Our planet’s climate is changing before our eyes. Weather events have gotten more extreme, and we’re in the midst of a sixth mass extinction. Unfortunately, we too often feel that there’s not much we can do in the face of such seemingly insurmountable challenges: that our individual actions won’t matter in the big picture, and that green energy in the forms of wind or solar power can either harm wildlife or take up too much land.
But there are a lot of hopeful signs, too. In fact, we now have proof that expanding green energy production sites in the future won’t necessarily be a threat to protected areas of land. And when it comes to coping with climate change, there are two types of people: those who take action to try to improve the environment and those who don’t bother because they don’t believe that anything they do will make a difference. Knowing who’s who just might help us communicate more effectively about environmental issues and spur the “maladaptive avoidance coping group” to action.
Mitigating some of the effects of climate change by switching to more clean-energy options and knowing that our individual actions do, indeed, make a difference should help to conserve the wildlife that all of you nature fans love to travel to see.
Ramping up renewable energy—and conserving biodiversity
Increasing the production and use of renewable energy sources is critical to meet climate targets. However, they do require much more land to achieve the same energy production density as fossil fuels and can have local impacts on ecosystems, such as disruption of vegetation by solar panels.
But now a study that was published on January 31, 2022, in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal of the National Academy of Sciences, and led by researchers from England’s University of Southampton has found that expanding green energy production sites in the future won’t necessarily be a threat to protected areas of land.
Using global databases covering more than 24,500 land-based renewable energy installations in 153 countries to examine overlaps with areas identified as important for biodiversity conservation, the scientists found that only 15 percent of onshore solar and wind energy installations occur in important conservation areas, including protected areas and wildernesses. Also, only three European countries and three others—including Brazil and the U.S.—show a higher-than-expected overlap of conservation areas and green infrastructure. In fact, when projecting the expansion of both types of land in the future, relatively little overlap was predicted in the near term, except in Central and Northern Europe and in the Middle East. So, increasing the use of solar and wind power will not hinder the ability to preserve biodiversity.
According to the study’s authors, rollout of expanded green energy infrastructure need not present a major threat to conservation areas if subjected to careful land-use zoning, especially in countries with a high human population density or wildlife species density and limited land area. The results of the study, they say, are encouraging as they suggest it should be possible, if we are careful, to ramp up solar and wind installations globally to help address the climate emergency without undermining critical efforts to conserve biodiversity.
Coping with climate change—and targeting the messages
You know how it is: you sort your trash into recyclables and nonrecyclables, you plug in yet another LED light bulb, you promise yourself you’ll eat more vegetables, you walk at little bit more and drive a little bit less—and then you pause to wonder if what you’re doing is even going to make the tiniest dent in the global climate crisis.
According to new research, published in the journal Anxiety, Stress and Coping, there are two types of people when it comes to coping with climate change: those who take action to try to improve the environment and those who don’t bother because they don’t believe their actions will make a difference.
To conduct their research, scientists surveyed 334 parents who had children between the ages of three and 10 living with them. They were asked about their general climate change beliefs, how stressed they feel about environmental issues, how they cope with that stress and how effective they think consumers can be in combating climate change. They also were asked how often they engage in certain behaviors, such as eating meat, making efforts to conserve energy and water, and traveling by air. They then were queried about their mental and overall health.
Based on the survey responses, the researchers identified two prevailing climate change coping profiles: adaptive approach coping and maladaptive avoidance coping.
About 70 percent of survey respondents belonged to the first group, the adaptive approach coping profile. They tended to have higher levels of environmental concern and related stress, and they believed more in consumer effectiveness. They expressed a desire for problem-solving and demonstrated more wishful thinking, and they were more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviors.
The remaining 30 percent were in the maladaptive avoidance coping group. They were less likely than those in the first group to feel guilt or personal responsibility for climate change. They also had less wishful thinking and were less likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviors or believe that their actions would make a difference.
The researchers wondered whether people in the first group, the adaptive approach group—who tend to feel more climate-related stress—would have worse mental health overall, since previous studies have linked environmental stress to negative mental health outcomes. But surprisingly, they found no differences between the two groups regarding anxiety, depressive symptoms or general health.
There also were no significant differences in the demographic makeup of the two groups as to factors such as education level, employment status, income or race. However, women were more likely to be in the adaptive approach coping group, suggesting—along with many other studies—that females have more environmental concerns.
The fact that the demographics of the two groups were so similar suggests that targeting climate-change-related messaging based on demographic information alone might not be the most effective strategy. While it might be tougher to do, determining a person’s climate change coping profile could be more useful for those attempting to communicate about environmental issues and what people can do to make a difference.
The two profiles, therefore, conclude the scientists, should receive different kinds of messaging. Those who are already acting pro-environmentally need reinforcement of that behavior, versus those who are in the maladaptive avoidance coping profile who don’t do much at all and need to be incentivized to start.
Easing climate change anxiety—and elevating climate change action
The scientists responsible for the study that was published in the Anxiety, Stress and Coping science journal point out that climate-change-related anxiety is on the rise, which certainly isn’t surprising to me. But what I find incredibly sad is that it is particularly increasing among young people. Whether the same two coping profiles exist in the below-age-18 group (children and teenagers), however, is not yet known.
We do now know, though, that if you want to do something about decreasing your anxiety about climate change, perhaps you might want to engage in more pro-environmental behaviors. Doing so won’t make you more depressed, nor will avoiding climate change mitigating actions make you feel better. We also know that moving toward all renewable energy sources won’t negatively impact the wildlife we all love.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,