The eco-anxiety as new harm before the courts
Eco-anxiety is something that could be appended to the long list of harms from climate change. This term has been used for the first time in 2017 by the American Psychological Association. It is defined as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. In addition to the psychological impact, eco-anxiety is a real argument that can be laid in environmental cases.
The point of view of psychologists
An existential fear
In today’s society, our mental health is already strained, and climate change is one of the subjects that makes people more anxious. Indeed, this is a recent growing fear in the entire world. It is the fear of an uncertain future and a trauma that has not happened yet. Youth are the most concerned about this issue and it may lead to certain forms of depression.
It can be seen as an existential fear and not as a superficial one because it is about whether we are going to survive or not from climate change and extreme weather events, such as the rise of sea levels, hurricanes, and storm, air pollution. People that suffer from eco-anxiety feel frustrated and angry because they believe that they are powerless in this situation.
A “normal” fear
Some individuals affirm that eco-anxiety is a common reaction because those people are aware of the destruction of their environment and that “climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”, according to the Lancet, a famous British medical scientific journal. It could have a positive impact: psychologists recommend to individuals with eco-anxiety to take actions for preventing it through activity, donation and collective movements.
On a legal aspect
Judges may establish their interpretation of the legislation on the Article 4 of the Environmental Charter: “Every person must contribute to the repair of the damage he causes to the environment, under the conditions defined by law.”
Cases of eco-anxiety are being more privileged in the courts. It could be a new argument for people who desire to claim damages against states or companies that do not respect environmental legislation or do not put enough effort to fulfill.
In France, the compensation for the harm of anxiety of developing a serious disease in the future has already been recognized for the exposure to asbestos. This is a precedent that can be used in cases of eco-anxiety. At the present time, most of the cases are against the states and not against companies. However, it could change in the near future.
The positive impact of the recognition of eco-anxiety injustice will be bearing the responsibility of a state or a company for their actions or non-actions even if there is no financial compensation now. Earlier a simple risk could not be considered as harm but nowadays people can try to seek damages if they think they are exposed to the risk.
In addition, if the number of complains increase, states might be willing to take more environmental actions.