Most of us are worried about the impact climate change will have on the future of our planet, but people who suffer from climate change anxiety (also known as ‘eco-anxiety’) experience those worries on a far more severe level.
Climate change anxiety is a rapidly growing phenomenon. Although it hasn’t yet been recognised as a specific mental health condition, Psychology Today describes it as “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis.” Its symptoms can include everything from a sense of ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ helplessness, to fear, depression, panic attacks, chronic insomnia, and complete mental and physical exhaustion. It can also affect anybody, regardless of their age. Teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg became seriously depressed about global warming when she was just 11 years old, and a recent Washington Post poll of American teenagers showed that 57 percent said that climate change made them feel scared and 52 percent said it made them feel angry, both higher rates than among adults.
Maybe it’s the American Psychological Association (APA) which describes eco-anxiety best. In its 2017 report detailing the impacts of climate change on mental health, the APA calls eco-anxiety “a chronic fear of environmental doom [caused by] watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations.” The APA adds that some people “are deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness and frustration due to their inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change.”
The American Psychological Association raises a valuable point. People who suffer from eco-anxiety aren’t complacent or trying to bury their heads in the sand. Quite the opposite. They’re frustrated by their perceived inability to make a difference, and that’s one of the key reasons they feel so hopeless.
Owen Gaffney, co-author of the paper ‘Meeting the 1.5oC Climate Ambition’ that was developed for last year’s UN Climate Action Summit, says we’re more powerful than we think. In fact, he believes that the individual choices we make can have a tremendously positive effect on the planet. In a recent interview with the BBC, he explained; “Eco-anxiety is the right response to the scale of the challenge. But I am an optimist. We live in an age where individuals have more power than at any time in history. Look at your sphere of influence – employer, networks, family – and influence them. We don’t need to convince 100% of people, only 25%, then an idea can go from marginal to mainstream.”
So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by climate change anxiety, you’re definitely not alone. But what can you do to alleviate your anxiety, and help your children and other people you know manage their eco-anxiety too? Here are a few suggestions might help.
Examine your lifestyle
We live in a throwaway society, and many of us consume much more than is necessary. Most times, that doesn’t make us happy. So, take a moment to examine your lifestyle and check it’s in balance with your environmental values. Could you be eating less meat and dairy? The meat and dairy industries are massive polluters, which is why more and more people are turning to veganism. Could you take fewer trips in your car, use public transport more, or walk or cycle to wherever you want to go? Could you be more mindful of how much food you’re consuming, and stop buying (and disposing of) so many items you don’t actually need? Take a look at how much past-its-sell-by-date food you throw out every week and consider how much money you wasted, not to mention the wasted resources of growing the food and getting it to the supermarket just so you can buy it, take it home, and keep it in your fridge before throwing it into the rubbish.
And, while we’re on the subject of rubbish, are you recycling everything you can? Are you recycling it properly (like washing out jars and food cans before putting them in the recycling bin?) If you have a garden, could you be composting more?
How about the amount of water you’re using? Could you take shorter showers? Turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth? Could you avoid using the dishwasher so often, and only when it’s completely full?
Of course, if you’re using Earth Restored’s recyclable tableware or food packaging, a lot of those eco-anxieties will already be solved!
Give your home energy a health check
According to the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, energy use in homes – which accounts for 14% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions – increased between 2016 and 2017. You can help reduce energy use by ensuring your home is more energy efficient, including draught-proofing windows and doors, putting on an extra jumper and turning down your heating, and replacing energy-guzzling incandescent light bulbs with more cost-efficient LED lighting. Don’t forget to turn off lights when you’re not in the room and don’t leave appliances like TV’s and computers on standby when you go to bed. If you want to charge your smartphone or tablet, try to do it during the day so you can unplug it before you go to sleep and avoid wasting unnecessary energy. Not keeping your smartphone on 100% charge will help sustain its battery life too.
