Climate change and depression: come on get happy!

Photo Credit: ep_jhu via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: ep_jhu via Compfight cc

I have a problem. Well, several problems. According to the Internet, anyway.
Whenever I log on to Facebook, turn on Pandora or try to read the Washington Post online, I’m inundated with advertisements for overweight, depressed and self-injurious people. I’m not kidding; reading an article on climate change got me an ad for “big girl” clothing. Listening to alt-country garnered me links to programs for bulimics and depressives. Facebook desperately wants me to try a drink that allows you to lose weight as you drink it…amazing! If I wasn’t a scientist.

So what could be leading the Internet to think that I’m so sad and lonely? Is it my constant reading of articles on environmental hazards? My obsession with advice columns? My dire love of cheese? Well…I suppose a combination of those things could lead to a self-injurious life.

What the Internet doesn’t realize is that I live in the self-help center of the Universe. The Bay Area, particularly Berkeley, is the place where solutions to all of your ailments can be found.

Feeling like your qi is uncentered? There’s a yoga move for that… and about 10 yoga studios within a mile of my house for all your yoga needs – hot, cold, breathe-focused, butt-focused, we’ve got it in spades.

Feeling bloated or overweight? There are teas and fasts and juices and someone to advise you on just about every possible diet (paleo-, whole-grain, vegan, grapefruit) within a quarter mile of any given intersection.

Feeling like you’ve reached adulthood without full self-actualization? Well, that’s too easy. There’s a cult on my street corner ready to cleanse your house and give you internal solace at the drop of a God’s eye. Give me your home address and I’ll send them over right away.

The cleansing, though, isn’t really necessary for me. My house used to be a pagan temple. It has been cleansed within an inch of its life.

But if you’re someone who loves these types of treatments, particularly the herbal ones, then you’re in a bit of trouble with climate change. Why is that? Well, I’ve been yammering quite a bit lately about the impact of climate change on the internal chemistry of plants – how secondary metabolites (those used, for example, for defense instead of growth and reproduction) can change in response to the environment(1).

Which herbs am I talking about? Well, you already know about the really popular, not-so-legal ones like marijuana, cocaine and morphine. But other less illicit drugs follow suit in much the same way.

Take St. John’s wort, for example. You know, the one your herbalist aunt recommended after that last terrible break-up, the one that’s super popular for treating melancholy, is very sensitive to both changes in carbon dioxide and temperature stress. Both of these environmental factors (the temperature and the CO2) increase the compounds attributed to mellowing you out, you anxious depressive you (2 & 3).

You might think this is great; it’s going to get super tropical, toasty warm and we’ll be incredibly happy about it with all that St. John’s wort that we’ll be slurping down…do you slurp herbs? I have no idea. Maybe you masticate them.

Unfortunately, secondary metabolites are only part of the story… which is why they are called “secondary”, obviously. Under really hot, hot temperatures, yeah there was more hypericin (a chemical considered responsible for the anti-depressant quality of the plant) in the leaves, but the plant suffered miserably. We’re talking smaller plants which, after 15 days of the really hot treatment (over 95F), had yellowed leaves with lower rates of photosynthesis (3). So yeah, more of the chemical you love, you fiend, but sad and sickly plants. Are you really so selfish?

So all this toasty-broiling hot weather isn’t all that great for St. John’s Wort, it seems, even if it may provide plants with a little more of that happy chemical you love.

Personally, I don’t really feel the need for any sort of herbal infusion in my life, especially with so many alternative medicines available to me just as I walk out my door. Spending all my days eating wheels of cheese and reading about climate change hasn’t really turned me into the depressive that the Internet thinks I should be. Now, would someone please tell Facebook?

Further Reading:

1. Plant molecular stress responses face climate change
2. Temperature stress can alter the photosynthetic efficiency and secondary metabolite concentrations in St. John’s wort
3. Production of St. John’s wort plants under controlled environment for maximizing biomass and secondary metabolites

1 thought on “Climate change and depression: come on get happy!”

  1. Is it just the increased temperature that is detrimental ? Or is it both temp amd CO2 ? If its the temp, then wont the plants just “move” north to be in a more optimum growing range ? I’ve read that vineyards are already doing that (well,ok, the people who plant them are). If its also increased C02 then they cant move far enough to get away from that !


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