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Eco-anxiety, solastalgia, climate despair, green depression or ecological grief are terms used to describe the anxiety related to ecology, and more specifically, to the imbalance we are currently experiencing between human beings and their environment, which has never been so prevalent.
Climate change is one of the main contributors to eco-anxiety, as it causes the largest impact and destruction of our environment and ecosystems. In 1988, the Canadian parliament of the environment and economy gave warning that global warming represents the greatest threat to human survival. Later in 1997, the protocol of Kyoto agreed that the rich countries would bring their emissions down by 2012 (interview with David Suzuki, Never Apart Magazine, September Issue 2016). Yet today, 23 years later, it is clear that the objectives have not been met and that the world is in a state of crisis.
At this very moment, wildfires are still burning in the state of California, US, making 2020 the largest recorded in the history of California (source: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection). The initial lockdown followed by its release made the world population realize the extent of the pollution, noise and traffic problems among other things within the cities, but also The extent of urban life is completely disconnected from the floral and fauna worlds, with the former completely suffocating and overpowering the latter.
“How do the Californian wildfires feel? Scary. Everything was so dry and the air quality was very bad - the AQI was 160 - that the sun was red. Of course, we couldn’t go out because it would be the equivalent of smoking one pack of cigarettes a day. The animals were scared and dehydrated. In our house, we had a family of deer coming to the garden every morning looking for a safe space and water. The government invited us to put buckets of water outside our homes for the animals, birds and insects. The situation was very stressful.”
There are so many consequences to fear concerning the environment that it becomes disheartening and this can give people serious anxiety. It can become rather toxic, where victims start to not be able to function and more serious side effects such as depression and paralysis can occur. On the other hand, it is also a necessary evil, an anxiety that mirrors a reality that will hopefully make the world wake up and act to change the course of things.
“I don't want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I do. Every day. And want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.”
But what is eco-anxiety exactly? Let’s dive into its definition and mechanism, but also give some solution to battle the anxiety many of us can feel.
Eco-anxiety, what are the symptoms?
- A fatalistic vision of the world: the emotions of hopelessness and powerlessness
- A sensation of spleen: the emotions of anger and rage
- A negative perception of oneself because I feel too small while facing the task
- The fear to have children because of the uncertainty of the future
they might grow into
- The lack of faith in our government / political leaders
Who’s mostly affected by eco-anxiety?
- Those whose work depends on the environment
- People who actively fight to help the planet, who are aware of the issues and live with this reality on a daily basis (NGOs employees, nature activists)
- Scientists who conduct research on the environment or wildlife
- Outdoors lovers
- Langda citizens who are aware of this reality of the world, but who do not know where to start to act, feel useless
- Those who have known a different world
- Youth, directly impacted while facing an alarmist future
Who is worried about global warming:
Better understand the mechanism involved
In psychology, in the face of the growing number of cases, some countries are beginning to recognize eco-anxiety as clinical pathology. But, is climate change the direct cause of anxiety? Not exactly. While climate change has a direct impact on melting icebergs, it is not the case for a person's mental state. What has a direct impact on anxiety though, is the projection of an uncertain and unstable future. The German philosopher Kurt Riezler is one of the first to talk about fear in psychology. In 1944, he wrote in The Social Psychology of Fear that in times of crisis, a very specific fear arises, and that is the fear of the unknown. (source: CAIRN)
Not knowing has always been a human concern, and it is even more so at a time when the media keep painting an alarmist portrait of the world. Eco-anxiety is therefore also a crisis that ultimately originates from deep existential questioning. Not knowing is giving free rein to the mental projection of what might happen. And with that, all kinds of fears can surface: of not having to eat or lack of water, of not knowing where to live, of not having contact with our loved ones, fear of illness, suffering, death, etc. is the direct source of anxiety.
If the world can no longer give me a state of security, I must find it within myself. We are at a time when circumstances push us to find an anchorage in our mental stability since the environment can no longer provide it. This is what we call the inner ecology. Very often, an anxiety-inducing cause awakens a basic anxiety already present in me. Thus, to cure the anxiety one feels to work on yourself: to know yourself internally and nourish your being.
One cannot know the future, that is a fact. So unfortunately the solution cannot come from there. But let's not be fatalistic, because now that we understand the mechanisms a little better, options are open to me!
