Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why Climate Scientists Suffer from Psychological Disorders

Scientists who are on the front lines of climate research are sometimes afflicted with psychological maladies. While it is increasingly understood that climate change causes physical illnesses it is less well known that it can also cause a wide range of psychological disturbances. This is particularly true for those who are studying climate change. Climate researchers are both scared by their own findings and frustrated by the absence of a coordinated response. These scientists are afflicted by a host of mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In 2012 there was already a convincing body of evidence to support anthropogenic climate change, in 2014 the mountain of evidence continued to grow. Despite the overwhelming strength of the research, far too many people continue to resist the facts.

From a climate scientist's point of view it is draining to have to continually explain basic research to people who appear willfully ignorant. As revealed in a Grist article, climate scientists can become "professionally depressed" as a result. Case in point is climate researcher, professor Camille Parmesan. She taught at both Plymouth University and the University of Texas. Her depression set in when she realized that people were not paying attention to climate issues and this made her question the utility of her research.

Parmesan is best known for her 2007 Nobel Peace Prize which she shared with Al Gore for her work as the lead author on the IPPC's Third Assessment Report. In 2009 her climate work earned her recognition from the Atlantic which hailed her as a "Brave Thinker." Despite her scientific achievements and a number of accolades, Parmesan fell into despair.

In a 2012 National Wildlife Federation report, Parmesan was quoted saying, "I don’t know of a single scientist that’s not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost."  In the report titled, The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the U.S. Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared, she concluded, "It’s gotten to be so depressing..."

Parmesan's depression was due in part to prevailing attitudes in the US where the veracity of anthropogenic climate change is still questioned by a large number of people. Parmesan now teaches at Plymouth University in the UK where climate denial is less prevalent.

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