Fear of enviromental collapse: eco-anxiety

This nervous age when we don’t know the planet’s future

Fear of environmental collapse: eco-anxiety.

Eco-anxiety: “A chronic fear of environmental doom,” the American Psychological Association.

In an episode of HBO’s Big Little Lies, a teacher’s lesson on climate change triggers panic in nine-year-old, Amabella. Convinced environmental collapse is near, and not knowing how to deal with her anxiety, she hides in a closet.

It could happen.

A recent report of the American Psychological Association, Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance, says, “future unknown effects of climate change can cause children to exhibit symptoms of PTSD, panic, and nightmares” linked to “eco-anxiety.”

It can affect adults too.

A Yale survey conducted in December 2018, said 70 per cent of Americans believe in climate change, and 51 per cent think it affects their security, physical health (water and air-born diseases), and mental well-being. “Avoidance, fatalism, helplessness, and resignation are growing,” it said.

Like Amabella, most of us suffer eco-anxiety. It’s linked with the new normal of devastating floods, debilitating heat waves, rising sea levels, stronger winds, uncontrollable fires that threaten infrastructures, food insecurity (washed out crops), and forced evacuation and migration.

And – like Amabella – our relationship with the outside environment will change. Tourism is down in many parts of B.C. affected by wildfires in 2018. Nobody wants to find themselves behind a fire wall.

I know the feeling.

Last summer, a remote trout lake lured me down a rough back road near Clinton. In times past, I might have worried about rocks ripping off an oil line on my vehicle. This time, it was the idiot who’d constructed a neat pile of paper and split cedar – a ready-to-light camp fire during a provincewide ban. Charred trees were a stark reminder of the wildfire here two years ago. Somebody’s hot dog could spell my doom. Eco-anxiety kept me from staying long.

On another occasion, I hastily exited another back road. Jesmond Loop near Clinton is a scenic two-hour circuit beginning near the village. It runs along Marble Range Provincial Park to Highway 97, close to the starting point.

About mid-route, heavy clouds, thunder and lightning abruptly erased bright sunshine. The sky opened for hail. In minutes the road was white. I drove on, but stopped for two more ice-storms. At Hwy. 97, the sky cleared once more, and the temperate rose from freezing to normal. In the distance, a towering column of orange smoke proved the insatiable Green Lake fire was still unconstrained. Forest fires create their own weather. Because I’d seen the proof, my own eco-anxiety rose to a new level that day.

But every hour spent in nature is healing.

I accept the risks, coping as well as I can. Eco-anxiety is not completely new for me. As a kid on Green Lake in the Cariboo, I’d gallop through bush and pasture on horseback, then pluck blood-gorged wood ticks off my horse, gleefully popping them between thumb and forefinger. I didn’t worry about lime disease until I had lab tests for a bullseye rash on my chest 50 years later (spider bite). Lime disease is serious, but it doesn’t mean I won’t ride again. I’ll just carry tick repellent.

Some of our magnificent wildlife won’t be able to adapt as well. Moose calves, are dying of malnutrition. They exit winter covered with ticks that have gorged on their blood for months. The eco-anxiety of hunters, guides, and indigenous people who depend on them will be great.

Climate change negatively impacts all of us. Therapist, Dr. Thomas Doherty, refers to many now as, “climate hostages,” – folks who feel helpless but are reluctant to admit it because of wide-spread denial. After all, U.S. President Donald Trump tweets climate change is, “a hoax created by the Chinese to hurt U.S. manufacturing.”

That assertion would raise anyone’s eco-anxiety too, especially when the International Panel on Climate Change debunks it.

The IPCC says the world has 12 years left to ensure world temperature increases by no more than 0.5 C.

If we can manage this, it says, half as many people might die from lack of water, seas would rise less, fewer folks would perish from heat, smog, and disease, wildlife habitat including coral reefs would be saved, the permafrost and Arctic ice could remain frozen.

Renata, Amabella’s mom gives her daughter’s teacher and principal a tongue lashing for broaching climate change with a Grade 2 kid. You have to use the right approach with younger children, but they need to talk about climate change and to be allowed to do whatever they can to help solve the problems. It’s not healthy to hide in closets.

Next time, we’ll review, “Think globally, act locally: how to deal with eco-anxiety in our own community.”

– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

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