The fear and suffering generated by last summer’s devastating heat dome caused a considerable surge in climate anxiety among British Columbia residents, says a new study, further confirming the growing consensus that the climate crisis is very bad for mental health.
Recently published in the Journal of Climate Change and Health, the study found a 13% spike in anxiety in survey respondents following the searing heat wave that settled across much of the province last summer for two frightening weeks, reports CTV News.
Having polled a group of more than 400 B.C. residents to determine their climate anxiety levels just days before the heat dome settled over the province on June 25, researchers from Simon Fraser University (SFU) seized the opportunity to conduct a follow-up survey two weeks after the extreme weather passed.
The study confirmed anecdotal evidence that the heat dome, which killed nearly 600 people province-wide, had a negative impact on the mental health of B.C. residents, said co-author and SFU social epidemiologist Dr. Kiffer Card.
In addition to revealing a 13% spike in anxiety after the heat wave, the study found that almost 60% of respondents were either “somewhat” or “much more” concerned about the climate crisis in the wake of the extreme weather event.
The percentage of people perceiving the environment to be at risk from climate change also doubled in the wake of the heat dome, from 17% to 30%.
Though previous studies have made a connection between the climate crisis and a “growing sense of fear, sadness, and existential dread” this is the first to use a natural experiment to test the impact of climate-induced extreme weather due on mental health and anxiety levels in B.C., CTV says.
Days after it happened, the World Weather Attribution Network concluded that the heat wave—which generated record-smashing temperatures across the province that peaked at 49.6°C, creating the conditions that burned the town of Lytton, B.C. to the ground—would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change.
“Climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, made the heat wave at least 150 times more likely to happen,” the network said in an early July release.
While the purpose of the latest study was to measure changing levels of climate anxiety, Card said its authors also aimed to increase public and policy understanding of how climate-related mental health impacts spill over in communities.
Case in point would be the potential depopulation of small towns under increasing threat of wildfires, as residents relocate to seemingly safer environs, or decide to have fewer children.
He said his research team is applying for federal funding to scale up the survey to the national level, ultimately aiming to create a “national monitoring framework to understand the impacts of climate change on mental health.”