Productivity & Lifestyle

We're eco-anxious, are you?

Ella Webber

28 October 2019

Climate change is scary, there’s no way around it. If you’re not scared, you’re not paying attention. In case you’ve missed what’s been going on, here’s a terrifying recap:

- Dozens of species of animal, plant, insect, bird, and mammal go extinct every day (more than 1000 times the background rate and an indicator we’re headed for the 6th mass extinction). (Center for Biological Diversity)

- Indonesia is changing its capital city as, due to rising sea levels, the current one is literally sinking. (Global Citizen)

- Due to rising sea temperatures, half of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached to death, causing the marine ecosystems to become barren and skeletal with little chance of recovery. (National Geographic)

- It’s just 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of global emissions. (The Guardian)

With facts like these, it’s no wonder that we’re feeling a little uncomfortable. That uncomfortable now has a name: eco-anxiety. 

So what is eco-anxiety and what’s causing it?

Eco-anxiety refers to the overwhelming feeling of dread brought on by the realisation that climate change is having drastic effects on the longevity of our species and habitat, and that not enough action is being taken to prevent it. A report released by the American Psychological Association characterised eco-anxiety as “inducing stress, depression and anxiety; straining social and community relationships; and having been linked to increases in aggression, violence and crime”. In other words, it’s the natural response to knowing that, if things don’t change, we’re all in some pretty hot water (quite literally).

Whilst not much research has been done into the extent to which eco-anxiety affects the day-to-day life of individuals, recent surveys have found that, in Spain, 87% of the population are worried about climate change, with 56% of the population citing climate change as the greatest threat to life as we know it (El País). It appears this sentiment is reflected globally, too, with the global median for worrying about climate change currently sitting at 67% (Pew Research Center). 

It would seem people are only getting more eco-anxious as time goes on, and for good reason. The response to the climate crisis has a timer on, and it’s running out. 

But the severity of climate change seems to have come from nowhere, surely it’s not that bad?

Unfortunately there’s nothing new about climate change. We were all warned of climate change years ago. Countless lessons on saving energy and being kind to the environment; cries of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle filling classrooms around the globe. Fat lot of use that was. 

Heat waves are killing crops and causing droughts; storms and flooding are wreaking havoc from the United States to Zimbabwe. Did you know that three out of four people living in poverty rely on agriculture and natural resources to survive? We’re lucky that our experience with climate change is currently limited to long, sweltering summers, but that won’t be the case for long.

Those protests are intense, what are people so angry about?

The reason people are so angry about climate change is because it was entirely avoidable, and still, to an extent, remains so. Remember when everyone was panicking about the massive hole in the Ozone Layer above Antarctica? Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were banned and styrofoam (made with CFCs) was pretty much removed from everybody’s life. There was less evidence on the link between CFCs and Ozone depletion than there is on the link between carbon emissions and climate change, yet still nothing is done. 

Furthermore, we’ve been led to believe it’s our fault. That our use of plastic bags and straws is what’s caused the average global temperature to steadily rise for decades, but that just isn’t the case. For years, governments and corporations have been warned of the consequences of their actions and, in the name of profit-maximisation, they’ve just not acted. Any efforts that have been made have been insufficient and more needs to be done; it’s no surprise that eco-anxiety is on the rise. It was years ago that the term was first coined by the climate scientists warning and worrying about their findings, but it would seem that eco-anxiety is creeping up on everyone else now too.

Is there anything we can do as individuals?

It is really easy as a single individual to feel completely overwhelmed; to feel as if there is nothing you can do to make a difference. Whilst our singular actions cannot undo the damage years of industrial carbon emissions and fossil fuel extraction have done, we can take steps to reduce the impact of each and every one of our carbon footprints. 

  1. Don’t “bring home the bacon”: Stopping or reducing your meat intake, especially red meat, is the single most effective action you can take. It sucks, we know, but it has to be done. Did you know that it takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef? It’s easy to think that the actions of one person are inconsequential, but if everybody thought that way we’d never get anything done. 

  2. Embrace used goods: Recycling isn’t just for rubbish. Shop second-hand clothes, books, furniture, and more. Keep your wallet stacked and your conscience clean.

  3. Line-dry your clothes: Every little helps! Running a clothes dryer is equivalent to powering 225 light bulbs for an hour; unnecessary really, isn’t it?

  4. Unplug your devices: Plugged in electrical goods use energy regardless of whether they’re turned on or not; it’s a waste of money and energy.

  5. Demand the truth: This isn’t a problem, it’s a crisis. Corporations have massively underplayed and are still underplaying the severity of climate change, and they need to be held accountable (The Guardian). Join your local march, protesting isn’t just for hippies anymore. Think globally, act locally.

It’s all incredibly daunting, but it’s not solely doom and gloom. There are ways to combat these feelings of anxiety, including natural remedies and meditation, and the socio-political movement is gaining force and demanding change. We’d like to leave you with a pinch of joy, of sorts, in the form of what’s achievable if we kick up enough of a fuss:

- Trillions of dollars of investments have been taken out of carbon-intensive companies. (The Guardian)

- India, China and the EU have said they will deliver tougher carbon-curbing plans in 2020. (BBC News)

- Pakistan, which has planted a billion trees in the last five years, pledged to add 10 billion in the next five. (The Independent)

- In total, eight international jurisdictions have made good progress since The Paris Agreement in 2015: Ethiopia, Morocco, India, the EU, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, and Argentina. (The Africa Report)

Even smog invites a breath of fresh air, it would seem.

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