Climate change and affective conflicts

Sweden has just experienced some unusually warm weeks in June. In Spain, yet another heat wave is causing alarm. In a text published in the Spanish newspaper El País, philosopher Julia Mosquera describes the differences in temperature between Sweden and Spain. 

With each new heatwave, many people ask themselves the same questions: Is this heat normal? What if it gets even worse? Doesn't it inspire a bit of fear? In some parts of the world, temperatures have become unbearable. In others, the current heat is unprecedented. The Nordic countries have reached temperatures between 30 and 40 degrees, turning the Stockholm archipelago into a kind of Canary Islands where every square inch of grass by the water becomes an improvised tanning booth. In a country where weather is a recurring topic of conversation, we have gone from begging for it to stop raining during Midsummer or Saint John to wondering if the heat will last the entire summer again.

In Sweden, where the majority of people is tired of the darkness and cold of winter, the higher temperatures are welcomed by many. The heat makes it easier to spend time with family and friends in an outdoor environment. But when the higher temperatures keep returning they also come with the question of whether the good weather is really that good.

The study of climate emotions emerges within the field of environmental psychology which focuses on researching the psychological effects caused by our environment, including nature. This discipline has showed that the loss of animal species or unique landscapes, can inspire the same feeling of loss as when we loose someone close to us. There is therefor reason to believe that climate change can cause strong emotional reactions. Several studies show that adolescents in particular, can experience anxiety in relation to climate change, and this makes it plausible that the norms concerning how we feel and react to climate change will change. 

It's important to understand the role of norms, writes Julia Mosquera. They help us understand what is wrong and right, and what is a proper emotional reaction to different situations - and therefor important for our mental health. The regulation of emotions is constant, it happens everyday in our interactions with other people. When it comes to the emotional reactions to climate change, it is sometimes evident that there are conflicts concerning the proper way to react. This was for example made evident in Donald Trump's and Vladimir Putin's reactions to Greta Thunberg's talk at the World Economic Forum in 2019 where she expressed worry and anger, receiving a condescending pat on the head as a response.

Julia writes:

Indeed, climate change does not generate the same emotions in all of us, and individual differences can also lead to conflicts. People have varying levels of awareness, understanding, and concern about climate change, which can shape their emotional responses. Some individuals may experience strong emotions such as fear, grief, or anger due to the perceived severity of the crisis and its potential impact on the planet and future generations. Others may feel less affected or may prioritize other concerns in their lives, leading to different emotional reactions or even denial of the issue.

These differences in emotional responses can sometimes create conflicts, as people with divergent perspectives may struggle to understand or empathize with one another. Recognizing and respecting these individual differences in emotional reactions to climate change is important for fostering constructive dialogue and finding common ground in addressing the challenges we face.

Julia finishes her text by reminding us that climate change is a complex phenomena, and that every emotional response is a reaction to only one of its' aspects. This makes it totally understandable that climate change can cause several, and sometimes conflicting responses.

It is not unusual to feel both joy in warm weather and concern about climate change as temperatures rise again. Holding seemingly contradictory emotions is a reflection of the complexity of our relationship with climate change and the ongoing efforts to navigate and address its impact.


The article in its entirety is available in El País Ciencia in print (July 2nd) and behind pay-wall on El País website under the title "Ansiedad, rabia, culpa: así impacta el cambio climático en nuestras emociones".

Find more information about the research project on climate emotions that Julia Mosquera is working on together with Kirsti Jylhä >