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Climate anxiety worsens following extreme June weather

June 24, 2024 - 15:31 By Lee Jung-joo
Pedestrians walk through a cooling mist with parasols in Daegu, North Gyeongsang Province on June 18, where the daytime high reached 35 degrees Celsius that day. (Yonhap)

Following scorching heat waves nationwide and record-breaking heavy rain on Jeju Island over the last few weeks, South Korea's residents are grappling with "climate anxiety," as many have found themselves concerned about the increasingly unpredictable extreme weather.

Climate anxiety -- related to "climate depression" -- is a term used to describe feeling distressed due to worries about climate change and its impacts on the Earth and human existence.

“I always thought climate change was a problem, but I don’t remember June ever being this hot,” Jin Hyun-joo, a Goyang resident in her thirties, told The Korea Herald. Goyang was one of the four cities in Gyeonggi Province on June 20 that raised its heat warning level to the second-highest in the country's four-tier system, as the high reached 37 degrees Celsius.

“I find myself going beyond being tired and concerned about extreme weather conditions,” added Jin. “I’m more worried and anxious about the future and how the future climate is going to impact me,” added Jin.

Summer only just started this month, but several weather records have already been broken.

On Sunday, the Korea Meteorological Administration announced this June has already been the hottest June ever by a significant margin. Regions across the country recorded an average of 2.4 heat wave days from June 1 to 20, breaking the previous record of 1.5 heat wave days set in 2018.

On June 20, Jeju Island saw torrential rains of 220 millimeters when monsoon season officially began in the country. The KMA described this rain as “rainfall that can only occur once every 80 years,” and was also recorded as the second-most amount of precipitation Korea has seen in June.

However, the weather agency warned that summer is just beginning and monsoon season has yet to spread nationwide. There is a 50 percent chance for temperatures in August to exceed the three-decade average, while there is a 40 percent chance for July's temperatures to surpass the average. There is also a 40 percent chance of precipitation exceeding the 30-year-average in July and August.

A construction worker rests in the shade in cooling mist near Seoul Station on June 21, as the daytime high reached 33 degrees C. (Yonhap)

In response to worsening weather conditions, there are many people in Korea like Jin who have stated that they suffer from climate anxiety. As they witness how bad climate change is getting, they worry that the climate will “make a turn for the worst” by bringing great damages to themselves and to their families, friends and surrounding communities.

“I feel like the climate problem is getting out of hand, but I have no idea how to stop it. I feel helpless,” 25-year-old Seoul resident Kim Young-seo told The Korea Herald.

Kim added that even though she feels “helpless and small” when it comes to climate issues, she does what she can on her own to lessen environmental damage and climate change, such as not using disposable cups, reducing energy use and helping fund environmental organizations that work to urge governmental organizations to take proper action on climate change.

Kim added, though, that she can’t help feeling her actions are “too small,” as news about worsening climate conditions keeps coming.

Recently, the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs announced that the average score on the Climate Change Anxiety Scale among 2,000 surveyed adults between the ages of 19 and 65 was 1.90 out of 5. The institute found that this score was higher compared to the average score from 2023, which was recorded at 1.49, and was especially high among respondents in their 20s, whose average score was 2.02.

“Climate anxiety can play a positive role for South Korea, as it can lead to further interest and engagement in taking action against climate change during times in which such actions are most important,” said professor Lee Dong-gwi of Yonsei University’s Department of Psychology.

“However, if not managed properly, it can escalate into more serious conditions where it can lead to serious medical conditions. The government must take effective responses against climate change and to help those who suffer from climate anxiety.”