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Eco-anxiety

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Eco-anxiety

KASHISH KALWANI is a graduate student at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, and this month she’ll be representing her university at COP27, Egypt. She is also one of the editors of Heartfulness Magazine. She shares some insights on eco-anxiety from her classmates who are undergraduates and graduate students studying the course, “Climate Change and Society,” taught by Professor Eri Saikawa.


What can you do as a single person? Do whatever you can.
If you can plant a tree, do it.
If you can pick up a plastic bag, do it.
Little by little, if everyone does this, it will be wonderful.

If nothing else, at least pray.
Think that everything surrounding you – the ceiling of your room,
the sky, the trees, the birds – are absorbed in the remembrance of God.
This will create very special vibrations, a special atmosphere.
You will be able to create a unique atmosphere –
if not in the world, at least in your room, in your family, in your community.

DAAJI


When all our efforts are in vain, and the climate crisis will not be solved in our generation, or the next, I remind myself of the indigenous wisdom. This Seven-Generation philosophy is integral to Haudenosaunee life:

“The Peacemaker taught us about the Seven Generations.
He said, when you sit in council for the welfare of the people,
you must not think of yourself or your family, not even of your generation.
He said, ‘Make your decisions on behalf of the seven generations coming,
so that they may enjoy what you have today.’”

So I invited my classmates to share their experience on eco-anxiety, and here are their responses:

Caitlin McConaghy

I often feel intensely sad and disappointed when I read news headlines regarding climate disasters, biodiversity loss, and inaction by many global leaders; however, I’m far from feeling hopeless. I usually try to seek out news or other media that discuss the positive action being taken in the climate arena. Often, this means listening to the TED climate podcast while I go for a walk or run, as being outdoors is my main mode of mental health care.




Josie Pilchik

I experience near constant eco-anxiety. I remember when the most recent hurricane hit my county just a couple years ago, a huge tree in our yard within reach of our house came crashing down.We were lucky enough that it hit the side of the house, but had the wind been blowing slightly differently, my pets, my sisters and myself could have been seriously injured or killed.

When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, our whole town had no power for a week, so we laid out mattresses and huddled by the fireplace at night to stay warm while we slept, until we could go to a family member’s apartment in Manhattan, which had power because of the more advanced and well-maintained power grid.

These events were significantly less extreme than the climate events so much of the world is experiencing, so my eco-anxiety runs high and I struggle with maintaining hope and a belief that we can fix the climate disaster.

I am lucky enough to have access to therapy to support and strengthen my mental health.Aside from that, my main tool is actively working to try and avert the disaster by choosing to pursue a Ph.D. in conservation so that I can personally help preserve species and ecosystems that need saving.



Joe Owens

I believe that life may not be the same in 25, 50, or 100 years, but it will still be worth living and there will still be ways to find joy. I try to view climate change as something to give my life and my work purpose. Whenever I get stressed, I find physical activity to be the best tool to help strengthen my mental health. I love going for runs and combining the physical activity with being outside is super helpful for me.



Sophia Lamb

Growing up, my family and community did not have much connection with nature, unless it was visiting the beach, going to the park, or occasionally driving up the neighboring mountain to see the snow before the multi-year long droughts hit Southern California. Over the years I have grown to love hiking, and after the pandemic hit I felt as though it was all I could do in Northern California to clear my mind and distract from the isolation the pandemic brought. So, in my own personal tradition, along with many others in the world, I respect nature by spending time and learning about the region and native environment I explore.



Jacqueline Zhang

I think of eco-anxiety as the other end of the environmental awareness scale (the lower end being dismissive or uninformed). All environmental issues deserve a larger platform and more discussion. I believe eco-anxiety extends to concern about irreversible changes on Earth, including loss of biodiversity and change in climate. My culture places an emphasis on waste and making sure to take only what you need. An example of this is food waste, as we have a saying that discourages the waste of even one grain of rice.




