2019 was Australia’s hottest year on record, with the national mean temperature 1.52C above the long-term average, and NSW experiencing 1.95C above the average, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climate statement. 2019 ended and 2020 has begun with unprecedented bushfires, impacting severely on communities, land and wildlife.
Australia’s wildlife and biodiversity has been decimated by the fires, with an estimated over 1 billion mammals perishing. Less obvious is the impact on threatened species, insect populations and the oceans.
All of this can have significant psychological effects on individuals and communities, and it is normal to feel upset, fearful and overwhelmed as health experts explain. One woman talks about the importance of rebuilding her mental health after losing her home to fire.
There are resources available to help:
- The Australian Psychological Society has information to assist individuals and families in preparing for bushfire, and how to cope in the aftermath.
- For young people, Headspace has information on how to cope with natural disasters, including fires.
- Here’s a podcast about the psychological effects of bushfire from Climactic.
In addition to anxiety over the bushfires, it’s clear that people are experiencing grief over the impacts of climate change, including scientists. This podcast about climate anxiety includes a psychologist from Psychology for a Safe Climate, a group dedicated to assisting people deal with the reality of climate change. Children and adolescents are particularly feeling eco-anxiety, as they face a diminished future.
The Australian Psychological Society has some useful resources on their website on how to respond to climate change distress. Their eight strategies to tackle climate change are:
- Acknowledge feelings
- Create social norms
- Talk about climate change
- Inspire positive visions of a zero-carbon future
- Value it by talking about shared values
- Act personally and collectively
- Time to act is now
- Engage with nature
Personal and collective action is an important strategy, and communities affected by fire have banded together to assist each other. So too has the broader population with incredible fundraising efforts, donations, and craft working bees taking place around the country and internationally. For a comprehensive list of what you can do, read this article. For some people it has motivated them to make stronger commitments to reduce their carbon emissions, such as Aussie actor Yael Stone and former journalist Conal Hanna.
The Green Living Centre is holding a workshop to assist people to develop carbon reduction actions for the year. Book at Eventbrite.
If this article has left you feeling upset please talk to family and friends, or to an expert:
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
- National Helplines and websites
Banner photo by Cat Sparks 2020.