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What is eco-anxiety and why it’s becoming a problem

Updated: Feb 3, 2019

The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released on Oct. 8 described the terrifying reality our world will face if environmental changes aren’t made quickly and efficiently.

This report sparked concern and anxiety from many, who took to social networks like Twitter and Facebook to ask the important question: What can we do to stop this?

Overall acceptance of climate change and its irreversible effects is increasing in the United States as the intensity and frequency of natural disasters like hurricanes and forest fires are becoming more prominent.

In addition to the physical changes to our planet, climate change is also negatively impacting the mental state of individuals, with psychologists deeming it “eco-anxiety.”

According to psychologist Honey Langcaster-James, eco-anxiety is defined as the “the state of heightened anxiety some people experience relating to climate change.”

A report titled “Mental Health and our Changing Climate” by the American Psychological Association, Climate for Health and EcoAmerica describes how eco-anxiety can affect a wide range of people differently.

There are two main groups of people who experience eco-anxiety.

One group includes those who worry about impending natural disasters, or who have lived through a natural disaster and are dealing with the stress of the aftermath. The second group of people includes those who experience anxiety about the future of our planet and the seriousness of climate change.

Those of us who are not directly impacted by the effects of climate change or natural disasters are often plagued with guilt over the irreversible damage we are doing to the planet and lack of action being taken.

These people can be “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,” according to the APA report.

Dr. Ryan Alan Sporer, professor of sociology at Salisbury University, believes that eco-anxiety arises from a combination of sources that paint the future as a dystopia.

“The whole future looks bleak, especially for young people. When you get done with school and you have huge student debt and there’s no jobs for you and then you add unto that cataclysmic things, it’s just too much,” said Sporer. “I think it paralyzes us into a sense of fatalism, that nothing can be done.”

But Sporer is hopeful that all is not lost. It’s through interactions and conversations with others that we can demand the necessary changes to be made.

“How we solve things is always a simple answer, and its begins with talking. Talking to people, talking to friends, asking a lot of questions, talking to people that are different from you,” said Sporer. “And it’s out of that talking that organizations can develop. And out of organizations, collective actions can happen to reverse larger structures.”

Non-renewable resources, such as the coal and oil industry, coupled with mass deforestation are largely responsible for the increase in global temperatures.

President Trump, who has made it quite apparent that he does not believe global warming is caused by humans, let alone real, has vowed to increase the burning of coal. Trump has even said that he intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, whose sole purpose is to lower the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Abigail Bets, sophomore at SU, had the following to say about this decision: “I think that the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Agreement is incredibly scary because I feel like if we back out, then smaller countries will copy us. This agreement is possibly the only way for us to lower the effects of global warming, and we have to stick together.”

The effects of climate change are unequally distributed around the world and have larger impacts on low-income individuals, people of color and indigenous peoples. 

Climate change is due to the systematic actions of governments and corporations and is not something that will be solved through individual actions like recycling or becoming vegan.

While these actions are helpful, Sporer insists that “We need to act not as consumers, but as citizens in a broader sense, as just being community members.”

And we need to understand that “Voting is not enough, and it never has been.”



Editorial editor

Featured Photo: Peak Prosperity image.

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