How to Cope Eco-Anxiety?
Text by Axelle Rescourio
We are experiencing the biggest environmental challenge our generation and other generations has ever seen. No matter what we are passionate about, anything we care about can and will be affected by climate change. Life on our planet seems uncertain, and facing this scary truth face on may be the best chance we have to overcoming it.
News headlines, the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change reports and Climate Science journals repetitively state that sea levels are rising, glaciers and sea ice are melting, wildfires are happening all around the world, and the rise in temperature is affecting wildlife and their habitat. But what is so scary about climate change? Is it the uncertainty of our future? The feeling of being powerless?
Recycle, become vegan, decrease your carbon footprint, don’t have children. These are some of the changes we are reminded to make in order to decrease our individual carbon footprints. Where does one start? What if, after all, nothing we do makes a difference? Maybe nothing will matter anyway.
Anxiety is the way in which your body responds to stress: a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. Climate anxiety is described by The Guardian as a sense of fear, misery and an almost paralysing helplessness that is forming as we come to terms with the greatest existential challenge of our generation, or indeed, any generation.
You can only imagine how big it is. You see in the news wildfires happening, sea ice melting, but many are not explicitly experiencing it. And whilst you may believe in it, it’s a looming threat, something which multiplies feelings of dread tenfold.
The fight between the Passion and Reason
Climate anxiety is generated through different scopes that are generated by climate change. You might feel oppressed as a consumer. We live in a consumerist world where we are constantly asked to buy and give in to advertisement. However, buying is by definition not responsible. Whatever you do, you will be scorned by one school of thought.
The Politics vs The Scientists
There is a constant battle between scientists and politicians. This is to be expected, they have different agendas. Politicians may purport that they are doing enough, given an economic climate, while scientists keep saying that more needs to be done. Who should we believe? Who is right? Who is wrong? We need to be reassured. We just don’t know what to do. We are confused and baffled. Research about climate change, read articles, books, watch documentaries and listen to podcasts to understand what it really is about.
From the imagination to reality
It is hard for humans to see how big of a deal climate change really is, especially when you live in cities where there is less impact than, for example, the typhoon hot-spots within the Philippines. But we all know that climate change touches the whole planet, from China, to India, to Russia, to the USA. It is so big it doesn’t seem real. You can only imagine how big it is. You see in the news wildfires happening, sea ice melting, but many are not explicitly experiencing it. And whilst you may believe in it, it’s a looming threat, something which multiplies feelings of dread tenfold.
Last week, The Guardian reported that “an increasing number of psychologists believe the trauma that is a consequence of climate breakdown is also one of the biggest obstacles in the struggle to take action against rising greenhouse gas emissions. There is a growing sense that this trauma needs a therapeutic response to help people beyond paralysis and into action.”
A lot of pressure is put into the younger generation when talking about reducing climate change. Global warming seems to be our problem. But it is a collective work reuniting all generations. This pressure adds up to climate anxiety.
Bruno Latour once stated that “the problem is not choosing between optimism and pessimism, but to absorb the new situation, and not loose hope”. In regard to climate anxiety, there is this sense of pessimism. People experiencing climate anxiety are fearful of what’s to come. They are losing hope, feeling like planning for the future is hopeless and are disheartened about what’s coming next. They feel angry that people in power and people around them aren’t doing anything to help, frustrated that there’s nothing they can do now to change things. They are worried about the next generation and simply feel like everything is out of their control.
Climate anxiety is keeping us from properly addressing the issues and the responses we need when facing global warming. Caroline Hickman, a psychology lecturer at the University of Bath, said that “a measure of mental health is having the capacity to accurately emotionally respond to the reality in our world. So, it’s not delusional to feel anxious or depressed. It’s mentally healthy”. Embrace that anxiety. The Guardian’s article mentioned earlier goes on by saying that “this “internal activism” can gently dismantle defenses, while still demanding change, by acknowledging the desire to cling to our psychological defenses and working around it. It gives rise to what she [Hickman] calls “radical hope”: a belief that meaningful action can make a difference, which is rooted in the reality of the crisis rather than a naive belief that it might not be as bad as we think”.
A glimmer of hope
Media mostly portray the bad stuff about climate change, and it can feel very overwhelming. But go out there and search for good news, find that glimmer of hope. There are many! Did you know that efforts to curb poaching have helped Kenya’s elephant population more than double over the past three decades, the Kenya Wildlife Service said in August. There were just 16,000 elephants in Kenya in 1989, but by 2018 that number had grown to more than 34,000. On a bigger scale up to 48 species have been saved from extinction by conservation efforts!
Remember that you can create change, but change takes time. Be patient. There is hope.