Environmental conversations are often at the forefront of politics, social media, news, and debate in our community. Many of those conversations can be defined by a palpable sense of doom. This is especially true for younger generations, for which climate change has always been a fact of life and can contribute to already rising mental health issues. 45% of young people said their feelings about climate change negatively affect their daily life and functioning. This not only hurting overall quality of life, but this kind of “doom and gloom” thinking can lead to inaction and resignation, falling prey to what is dubbed “Eco-Paralysis.”
Emphasize the wins: Thanks to the tireless efforts of researchers around the world, we now know more about climate change than ever. Better yet, the most recent version of the IPCC report mentions the gains made by conservation efforts globally and shows that they’re beginning to work. There is a lot left to do as we begin to learn and address the relationships between climate change, ecosystem health, and human health, but models show that efforts to help the environment are working. This fact may give us all hope and renew our optimism. Taking the time to observe and celebrate successes is so important in creating a sustained and positive environmental movement.
Stay educated: Global concerns and abstract concepts like sustainability can be quite frightening and difficult to approach comfortably. In the past it seemed like the more we knew about climate change the worse we all felt about the odds of reversing it. But sociologist agree that, in reality, learning about climate change demystifies it. Researchers have found that just knowing the solutions to climate change is half the battle and that the participants in their study found relief from “eco-anxiety” through education. This rang true, even though the solutions themselves might not be attainable for everyone. Just by reading this column you have taken a great step in continuing to learn in the face of stress and anxiety.
Take action: The best thing you can do to get control of your environmental anxiety is act! Walking Mountain’s website has a huge number of ways to contribute to your communities’ green efforts. It’s important to remember that there’s almost always something to be done, whether you are ensuring you recycle correctly, biking to work one day a week, or trying to buy more local produce. Don’t worry about whether your impact will be too small because everything counts. No one can single-handedly transition the planet to renewable energy or divert 100% of waste. This is a team effort. So, start with a small win and use that momentum to build a sustainable lifestyle and likely feel less stressed along the way.
Emmett Bailey is a Sustainability Intern at Walking Mountains