Why we need to move beyond our eco-anxiety
It’s a predictable pattern: I read a statistic about the impending doom of climate change, or see a heartbreaking photo of sea turtles tangled in plastic waste, and time stops for a moment. The rest of the world shifts out of focus and despair hits as a whole body experience—my lungs empty, my shoulders fall, and a diffuse ache spreads from my core and down my arms to smolder in my fingertips. I wonder how we humans can be so well endowed with frontal lobe reasoning and yet so careless with our creations.
I feel anxious to fix it—to fix everything—but it presents in a frenetic, haphazard way—like a tap dancing spider; I’m exhausted before I start.
Right about now, aforementioned frontal lobe jumps in. But the sky is still blue!—it protests. There are birds singing right outside your window!—it reassures. And you COMPOST!—it flatters.
That’s right! I tell myself. I compost! And the world comes back into focus, looking the same as it did before I read that statistic or saw that photo. My shoulders and lungs re-inflate, and I tell myself everything will be okay. Because it has to be, right? The alternative is simply too much to bear. I go back to my regular life, forgetting to bring my reusable bags to the grocery store more often than I'd care to admit, opting to leave my water bottle at home because it’s a pain to schlep around all day, and driving when I could have easily ridden my bike.
Meanwhile, atmospheric CO2 levels continue to climb and sea turtles continue to get tangled in our waste. I often wonder how I can care so much but do so little.
Conversations with friends have reassured me that I’m not the only one who lives in such paradox. Virtually everything we do leaves an impact on the environment somewhere in the world, but often we’re so far removed from these points of impact that it’s difficult to feel responsible for them.
Further, it’s so overwhelming to think about it that we prefer not to. In 2017, the American Psychological Association coined the term “eco-anxiety,” defined as a chronic fear of environmental doom that stems from feeling like one is incapable of doing anything to affect climate change. According to one psychiatrist writing for Psychology Today, instead of motivating us to act, it activates our existential concerns, “including finitude, responsibility, suffering, meaninglessness, and death,” driving us to shut down and ignore it.
I'd like to disrupt this cycle of emotional overwhelm, as much for myself and my own journey towards more sustainable living as for all of you who feel the same.
I hope to use this platform to shed light on the repercussions of our consumption choices (both good and bad), and to tell the stories of the people, animals, and ecosystems that are being affected by those choices. In the same breath I want to offer more sustainable alternatives so we’re not left feeling helpless and overwhelmed to the point of inaction, because every step in the right direction counts for something.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey!
TAKE ACTION | In the meantime, check out National Geographic's year-long Planet or Plastic campaign, where you can pledge to reduce your consumption of single-use plastics in 2018 (and beyond!):