10 Solutions to eco-anxiety
Basically, understanding and knowledge are key to any empowerment sentiment. The more you understand about the situation, its mechanisms and learn about the many ways you can act step by step, the more the anxiety will disappear. In order to get there, here are a few tips:
1| Be proactive: get involved in a cause, support an NGO, set up a project, do training on an alternative method that interests me, make conscious decisions on a daily basis aligned with my values, grow vegetables.
“Being proactive allows us to go beyond fear and anxiety. Through Permaterra's teaching centre we are in contact with people who are pioneers of alternative solutions to our toxic context in the fields of regenerative agriculture, permaculture and ecological beekeeping. The simple presence of the trainers and the participants who come is already a response to fear in itself. We must see that, fortunately, many movements in the world are initiated to provide ecological solutions, on a human scale and which respects natural models.” David Mérino-Rigaill (Permaterra)
2| Focus on the positive, rather than the negative: all species that are saved, the laws that are passed to protect nature, the growing NGOs, the interest of people in being more and more aware
3| Find people who are a point of reference: an inspiring figure who can give meaning and show the example of how you can act
“A visionary leader mobilizes people toward an idea.” Dax Dasilva (Age of Union, Igniting the Changemaker)
4| Don't get lost in the news: stay connected to the world and what's going on, but don't forget to disconnect sometimes
5| Let go of things over which you have no control: it’s important to feel that you are acting with your capacity of the moment to do your part. Do not take the world on your shoulders. Take it one step at the time.
6| Reconnect with nature: being surrounded by nature brings calmness and tools to understand what the world needs.
7| Become part of a community: either virtual or human, by acting altogether, you feel more powerful. You are going to realize you are not alone to act, you will slowly extend your web and see that many people are actually active in saving the planet.
8| Use your art to educate those around you:
“I use my art to cope with the desastre. Wildlife and nature need help. We are killing everything, it’s a fact. I am wondering what we need to do for human beings to wake up? What is the next step? Do we need to go that far to start doing something? I don’t have answers, so I do my part to start awakening people. That is my way of not falling into anxiety when I see what is happening in the world” Ekaterina Sky - Artist
9| Feed the self: practice inside ecology by knowing yourself better and practising yoga, meditation, tai chi, chi gong, rock climbing, archery, martial arts... anything that helps focus the mind.
“It's very simple: cultivate this outer cosmos. What we do on the outside has repercussions on the inside, and vice versa, so it is extremely important to cultivate the outer animal world and the inner animal world together, and in the same way with regard to the plants and minerals worlds.” Annick de Souzenelle
10| Follow the advice of ancient spiritual texts: "Act for the action’s sake. And do not be attached to inaction." (Bhagavad Gita)
“Humans didn’t wait for the ecological problems to be anxious. It’s important to sort things out, identify what is right and what belongs to the exalted part of this anxiety. The exalted part is reflected by our own projections and fears (or conditioned memories) onto environmental causes ultimately. We have to be able to question ourselves and discriminate the motives of the anxiety I feel; one is psychologically exalted as we said, and the other is a rightful biological and functional fear, the danger of death that may occur because of the way our modern society is designed.
For me, it is through this work on self-reflection (readings and yoga) and, of course, Permaterra’s centre management where we receive teachers specialized in alternative techniques, that I try to stay sane. Otherwise, being so much more aware of all the destruction of the living without acting, I would have gone ethically dead already.
It doesn’t mean that what we propose—even if we find it beautiful and true—will succeed. It doesn’t mean that our destructive society based on blind economic growth will be able to change. But, as the inspirational sacred text of India, the Bhagavad Gita, says, one has to offer their acts freely, without attachment to success or failure, ‘You have a right to your actions, but never to your actions’ fruits. Act for the action’s sake. And do not be attached to inaction.’” David Mérino-Rigaill (Permaterra)
Denise Jodelet. Dynamiques sociales et formes de la peur in “Nouvelle revue de psychosociologie” 2011/2 (n° 12), pages 239 à 256.
Images #1 and #2 - Stéphane Desmeules / Images #3 - Mariette Raina
Written by Mariette Raina
Mariette has been a monthly columnist for Never Apart Magazine since 2016 and collaborating with Dax Dasilva on the Age of Union project since 2017. She combines her academical training and experience in the artistic field to create articles putting under the lights today's changemakers and reflect on current environmental concerns.
@mariette.raina | marietteraina.com