Tony Huang

The more I read the news, the more it seems like there is an endless stream that reinforces feelings of panic, anger, and sadness. It is infuriating that we have studied and known the effects of climate change for decades, and none were taken seriously by major world powers. This has led to the situation we’re in today. The world is changing, and humankind needs to act boldly to mitigate the most extreme effects of climate change. Though it is dire, I take solace in the fact that we are flexible and durable, and we have and will find solutions to each and every one of the problems threatening our existence. Future generations will find a way to persevere; we have to find a way to make it easier for them.



Clare McCarthy

I have experienced a great deal of eco-anxiety. The first symptom was deep guilt. I had heard about climate change growing up, but I never learned about it as a social justice issue until a summer program in high school. I was shocked to learn about the disproportionate impacts of climate change, and felt ashamed that I had not experienced any significant changes in my own life as a privileged American, while my country was contributing to the problem the most. I spent some time feeling paralyzed by guilt.

One major way I combat my climate anxiety is by connecting with other passionate Emory students fighting environmental injustices. I love the sustainability community at Emory, and the friends I have made keep me inspired, energized, and give me a space to rant.



One major way I combat my climate anxiety is
by connecting with other passionate Emory students
fighting environmental injustices.
I love the sustainability community at Emory,
and the friends I have made keep me inspired,
energized, and give me a space to rant.



Danni Dong

I experience eco-anxiety when I see the collective inaction across nations to reduce emissions. I feel uneasy when my family in Connecticut shovels snow a lot less often than when we moved there 15 years ago.

I moved to Atlanta because I thought the warm weather and sunshine would improve my mood. I never thought that chronic overwarming causes a decline in mental health. Research shows that murder rates are significantly higher on unusually warm days. Heat exposure also disproportionately affects disadvantaged communities. Low-income households have an energy burden three times that of middle- and upper-income households. This means that even if a family is able to afford a home, they may not be able to pay the utilities to keep the temperature controlled. It is imperative to build housing that is compatible with energy efficient appliances and is well-insulated.



Nithya Narayanaswamy

Eco-anxiety seems multidimensional, and has environmental justice implications as well; therapy isn’t always covered under medical insurance, and some communities might be more vulnerable to environmental health threats than others.

One way I reduce my eco-anxiety is by actively engaging with causes that are working to combat the climate crisis, and by connecting with other passionate activists and advocates across campus.

My culture has a very interesting relationship with the land and natural resources, which are considered to be divine entities. In the place I grew up, we sought to actively reduce the numbers of physical and emotional barriers between day-to-day activities and the Earth, as this builds a deeper connection between the land and our souls. This involved activities like sleeping on the ground, walking barefoot, gathering under trees, and more. This also highlights a dis-analogy between these kinds of cultural practices and modern urban living, with its microplastics, pesticides, and so much more.

As a result of these cultural influences, my main coping mechanism for eco-anxiety is to sit or meditate in nature.



I reduce my eco-anxiety by actively engaging with causes
that are working to combat the climate crisis, and
by connecting with other passionate activists
and advocates across campus.



Catherine Haus

I am Swiss-American. Switzerland is a country with vast natural beauty. Its terrain is composed of mountains, rivers, lakes, valleys, and forest. A traditional Swiss proverb goes, “Words are dwarfs; deeds are giants.” This quote reminds me not to focus on my eco-anxieties, nor overthink my word choice, but to move beyond the scope of wordplay and focus efforts into actions.

For me, action comes in the form of studying to become a climate data scientist, as well as volunteer-service positions. Lastly, I try my best to live in harmony with the philosophy of Solarpunk, which originated from indigenous tribes in the Amazon forest. This theory challenges me to imagine a world in which technology and nature peacefully co-exist, rather than in opposition to one another. Both Solarpunk and the Swiss Proverb bring me peace in the face of “the end times.”




