Have Eco Anxiety? Read This.
Written by Konstantina Antoniadou.
Eco-anxiety, ecological anxiety, eco-distress, or climate anxiety; no matter the label you decide to slap on your must-justified chronic fear of environmental doom, know that you are not alone. Every day brings even more stories of nearly post-apocalyptic scenarios where oceans are lit on fire, rising sea levels make the moon wobble, and a slew of dizzying facts and figures practically make us hyperventilate each time we scroll through our news page.
Even if your friends respond to your eco-anxiety with laughs of disbelief because they cannot grasp how climate crises can interfere with your day-to-day life to the point of preventing you from happily existing; still, you are not alone.
So, what to do when you feel helpless in the face of the climate crisis? Is eco-anxiety justified? Are these overwhelming emotions preventing us from seeing the progress we've made?
Eco-Anxiety Around The World
Thousands of people are panicking about the state of our planet, with numerous studies backing up the fact that climate change can take a significant toll on mental health, with trauma-like symptoms becoming all-too-familiar. In fact, more than two-thirds of Americans experience some climate anxiety. Most are sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. Child psychiatrists in England point out that even young children are distressed about the current environmental crisis, with the majority of them feeling betrayed and abandoned by governments and adults.
Can Eco-Anxiety Be A Good Thing?
But is eco-anxiety really a problem on its own? The truth is that some degree of stress or anxiety isn't necessarily bad. On the contrary, good stress, or "eustress," keeps us motivated and excited about life, leading to higher levels of motivation! So to put it simply, eco-anxiety can fuel our drive for change - moderation is the key.
Our collective efforts to help battle the ongoing climate crises, fuelled mainly by worry and fear, are paying off, and there is evidence to back it up!
Remember, if we want the world to change, we need to believe that change is possible. Every action, no matter how small it may seem, helps lead the way to a better, brighter future. Society is changing, and taking action today is worth it.
Britt Wray, a Stanford researcher who specializes in climate change and mental health, mentioned that climate anxiety is not in itself a problem. On the contrary, "it's actually a very healthy and normal response to have when one understands the escalating civilizational threat that we're dealing with when it comes to the climate crisis."
But it does become an issue when people start to lose their ability to function and access well-being and get through the day.
Eco-Anxiety & Hopelessness Prevents Us From Seeing Positive Changes
Unfortunately, a new survey of 10,000 young people in 10 countries finds that 45% of the teenagers said that worry about climate change affects their daily lives and functioning.
It's this exact feeling of hopelessness that may prevent us from seeing the actual progress we've made. There is plenty of evidence that the world is improving on big fronts, even though the road ahead of us is still pretty long. So maybe it's time to pat ourselves on the back for a change.
The World Is Improving; Here Is The Evidence
Gas emissions & energy sources
The issue: Granted, multiple issues are bombarding our minds at once. According to economists like Nicholas Stern, the climate crisis is a result of various market failures. Tax structures, for example, are not adequately aligned with the pollution profile of energy sources even though countries need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly so that global temperature rise is below 2 degrees by 2100.
The change: However, many governments set their own net-zero goals. Carbon taxes have been effectively implemented in Sweden; the carbon tax is $127 per tonne and has reduced emissions by 25% since 1995. Its economy has expanded 75% in the same period. Technology is better and cheaper, which means that renewable energy sources and green solutions are becoming more and more accessible by the day.
The issue: Food waste is responsible for a third of greenhouse gas emissions annually. The main reason? Aesthetics. In the US alone, more than 50% of all produce is thrown away because it is deemed "too ugly" to be sold to consumers.
The change: The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA announced the US 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal, the first-ever domestic goal to reduce food loss and waste. The objective seeks to cut food loss and waste in half by the year 2030 to reduce climate and environmental impacts associated with food loss.
The EU and the EU countries are committed to meeting the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 target to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030 and reduce food losses along the food production and supply chains.
