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Climate Change Is Giving Us 'Pre-Traumatic Stress'

Scientists on the front lines are speaking out about how their climate data drives despair, but these emotions may also be the most potent force for change.

by Daniel Oberhaus
Feb 4 2017, 3:20pm

On January 6, "rebel meteorologist" Eric Holthaus sent a series of 15 tweets describing how he was coping with feelings of despair in the face of climate change. Although he may not have realized it at the time, his tweets were further evidence for a growing body of research that shows that climate change has become a mental health issue, afflicting an increasing number of people with something that one researcher has called "pre-traumatic stress disorder."

"I'm starting my 11th year working on climate change, including the last 4 in daily journalism. Today I went to see a counselor about it," Holthaus's tweets began. "There are days where I literally can't work. I'll read a story & shut down for the rest of the day. We don't deserve this planet. There are (many) days when I think it would be better off without us."

The tweets continue to describe Holthaus's feelings of despair about how human-induced climate change is wiping out species that have been on earth for millions of years, as well as his general lack of hope now that the CEO of Exxon Mobil is the US secretary of state. Yet about halfway through the tweetstorm, Holthaus changes tone, saying that he doesn't feel alone in his feelings of despair. Indeed, he knows that others feel the same way and that this gives him hope insofar as it indicates people care.

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