In our latest opinion piece for the Western Morning News, our head of evidence and engagement Dr. Nick Paling ask if we are suffering from climate resilience anxiety.

Do you worry about the impacts that climate change will have on your life and the lives of your family over the next 10-20 years…? It’s perfectly understandable if you don’t.

We all prioritise the things we do and don’t worry about in life. Whether it’s due to limitations in our finances, our health or due to the social challenges we face, many of us have to compromise how we live our lives every day.

Plus, when it comes to an issue like climate change, where the complexity of the subject makes it difficult to assess the level of danger we actually face and where the threats still appear to lie some way off in the future, it’s not really surprising that it doesn’t tend be one of our top priorities.

It is, of course, also perfectly natural for us to suppress our concerns about such intangible threats by convincing ourselves that it is beyond our control or by dismissing it as an issue that we don’t need to worry about now.

This prevailing state of denial or perhaps complacency has been further reinforced by a continual stream of rhetoric from various organisations and authorities, who have (with considerable success) sought to reassure us that ‘everything is going to be okay’, that ‘there is no need to worry’ or that the challenges we face can simply be overcome through the investment of ever-increasing amounts of money or through miraculous technological advances.

Determining whether this information is true or not is extremely difficult (if not impossible) and it is our natural tendency to believe what people in authority or experts are telling us. They are, after all, paid by us to look after our interests and why would they conceal the truth from us anyway…?

In recent months, the public debate around climate change has begun to change significantly, with the campaigning activities of David Attenborough, Extinction Rebellion and the Youth Strike movement (to name but a few) resulting in a significant increase in the number of people talking about the issue and speculating as to what the impacts might be over the coming years.

Now, for the first time, people are talking about these potential impacts, not as a challenge that will be faced by future generations or by people in far-flung lands around the world, but as one that we will face in our lifetimes, here in the UK.

Alongside this ‘awakening’ in the public consciousness, suddenly this year has also seen many local councils, community groups and businesses declaring officially that we are in a state of ‘climate emergency’.

For many people, this sudden change in language has come in stark contrast to the platitudes, reassurances or even complete silence that have been presented in relation to this subject over many previous years.

It seems, all at once, that there is now a growing realisation that everything may not in fact ‘be okay’ in our not-too-distant future.

While many experts have known with certainty for many years that the impacts of our changing climate will begin to be felt with increasing severity and frequency in the UK over the next two decades, it does now seem that people are waking up to the very real threat that this could pose to our way of life here.

At a local level here in the South West, I have been amazed in the last year by the number of people now voicing their anxiety about how environmental degradation may negatively impact their lives both now and, more importantly, in the future.

However, because there remains very little concrete information about what the future challenges may be, and most people have no idea how resilient we as individuals and communities are to withstand them, this increased awareness has not inspired and empowered people to act.

It has instead reinforced their sense of helplessness and seems to have created a great deal of what I am calling ‘climate resilience anxiety’.

In recognition of this emerging anxiety about climate change in communities across the South West, and to build on the burgeoning interest in the issue of climate resilience and adaptation, we are holding a Water Resilience Summit in Totnes on 12 September 2019.

This event, which is free and open to all, will be a day of action-orientated discussions, learning and planning, with people from all walks of life, to explore how our local water environments (river catchments, wetlands, lakes, estuaries, coast and marine) provide us all with benefits every day and to discuss what their resilience (or non-resilience) might mean for people, communities, businesses and nature over the next 20 years.

In simple terms, we have learnt and (perhaps for the first time) begun to accept that there is an impending emergency, but we don’t understand the scale of the threat, we don’t know if or how it will affect us and we don’t know if, when the challenges come, our lives will be able to continue as they are now.