Saturday, February 20, 2010

Time to tell the kids about climategate and droughtgate...

Here a-gate, there a-gate, everywhere a-gate gate.
My mother always told me (generally at top volume) "The first rule of the country is always leave a gate as you found it." Not any more mother, time we left them wide open.

I just came across a recently published study: Mental health impact for adolescents living with prolonged drought (Aust. J. Rural Health (2010) 18, 32–37), which was a fairly simple survey of adolescents living in the Riverina area of rural New South Wales. During an initial survey in 2004, the researchers discovered that adolescents in the region, although drought affected, did not rate their anxiety or distress as being higher than adolescents from other urban areas, and it was proposed that a rural lifestyle somehow bred mental resilience.

The researchers then went back 4 years later and resurveyed adolescents in the area to discover how they were feeling about it now, and discovered that kids are now rating their emotional distress as being significantly higher than the previous study:

Thematic analysis showed consistency with the previous study as well as new
themes of grief, loss and the impacts of global climate change.

So why the increasing loss of adolescent mental wellbeing in the area? On the one hand there are the cumulative effects of a prolonged drought, and on the other hand there is the increasing emphasis on climate change related anxiety that was not necessarily present in the earlier study. Take this example from a focus group held with the kids:
Issues that might relate to climate change:

‘Global warming could be having an effect’ ‘People are wondering if it is climate change – starting to think it is – everybody talks about it’

The authors note that this was an emerging area of anxiety for the kids, and one wonders how much the global catastrophising about impending climate doom may have compounded the kids ability to cope.

Also worthy of note is that the authors mention that less children participated in the follow-up study than took part in the initial study due to parental reluctance. The authors hypothesise this to be due to increasing family pressures from the drought, but given my rather polarised view, I suspect that a plain language statement re: research into "the mental health effects of climate change" would serve as a turn-off for pragmatic and generally well-informed country folk. It would have been to me, thats for sure.

Maybe the researchers were unaware of the fact that as early as 2008, the CSIRO were blaming the media for talking up climate-change induced drought in the area, even though the:
CSIRO does not believe the current drought in southern New South Wales is here to stay as part of climate change.

Andrew Bolt recently published extensively on the misrepresentation of drought in the Riverina being due to climate change, quoting a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters. Read all about it here.

And to end with some good news, its well and truly p*ssing down in the Riverina now, mate.
(NB: Thats a colloquialism for "raining very hard", if anyone from overseas is confused by my sudden descent into vernacular.)

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