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Americans Hitting Existential Crisis, Climate Change One Factor Stressing People Out

The eleventh annual American Psychological Association finds that Americans are experiencing elevated stress levels about lots of things, including climate change.

Americans are worried. An online survey conducted by Harris Polls for the American Psychological Association in August finds 63% are concerned about the future of the country. Climate change is one thing keeping Americans awake at night.

This is the 11th year the survey has been conducted. Other things on the minds of those who took the poll are money (62%) and work-related issues (61%). More than half (59%) told the pollsters “they consider this to to be the lowest point in our nation’s history that they can remember.” The survey included World War II and Vietnam veterans as well as those who lived through the September 11 tragedy.

Things Americans Stress About

The same number of people — 59% — said the “current social divisiveness” in the country was the cause of their anxiety. A year ago, 52% reported similar feelings. Political party affiliation has an impact on the results. 73% of Democrats admitted to feeling stressed versus 59% of independents and 56% of those who consider themselves Republicans. Other topics that rated high on the anxiety scale included health care (43%). The economy (35%) and trust in government (32%) also ranked highly, as did hate crimes (31%) and crime in general (31%).

Arthur Evans, chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association, says, “Any one data point may not not be so important, but taken together, it starts to paint a picture.” While the survey did not specifically ask about Donald Trump, Evans says the “acrimony in the public discourse” and “the general feeling that we are divided as a country” are frequently mentioned as causes of anxiety even though no particular person or political party is viewed as responsible for the sense of malaise. There is cognitive dissonance in the American psyche about the news media. 56% told the Harris Poll people they want to stay informed but 72% say “the media blows things out of proportion.”

Climate Change Is A Common Worry

Twelfth on the list of things people worry about is climate change. 21% said they are anxious about environmental concerns, including climate change. That may not seem like a lot of people, but 10 years ago, climate change was hardly a blip on anyone’s radar screen. The official position of the US government at the moment is that climate change doesn’t exist. The Trump administration is working hard to roll back climate research and purging climate scientists from influential positions. The EPA on Thursday acknowledged that its campaign to roll back the Clean Power Plan initiated by President Obama will likely cause 100,000 American deaths. Now that’s something to worry about!

Such concerns can be the motivation some people need to emigrate to other countries. As part of its platform, the Green Party in New Zealand is proposing to add a new category to that country’s immigration policies, one that would recognize the plight of climate change refugees such as residents of island nations that are rapidly sinking beneath the waves. The number of people renouncing their US citizenship has grown by 50% over the past two years — although the total number is small and most of those people are motivated by tax considerations rather than politics. Still, climate scientists predict massive population shifts as climate change causes droughts, soaring temperatures, and failed crops worldwide.

Stress & Health

“We have a picture that says people are concerned,” Evans says. “Policymakers need to understand that this is an issue that is important to people, that the uncertainty is having an impact on stress levels, and that stress has an impact on health status.” That goes along with the beliefs of medical researchers in Louisville, Kentucky, where the Green Heart Project is beginning to measure the health benefits that flow from planting more trees in neighborhoods where air pollution is prevalent.

Right now in Louisville, the data shows people living in poor neighborhoods have a life expectancy that is 11 years shorter than what residents of middle and upper class neighborhoods experience. Reason enough to move, wouldn’t you think? It also makes you wonder how such different health outcomes can possibly be legal in a nation where “equal protection under the law” has been enshrined in the Constitution since 1868.

The Harris Poll does have one bit of encouraging news. 53% of respondents say they are exercising or doing other physical activity to cope with the stress they feel. “I think it’s really important for people to disconnect from the constant barrage of information,” Arthur Evans of the American Psychiatry Association says.

To put the broader societal points of stress into perspective, money and work retained their status at the top of people’s stress list.

The 2017 Stress in America survey was conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the APA. It was conducted online between August 2 and August 31. 3,440 people participated. All were 18 years of age or older and lived in the United States. 1,376 were men and 2,047 were women. In the survey group, there were 1,088 whites, 810 Hispanics, 808 blacks, 506 Asians, and 206 Native Americans. The data was evaluated by age, gender, race/ethnicity, region, education, and household income in order to reflect American demographics accurately. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

Americans Are Stressed About … %
Current social divisiveness 59%
Health care 43%
Economy 35%
Trust in government 32%
Hate crimes 31%
Crime 31%
Wars/conflict 30%
Terrorist attacks 30%
High taxes 28%
Social Security 26%
Government scandals 25%
Unemployment & low wages 22%
Climate change & environment 21%
 
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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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