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Climate change driving humans to nihilism, warns psychologist

October 3, 2023 at 3:26 pm

An aerial view of the partially melting glaciers as polar bears, one of the species most affected by climate change, walk in Svalbard and Jan Mayen, on July 15, 2023 [Şebnem Coşkun – Anadolu Agency]

Climate change is detrimental in every imaginable way, negatively affecting the global economy, agriculture, industry, sports and everything else people know, love and make use of, Anadolu Agency reports.

But one aspect of this environmental disaster is often overlooked and ignored: its destructive effects on human psychology.

People’s tendencies towards nihilism, a philosophical stance which asserts that everything is devoid of meaning, have been emboldened to unprecedented levels due to climate change, according to Fatih Turkmenoglu, a clinical psychologist and author.

“Especially among the youth, there is this widely popular train of thought which posits that ‘climate change is real and undefeatable, so it is going to end everything as we know it, so nothing matters anymore’ – ultimately leading to growing nihilistic sentiments,” he told Anadolu.

Young people increasingly assert that ‘the world is coming to an end, water is running out, so let’s live in the moment and forget about everything else’ and give up on their dreams

Turkmenoglu underscored that climate change is a “betrayal” to human nature.

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“Especially in some countries like Turkiye that have been hit particularly hard by climate change, it is freezing cold in June and scorching hot in September. This is not what nature has been teaching us for centuries,” he said, emphasizing that the effects of climate change are unnatural for humans and their bodies.

“People have had the same cycle of life, the same circadian rhythms for centuries. Climate change hits us severely and puts us in a state of shock.”

Climate change anxiety

Turkmenoglu further touched on the anxiety caused by climate change and its myriad of negative impacts.

“It brings about anxiety and a sense of nonchalance,” he said, adding that people tend to feel “emotionally shaken”.

He pointed out, however, that climate change is unlikely to cause more serious mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or manic depression in itself.

“Every type of anxiety can lead to, say, bipolar disorder,” he said, using an alternate name for manic depression, which causes severe mood swings.

“Nevertheless, it is too early to say whether climate change can cause any particular condition other than anxiety,” Turkmenoglu added, further emphasizing that anxiety usually is the latent cause for any later diagnosis of a more severe psychological disorder.

Turkmenoglu further asserted that the unpredictable nature of climate change has turned people into “primitive humans trying to shelter themselves”.

“What increases anxiety among people the most is the fact that everything is experienced in extreme ways,” he said, referring to the extreme weather patterns that have become increasingly frequent around the world.

‘Climate change denial is brain’s coping mechanism’

Turkmenoglu said nature’s increasingly unpredictable behaviour has caused humans to lose trust in it.

“Our trust in our mother, namely nature itself, is shaken to some extent,” he said.

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“Our real mothers can be disciplinary to a degree, but they will not beat us to death,” he added.

Turkmenoglu also mentioned the dangers of climate change denial and said the “delusion” is simply the human brain’s way of coping with the threat.

“It is just the brain’s way of relaxing the person, just a coping mechanism,” he said.

“With the blatantly false assumption that ‘climate change is not real,’ humans can feel a little relieved in the face of the totally real dangers posed by the disaster,” he said.

He also said that baseless conspiracy theories such as climate denial are “people’s efforts to find a meaning” in complex topics they fail to understand thoroughly.

“Our educational system is totally faulty with regards to climate change,” said Turkmenoglu, stressing that children are not being “taught anything” about one of the biggest challenges facing the world.

Hope never ends

Despite everything, Turkmenoglu said he is hopeful about the future, especially when he sees people’s efforts in the fight against climate change.

“I am saddened to see people throwing bottles from their cars, using air conditioning even when their windows are open,” he said.

Nevertheless, when I go down to the beach to collect plastics, I see people already collecting. People like those … give me hope

He concluded by saying that the climate change battle needs to “turn into a national movement”.

“If the battle against climate change turns into a kind of a national movement, for example, if people collectively pick up trash, it will lead to beautiful things,” he said.

“The sense of doing one’s part for humanity, for the earth, is something special.”

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