Living with climate anxiety
I start every day scrolling through my phone for updates on climate change. My email has become a landing zone for climate newsletters and Google alerts. Once I am done catching up on the world, my day job which also has to do with climate change starts.
The majority of my day is spent talking and working on the climate crisis. Sports, pubs, conversations everything somehow leads back to this global crisis. Everyone I meet during the day seems interested in my take on it. This is often gratifying, but I also live with climate anxiety.
Climate anxiety, or eco-anxiety, is a chronic fear of environmental doom and is becoming a global mental health crisis. Climate projections are getting more alarming with the release of new scientific reports even as wildfires, record-breaking heat waves, unprecedented floods, and extreme weather fill the news cycle. The impact is felt locally, nationally, regionally, and globally.
On the other hand, the seeming progress on climate action is unscientific and unsubstantiated, marketed as communication strategies with big promises and little action, and often decided by the same elite group of people, mostly old men, who for some reason are our saviours for every pressing issue --- from climate change to abortion rights and outdated laws against sexual violence.
So it is no surprise that many of us live with climate anxiety, on top of a myriad of other mental health conditions our generation is facing. In a landmark survey of 10,000 young people in 10 countries, nearly 60% of respondents said that they felt ‘very worried’ or ‘extremely worried’ when asked about climate change and government responses.
Earlier this year, I visited Abu Dhabi and met up with a friend whose climate activism had slowed down in recent years. She told me that her climate anxiety had got so bad she had to distance herself from anything that had to do with the subject. It was her only way of avoiding panic attacks and inflicting self-harm.
I asked other young people, and quickly learned that many had switched careers or taken a step back from climate activism because they felt hopeless and powerless. They are preventing further deterioration of their mental well-being.
Is this an unhealthy coping mechanism, or the only way to cope with climate anxiety? What does that imply for the state of the planet, and the world we are headed towards?
Young people are responding to climate change in different ways. It is not uncommon among youth to not want to have children because of what the world will be like in coming decades. Many have anxiety attacks from climate inaction. Young people feel ignored, unheard, and ridiculed.
The mental repercussions of the climate crisis on young people across the world is far-reaching, and it is absurd that the future of humanity in the hands of the few powerful groups who still make up 70% of global emissions.
Yet, many young people continue to fight. They do this despite the mental and physical toll that comes with their activism on the streets, fighting for a better future when they should be enjoying their lives to the fullest.
I don’t consider myself a climate activist. Despite dedicating my career to climate action, I also live with climate hypocrisy as, despite my largely sustainable lifestyle, I travel the world and have benefitted from the largesse provided by fossil fuels.
Deep within me, I know the carbon credits I purchase to offset my emissions are a trivial: representing self-gratitude and a pat-in-the-back gesture for myself. My climate hypocrisy probably fuels my climate anxiety even more in a vicious circle.
My climate anxiety is here to stay. And until there are structural changes to the way our economies transition, my climate hypocrisy is here to stay as well.
If you have gone this far with reading this, you are not alone. Talking about it and regularly writing and working on climate, connecting with like-minded people, admitting dual standards in response to the climate emergency, and spending time in nature help me come to terms with my anxiety, and keep my hope for the future alive.
Rastraraj Bhandari contributes regularly to Nepali Times on climate change.
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