Look after your green spaces
A recent survey conducted by Natural England showed that spending just two hours a week in green spaces such as parks, woodlands and fields has been linked with people feeling healthier and happier. That’s already good news, but if you combined those two hours with growing plants and vegetables in your own garden or getting involved in community projects that help to sustain your local environment, you’ll really be making a difference towards preventing climate change. That’s because green spaces absorb carbon dioxide, provide valuable habitats for insects, birds and other wildlife, cool urban areas, and reduce flood risk.
Cut back on flying
If you’re taking three or more flights a year, and especially if you’re a frequent flyer, think hard about cutting back. The effect of airline travel on climate change has been well documented, and the Swedish even have a word for it – flygskam, which translates to ‘flight shame.’ If you really have to fly, The Grantham Institute (which is at the heart of Imperial College London’s work on climate change) says that even switching from business class to standard class can make a positive difference because it uses the plane’s capacity more efficiently.
Climate change is a global problem, and we can’t solve it alone. Instead of feeling anxious or frustrated, divert that energy into supporting organisations who are working hard to keep climate change on the global agenda. Write to your MP and local councillors, expressing your concern and urging them to support climate change initiatives. Contact your bank or pension provider to find out what they’re doing to be eco-friendly and opt out of funds that invest in industries which are harmful to the environment (like fossil fuels.)
Talk to your children
If you’re a parent, it’s hugely important to talk to your children about their climate change worries. If you’ve read our previous blog you’ll know that’s how Earth Restored started, when our founder Maxwell Madhodha discussed climate change with his children and discovered how intensely they were affected by it. For smaller children, America’s National Public Radio (NPR) suggests using a script like this:
“Humans are burning lots and lots of fossil fuels for energy, in planes, in cars, to light our houses, and that’s putting greenhouse gases into the air. Those gases wrap around the planet like a blanket and make everything hotter.
A hotter planet means bigger storms, it melts ice at the poles so oceans will rise, it makes it harder for animals to find places to live.
And it’s a really, really big problem, and there are a lot of smart people working hard on it, and there’s also lots that we can do as a family to help.”
The Rainforest Alliance also has some great climate change advice for parents.
Talk to each other
Sharing our eco-anxiety with like-minded people and talking about the practical things we can all do in our day-to-day lives can be a big help too. An even bigger help is discussing the issue with your wider social circle – family, friends, neighbours, and work colleagues. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), discussing global warming leads to a greater widespread acceptance of climate science. Here’s how the PNAS says it works:
- When people talk about the climate crisis with people they know, they’re more likely to learn key facts. Most importantly, they’re likely to embrace the science that climate change is real and human-caused.
- As people embrace the science, they’ll begin to believe that climate change is happening. They’ll also become significantly more concerned.
- Greater belief encourages greater discussion, which starts the cycle over again. As the cycle continues, and as the people we originally talked to talk to other people they know, there will be more discussion, greater belief, and greater concern. Eventually, we’ll reach the point where awareness and concern rise to a level that politicians and big business can’t ignore. They’ll have to take action because people won’t vote for them or buy their products if they don’t.
Reaching that level of success will take time but massive steps are already taking place. For example, all the United Nation’s Member States signed up to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, and those goals are inextricably wrapped up in tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests. If we all do everything we can to ‘be the difference’ we can still beat climate change together. In the short term, we might not completely overcome our eco-anxiety, but at least we’ll be taking positive action to keep it under control by building a brighter future for our children and making our world a healthier, happier place.
We hope that one of the positive actions you take will be choosing Earth Restored. All our recyclable and renewable tableware and food packaging is sustainable, eco-friendly, and 100% compostable, which means you can use it and then dispose of it absolutely guilt-free. Plus, there are no harmful chemicals or planet polluting plastics to worry about, and you’ll be extending your cleaner, greener influence to family, friends, clients and colleagues every time you serve them food on an Earth Restored plate.
Together, we can be the difference. If you haven’t already started, why not start today?