liability risks, you know, more governments being taken to court companies being taken to court, because of what they’ve built, what they’re selling, the policies they’re putting in place. And whether that means we’re, you know, we’re, you know, putting the plant and the people in biodiversity, a greater climate. 

So there’s the liability risk. And all of this is now tied to the financial system. How is the financial system going to deal with some sort of a climate emergency in big and small ways? And will it be another Black Swan, or, you know, as a lot of the folks in the climate space are calling it the Green Swan? 

So there’s all of those things to unpack. But I think the important thing here is this is very fundamentally linked to us as individuals. We are consumers, or employees. We’re users of public infrastructure. You know, we’re users of public and private housing, right? We’re using the transport and the infrastructure that’s built. So we’re very much tied to this. We’re tied to the kinds of policies we have in place and the regulation we have in place, but that’s for recycling, whether it’s for the use of public transport, whether it’s the use of fossil fuel energy versus green energy, So we’re very much tied to this. And I think that’s a very important metric. 

When you think about individual action, there was a huge push some decades about take to think about what your individual footprint was, Are you flying to a conference, you know, are you taking a car was the metro. And increasingly, there’s been a push back there to say that that was actually a huge narrative being pushed by fossil fuel industries to individualize and shame, action to take guilt away from the larger institutions. But then again, there were people coming in and saying, but hold on, community work matters, not what you do individually. 

But when you get together as a community, it matters. And now I think the truth is somewhere in between. People talk about the fact that yes, there’s space for individual action, the space for community action, the space for your colonies to get together and recycle. If your government is not pushing it, your municipal authorities not pushing it nearly enough, there’s a space to talk about, you know, what needs to be done in schools about air quality in classrooms, and so on, but equally hold your governments to account hold the private sector to account, right. 

So this space for that kind of activism, this space, and it need not come in the space of activism, it could come in, in the space of you know, making better planning decisions. And we in terms of individual action, there is space to book. But it’s important to note this that you can push for and you can build rainwater harvesting structures in all of your apartments. But if your government is fundamentally building infrastructure on floodplains, then you’re going to lose your water at a much faster rate. So think about what the institutions are also doing. And that needs to be talked about. So this is how I see sort of company and individual and government action really,


All coming together as  stakeholders, it’s clear that there’s a lot to cover in this topic. And I really appreciate both of you for your passion, your eloquence, just in the interest of time, we’re going to wind this interview down. Hopefully this is the start of many! What is one call to action or one takeaway, if not call to action that you want anyone watching this to be aware of?


I think it’s that there’s a space for individual action, there’s a space for thinking about what institutions can do, being aware of what your government can do, pushing your government to have more stringent policies to better regulate what companies can and cannot do. Equally thinking about your privilege, thinking about differential privilege, always knowing that social economically vulnerable, more minority sort of communities are going to be far worse hit. And I think the leap, you will the last thing, there is a tendency of picking up climate change and saying, Well, it’s weather related. It’s not it’s actually a lot more socio economic like the Chennai floods in 2016. We knew it was poor development planning, the floods were not climate linked, per se. So it’s to look at the entire system, how, you know how we’re essentially driving this economy? How are we managing inequality, how we’re building development, how planet climate sits on top of that, so looking at it far more systemically?


That’s incredible. That’s more than one but we will try to follow your lead. And I think the other thing is coming to me from this conversation is we all need to educate ourselves, you know, on many of the things you’re talking about. Karan, what do you want people to take away from this conversation?


We started with climate anxiety. And I think the remedy at least is more information, better information, understanding what you can do, as I said, people feel they want an agency, but they actually do, whether it is a collective call for action, whether within the community, or within schools, or institutions, or the asking private institutions and organizations to do more, or as an individual. So I think the only way is, Is this inside out approach towards being more aware. But again, I think individuals need to do a lot more as well. This is not somebody else’s problem. This is not somebody else’s planet, and therefore it is everybody’s duty to start doing what they can today, you know, in fact, yesterday, and to Andrew’s point, this is also so there’s a socio economic dimension. I don’t think we should point fingers towards others about what they can do what they cannot do, or if they start then I will, we have to understand that we enjoy a lot of privileges. And for for India and the world’s forests to grow and develop, they will need to rely on a lot of carbon intensive growth. And the only way we can offset that is by ensuring that our needs may be met but our needs to be controlled. So I think there’s a lot to do at all levels.


Thank you so much. I really appreciate both of your taking the time the work that you’re doing the both of you’re trying to stay ahead and the fact that you care enough to want to galvanize other people I think that really speaks to how important this causes we were talking about climate change and anxiety anyone watching this if you have feelings or you feel distressed or triggered, please know that you can reach out for help. There are resources on our website health collective dot in and we would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments. We’ll put them to Karan and Anu, when we meet them next if you have them. Thank you so much for watching, and thank you to my guests again.