Anushri Sonawala

I have lived in Mumbai and Singapore, which are both vulnerable to sea level rise and heavy rain. I live by the sea, and although the view is breathtaking, learning about sea level rise in school worries me. I have informed my parents many times that maybe we should find a house further away from the coast, but it never struck them that the news creates my eco-anxiety. Disheartening news about another flood, another wildfire,and oil spills makes me feel really sad. This spirals into sadness about the world and the lack of effort on our part. But then thinking about what I can do, I get motivated to make a change. Seeing firsthand climate events such as coral bleaching while scuba diving inspires me to do something about it. I have taken part in a few coral restoration projects and raised awareness about their ecological importance.



Faith Lopez

My abuela passed away in 2008. She died after a battle with breast cancer that lasted most of her life. At her funeral, my great aunt spoke about the women who live in the Indigenous pueblos in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and other states in the Southwest who have been disproportionately affected by nuclear radiation. My abuela lived on the Navajo reservation most of her life. Portions of these states were nuclear test sites. Indigenous reservations were near the blowback of such sites.

In my experience, eco-anxiety is not just anxiety about the future of climate catastrophes, nor does it lie solely in the potentiality of these events. Eco-anxiety plagues people like me, who have seen environmental catastrophe take down communities and loved ones.

I fear a future in which my mother and me are diagnosed with a disease that we got from growing up in rural New Mexico. But I find comfort in my community, in the shared experience of being afflicted. It is an unfortunate common ground, but a common ground, nonetheless.




Prachi Prasad

Anxiety is very present around climate change, and a sense of impending doom can be overwhelming. This past spring, I had the opportunity to co-teach a workshop on Climate & Anxiety for high school students at a science museum. We discussed real-time fears and worries, so that students could find solidarity and validation in their peers. Having open conversations about these feelings is incredibly important to lessen the feeling of isolation and lack of control.

Some of the tools I find helpful are meditation, open conversation, and finding small ways to find control and be hopeful. Some sustainable practices that could help a lot of people are yoga and meditation for releasing stress from the body, and cleaner eating to help minimize contributions to carbon-intense processes. These can be difficult to do with day-to-day struggles and the cost of food, but small steps make a big difference.



Margaret Olawoyin

Connecting with God while farming is traditional wisdom from my Nigerian community to enhance sustainability. My father was a farmer before we moved to the U.S. He and his siblings would pray while sowing seeds to manifest a bountiful harvest season from God. This tradition is one reason I feel so attached to the Earth and Nature.



Will Hutchinson

I had an interesting experience with eco-anxiety over the summer, when I was teaching summer camp in Salt Lake City, Utah. Utah is experiencing a severe drought, and the Great Salt Lake is drying up rapidly, releasing arsenic as it dries. A 10-year-old camper expressed sadness and anxiety about this, and it was difficult to listen to these feelings of eco-anxiety from such a young child. The eco-anxiety we experience can be passed to children, and a very important aspect of climate communication is engaging youth without instilling feelings of guilt and hopelessness.



Some sustainable practices that could help
a lot of people are yoga and meditation
for releasing stress from the body, and
cleaner eating to help minimize contributions
to carbon-intense processes.



Maggie Davis

I experienced eco-anxiety when I was in high school and took my very first environmental science class. I felt a huge weight on my shoulders comprised of fear. As I began to dive into the world of climate change, learning that we are harming the Earth like it never has been before, I became extremely anxious, but what made me most anxious was the fact that we weren’t doing enough about it. I hated the feeling of knowing that climate change puts millions of lives at risk and yet people still choose to ignore it.

I still love to read the recent news about climate change, but I know that I have to learn in doses. If I get too caught up it causes feelings of sadness and depression. Lastly, I do not have a tradition within my community, although I meditate every day as a way to strengthen my connection with the harmony of mother Nature, as I find that essential to my being.



Illustrations by INA GOUVEIA and VIRINAFLORA



Kashish-kalwani

Kashish Kalwani

Kashish is currently a full-time graduate student pursuing a Master’s in Development Practice from Emory University, Atlanta, USA. Born in India, she spent her childhood in the UAE, Russia, Denmark, and India. She has a B.A. from the University of Delhi, a diploma in Bharatanatyam dance, and has volunteered with GRAVIS, Robinhood Army, Sarvahitey, and Girlz,... Read more

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