11 December 2020 Friday Freakout: Climate Anxiety and News Corp

By Jess Arvela Head of Sales & Marketing | Co-Founder

I plan to move to the Sunshine Coast in January. I found a place called Little Mountain that sounds perfect. I am very comfortable moving around. I lived in Portugal for a year, then in a van along the European coast for another year. I grew up on the New South Wales coast, moved to South Australia, then to Victoria, Chicago US was next, before COVID. The contrast here is that I have never before analysed the regions most at risk of climate change in the area, in order to avoid them.

I Googled: “risk index of Queensland climate change”, “climate change Queensland”, “trends Queensland climate change” before picking an area. It’s another year closer to the tipping point, and Queensland is one of the most impacted areas of Australia. I can expect floods, heatwaves, drought, tsunamis, fires, reduced rainfall in some areas, increased in others, rising sea levels, and cyclones. Interestingly, compared to the other states and territories, Queenslanders have the highest proportion of people who say climate change is not a problem at 35%, however, climate change is still one of the top issues for them. We explored why this might be the case here

Climate change has shifted for me to something I need to actively consider, Australia is similar to other areas sensitive to the impacts of climate change, like the Amazon, and the Arctic. The Inuit on Baffin Island in Canada describe a sense of grief as the shifts between seasons become longer and less predictable. There is a time between winter and autumn, known as the ‘shoulder season’, where the snow has melted so much you can’t safely use snowmobiles, but there is too much snow to go on foot or use a boat. 

“Everything could be green – and then you wake up to four inches of snow that doesn’t go away but before the ground or ice freezes. Or in the spring, we’re seeing -25 with the windchill, and then within less than two weeks it’s suddenly zero and we see a massive influx of melting snow. Ponds and rivers get dangerous. You see standing water on top of the sea ice.” – Kigutaq from the Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area through the Qikiqtani Inuit Association

As climate change impacts the area, it not only creates safety concerns, it disrupts ancient traditions and practices that are built on a strong cultural connection with the land and water. The feeling of loss, grief, and stress for an environment transformed by climate change is not in the future, it’s now. 

In 2019, Iceland held a funeral for the Okjokull glacier, lost to climate change, while 400 other glaciers on the island are on the same trajectory. Where the peak of the glacier should have been, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, placed a plaque with ‘a letter to the future’. It also has the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at that time printed. “Seeing a glacier disappear is something you can feel, you can understand it, and it’s pretty visual”Julien Weiss, a professor at the University of Berlin who attended the funeral with his family.

Image Source: Time Magazine 

Solastalgia is a term to describe the feeling of homesickness for an environment that you’re still present in, but the damage has meant it resembles nothing as you remembered, and now long for. “Solastalgia has its origins in the concepts of nostalgia, solace, and desolation”. The term was created by researcher Glenn Albrecht from Newcastle University in 2000. Albrecht studied the psychological impact of persistent drought in rural NSW communities. Albrecht found a sense of “powerlessness or lack of control over the unfolding change process” also in the Upper Hunter Valley, where the area had been decimated by open-cut coal mining. 

Climate Anxiety or Eco Anxiety sits somewhere close to Solastalgia. It’s not abstract and something to be feared later in life, its impact is now. A legitimate response to the climate crisis. The Climate Psychology Alliance explains it: 

“Climate change is not a scientific problem waiting for a technical solution. It’s an urgent, frightening, systemic problem involving environment, culture and politics. It engenders fear, denial and despair amongst individuals, evasion, indifference and duplicity amongst the powerful. It forces uncomfortable dilemmas about justice, nature and equality into consciousness. It challenges all of us in modern societies both personally and politically.

Anxiety, guilt and shame make it very difficult for people to face the reality of climate change and lead to denial and disavowal while the norms and structures of everyday life validate and reinforce these responses.”

This sense of powerlessness is exacerbated by a lack of shared agreement on the science. A 2020 survey of 2,131 people in Australia found age a major factor in their concern for climate change. Broadly, the younger you are, the more likely you feel climate change is ‘extremely serious’. The study also found that the proportion of climate deniers in Australia is among the highest across the 40 countries surveyed.

Source: The Digital News Report Australia 2020

“The most anxiety provoking of all is that young people are growing up in an atmosphere where they realise that an older generation, not all of us, but an older generation, is unconcerned, or not concerned enough, about their futures.”– Van Susteren, co-founder of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance

What could be leading to this disconnect? Two interesting points to end on. Who you vote for, and who you listen to, or where you consume your media. A degree of ‘somewhat serious’ concern for climate change is shared by both centre and right-wing politics, reflecting the high proportion of climate deniers in Australia compared to other countries. 

Source: The Digital News Report Australia 2020

Comparing the choice of the media platform for right and centre wing politics and who owns that platform is enlightening! We see News Corp websites dominate the news sites whose readers most deny climate change.

Source: The Digital News Report Australia 2020

The link between News Corp, right-wing politics and climate denial, is obvious. I am not a fan of Kevin Rudd or Malcolm Turnbull but I do support their petition for a Royal Commission into ensuring Australia’s media is “reliable, accurate and independent”. To ensure it’s no longer “deliberately polarising and politically manipulated news”. News Corp, founded by Fox News, and owned by Murdoch, controls two-thirds of the media we consume, it can be described as a monopoly

An excerpt from the petition

“…Nine Entertainment’s takeover of the Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald; News Corp’s acquisition (and then closure) of more than 200 smaller newspapers, undermining regional and local news; attempts to replace AAP Newswire with News Corp’s alternative; and relentless attacks on the ABC’s independence and funding…”

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives policymakers 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate change, that was in 2018. Of course, it’s terrifying, when you’re hearing ScoMo say ‘Australia’s emissions are coming down faster than many other comparable countries’, ‘we are on track to beat our 2030 target’. Surfer-author-editor-activist Sean Doherty says everything I am thinking in response:


What can we do? 

“Many times people don’t recognize that the choices we make can very powerfully influence the people around us … what we do individually is a very powerful way to establish a new kind of normal.” – Van Susteren, co-founder of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance

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