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“Eco-Anxiety”: The Fear Of The Future

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

This piece is authored by Megan Bureau, read her bio below!

‘Eco-Anxiety’ is described by Psychology Today as “a fairly recent psychological disorder

affecting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis” (1).

In his most recent novel, ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’, author David Wallace-Wells states that eco-anxiety can also be referred to as “climate anxiety”, “climate depression” or “climate grief” (2). Further, a 2017 report from the American Psychological Association referred to this condition as “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” (3). According to a survey taken at Yale University in December 2018, nearly 70% of [participating] Americans were ‘somewhat worried’ about climate change, 29% are ‘very worried’ and 51% said they felt ‘helpless’ (4). In 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report which called for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes [to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions of 45% by 2030]” (5). This report caused an uproar within the scientific community and sparked a growing youth movement to raise global awareness about the Climate Crisis, all of which was fueled by deep-rooted fear for the future of mankind. This phenomenon was corroborated by British Eco-Psychologist, Mary Jayne Rust, as “[she’s] noticed a great increase of clients needing to talk about eco-anxiety since the [release of the] IPCC report at the end of [2018]” (1). One of the most stark differences that have been noted by the Climate Psychiatry Alliance’s (CPA) Janet Lewis between general anxiety and newly prevalent climate anxiety is that “most of the time when we are treating anxiety, we’re treating people who have ‘unrealistic’ levels of anxiety (2). [However], we’re all in the same boat with this, [there is nothing unrealistic or dramatic about this situation]” (2). Furthermore, Lewis pointedly outlines the importance of perseverance and maintaining hope, no matter the direness of the situation, as she fears that current media sources portray the climate movement as being ‘paralyzed and cynical’ about the future (2). Lewis states that, “giving up [on the Climate Crisis] is denying the reality of one's own agency and one’s ability to affect change” (2). Rather, Lewis urges people to take action against the ecological breakdown and educate others about ways they can get involved in this movement (6). Moreover, climate scientist Owen Gaffney stated that, “eco-anxiety is the right response to the scale of the challenge, but I am an optimist. The science is loud, clear and simple: we need to halve global [carbon] emissions by 2030 (1).” Below, are listed his advice for how to maintain hope about and fight the Climate Crisis.

Owen Gaffney’s Three Steps Towards Combating Climate Change and Eco-Anxiety (7):

  1. Make Climate Change a factor in the decision you make around what you eat, how you travel, and what you buy

  2. Talk about Climate Change with your friends, family and colleagues

  3. Demand that politicians and companies make it easier and cheaper to do the right thing for the climate

Author Bio:

Megan Bureau is an incoming freshman at Queen’s University and will be majoring in Global Development Studies. She is extremely passionate about global issues, particularly the Climate Crisis, and recently founded a youth led organization called Conservation Conscience which is dedicated to fighting for Climate Justice! 

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