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THE RISE OF ECO-ANXIETY

By Grace Caselden

As a university student, I am constantly surrounded by other students my age working hard for their degrees and future careers. Yet, the very students that tirelessly study for this future fear they may not have one—at least not a future one would consider normal.

In recent months, particularly after the release of the United Nations 2021 climate change report last August, the term ‘eco-anxiety’ has risen to popularity. The American Psychiatric Association describes eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”, but the term can also be generalized simply as anticipatory anxiety and function as mild, persistent stress.

Eco-anxiety surrounds the immediate effects of climate change— such as damage to community groups or food shortages– but also creates a form of existentialism, especially for the world’s youth. To understand eco-anxiety further, I sat down with two Cardiff University students to hear their take on ecoanxiety and the impact it has had on their mental health, day-to-day life, and future ambitions.

I first turned to Sophie Revell, a close friend and fellow Quench contributor, to ask a few questions about her personal experience with eco-anxiety:

Q: What was your reaction to the recent UN climate report, A.K.A. ‘code red for humanity’?

A: Absolutely terrified. I think most of my anger and my anxiety comes from the fact that we clearly live under a government that do not care or try not to make it seem like a bigger deal than it is. Obviously, I recycle, I try not to buy clothes or other things that I’m going to waste, but when I’m told that the most important thing is to reduce my own personal carbon footprint while seeing billionaires going to space… those things feel very insignificant compared to big corporations.

Q: Do you think that pressure put onto you is from greenwashing in the media?

A: Yeah. I think it was Boris Johnson telling us ‘Oh you should rinse your plates before you put them in the dishwasher’. So, I’ve been following on Facebook the #StopCambo petition and basically Cambo is an oil rig that the government is trying to put up in Scotland which would raise the temperature rapidly. So how can BoJo tell me to wash my dishes when he’s allowing these things to happen?

Q: Does anxiety around climate change impact your daily life? If so, how?

A: I have a little bit of panic every time I put single-use plastic in the bin…There’s also that constant feeling that whatever I may be doing to help the planet won’t ever be enough. But there’s other things about sustainability—like, how sustainable is buying books? Or alcohol? Nobody ever talks about how sustainably made my vodka is!

Next, I spoke with Tabo Jain, a current 2nd year biology student.

Q: What is your biggest emotion surrounding climate change, and how often do you feel that emotion? 

A: It honestly feels like a feeling of disappoint towards humanity. Obviously, I’m doing biological sciences because I want to help the environment in any way I can, so I know some of the academic literature on this. Apparently, someone accurately prevented climate trends in the 1850’s, entering the 21’st century. So, we knew about this for the longest time! But we haven’t done anything, and we still haven’t, really. And that feeling of disappointment shows up quite often. It’s little things here and there, like a piece of trash on the street. It’s just litter, and you must force yourself to get used to it.

Q: Does the environmental future impact your opinion or intention on having children? 

A: I think so. For me. The whole population is a serious issue. Especially with climate migration. For example, in the Middle East, some temperatures are predicted to increase to a point where humans cannot inhabit it anymore and in result those who live there will be forced to migrate somewhere else. It’s going to be a huge issue, and the bigger the population, the less resources that are available and the less likely the possibility of escaping to space may be. So for me personally, it’s definitely on my mind. It feels a bit unethical. Accredited sources: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/03/mental-health-climate.pdf

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