The issue: Let's not forget biodiversity loss. A recent WWF report found that the population sizes of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians have experienced a decline of an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016. The reason? We converted so many natural habitats like forests and grasslands into agricultural systems.
The change: The United States also announced its Plan to Conserve Global Forests: Critical Carbon Sinks, 16 of which support goals to halt global forest loss and restore at least 200 million hectares by 2030. UK's Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use also commits to halting and reversing global forest loss by 2030, and more than 140 nations currently endorse the declaration. It's evident that as younger people move into influential positions, climate change is prioritized.
The issue: Of course, there is also the issue of plastic waste. The world produces more than 2 million tons of plastic per year, with 14 million tons making their way into the oceans annually. The worst part is that 91% of all plastic ever made is not recycled, which is exactly what's harming wildlife habitats and animals.
The change: At the 3rd session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) in December 2017, countries joined together to pass a resolution on marine litter and microplastics. Thus far, 187 countries have taken a significant step toward solving the plastic waste crisis by adding plastic to the Basel Convention. This treaty controls the movement of hazardous waste from one country to another.
On top of that, in June 2021, the Plastics Pact outlined four goals to reduce plastic pollution by 2025, including taking measures to eliminate packaging that is problematic or unnecessary, as well as ensuring that 100% of plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
The issue: An estimated 4.2 to 7 million people die from air pollution worldwide every year. Africa is one of the most severely affected counties, but all over the world, industrial sources and motor vehicles have been affecting the respiratory system of people for years.
The change: Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA sets limits on certain air pollutants, including setting limits on how much can be in the air anywhere in the United States. Republic Act No. 8749, aka Philippine Clean Air Act, is a comprehensive air quality management policy and program which aims to achieve and maintain healthy air for all Filipinos. What's even more promising? In 2022, the court ruled that it's a constitutional right to have clean air, highlighting that South Africa needs to improve air quality.
Sea Level Rise
The issue: Last but definitely not least, thanks to the ongoing climate crisis, the Arctic is warming up more than twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet, which has triggered the loss of 60 billion tons of ice from Greenland.
The change: "The best solution would be to remove carbon emissions now while preparing for the portion of sea level rise we can no longer prevent. The best tools for this could be coastal ecosystems themselves," mentions Our World. The EPA is taking measures to reduce toxic emissions from industrial sources, vehicles, and engines; read more here. Climate change is a key issue in most free elections, making it a prominent topic of discussion in almost every country - and governments surely take notes.
Coping With Eco-Anxiety: What To Do When You Feel Helpless In The Face Of The Climate Crisis
- So what can we do when we feel helpless in the face of the climate crisis despite the considerable evidence that our collective efforts have a real impact?
- First of all, be proud. We need more people like you who strive for a change!
- Switch to sustainable transport and do small, simple acts like replacing one regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb to lower your home's carbon dioxide emissions.
- Power your home with renewable energy and invest in energy-efficient appliances.
- Opt for reusables instead of disposables as much as possible.
- Join different local initiatives like tree planting groups.
- Don't be afraid to initiate uncomfortable conversations in order to spread the message. Motivate those around you to follow a more eco-conscious lifestyle by offering simple ideas and practical solutions. Share your thoughts on social media and join online communities with like-minded individuals.
- Keep yourself motivated by being around nature to get reminded of why you do what you do. Frequent walks and all exercise forms also help control your anxiety levels.
- Don't be afraid to choose online therapy services and counseling to help you cope with your eco-anxiety. Remember, you can't help anyone else if you are suffering yourself.
Remember, Hopelessness Is Dangerous
While it's important to educate ourselves on the big climate issues of the world today and take action, we also shouldn't turn a blind eye to the progress we've made. Hopelessness is dangerous; it's associated with a lack of inspiration as well as feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, and abandonment, which prevents us from seeing the true value of our small, day-to-day actions.
Remember, when you sense that things won't improve, you unintentionally give up - and this is the last thing our Earth needs right now.