Sol Nordmark - Authorsol.email@example.com
Roisin Callaghan - Illustratorroisin.firstname.lastname@example.org
A lot of people are feeling anxious about the climate crisis. More and more voices are urging us to listen to and face this anxiety instead of pushing it away. But how can you do it? And what does this lead to?
Imagine a world where no one would feel grief. A world where no one would feel anger, where no one would feel anxiety. For me, that world sounds super scary. In such a world, no one would speak up against oppression. No one would try to escape abuse. No one would care about climate change. Still, we are pushing away these difficult emotions, burying them in layers of normalcy. At least I did.
Climate anxiety has been a part of my life for a long time. The first time it really hit me was when we were watching a documentary in school. I was 14, and I still remember the void opening up inside me, the absolute hopelessness and powerlessness; the sense of isolation these feelings instilled in me. I pushed them away, of course. I am really good at pushing things away, even though they usually just hide in some dark place until a current suddenly sweeps them back to the surface.
When I return to the memory of the documentary, I wonder how I would have felt if we had discussed our feelings in class. If I had had some place where I felt safe to express my anxieties and some help in confronting them. A year ago, I stumbled upon such a place, through the course Sustainability and Media Technology here at KTH. For me, having seminars where I could express my climate anxiety and talk about climate issues gave me the strength to actually try to deal with the sad and the bad. It was emotionally exhausting, but I came out of it with a resolve I didn’t have before.
You can allow yourself to feel eco-anxiety, and accepting this doesn’t paralyze you, it allows you to hug and comfort a you previously denied, making you whole, making the world real. And most importantly, giving you the strength to act.
There is power in eco-grief. In her book "Generation Dread: Finding purpose in an age of eco-anxiety" writer and researcher Britt Wray states
“[...] the torment comes bearing gifts. If you explore its depths, you’ll find a valve somewhere that taps into the most existential part of yourself. [...] and if you are among those feeling this pain, we cannot afford for you not to also discover this fuel.”
For me, not pushing the grief, anxiety and anger away meant allowing myself to fully care. And where care is, love dwells as well. Treading the dark path connecting grief and love is impactful and important. But it doesn’t have to be lonely. This is one reason why communicating our feelings, hopes and fears about the climate crisis is in fact as important as communicating the facts. A lot of people are feeling eco-emotions, and if we were more open about it, maybe the road ahead would feel less scary.
A lot of my friends care deeply about the climate crisis, but are reluctant to move from worry to action. There is a sense that everything is so fucked you can do nothing about it. Apparently they are not alone in this: according to research conducted by the UK non-profit Force of Nature, around 70% of young people feel hopeless about the climate crisis. In activist circles, a lot of focus is on taking action, which is an important part of dealing with eco-emotions.
However, jumping straight into taking action without processing your climate anxiety can lead to burn out. Therefore, alongside external activism, we need spaces for internal activism, spaces that deal with the intersection of crisis and the personal. Spaces where we feel safe to share and to dream, to cry and to care unconditionally. A few such initiatives are popping up around the globe. One example is the climate cafe movement that started in Scotland in 2015. Two other projects are Force of Nature in the UK, and TerraPi in Sweden.
When we express our emotions, they are also transformed. Grief expressed turns into mourning, transforming it into an action with enormous ethical and political weight. What if we openly mourned every time a species went extinct? Every time the year was the warmest in recorded history? Every time an extreme weather event devastated a community? We live in a society where emotions are expected to be hidden, and we have to find a way forward, a way of anchoring ourselves in communities instead of bearing everything individually.
We have to ask the question “Why?” and “What for?” instead of do, do, do. We have to rethink what is important in our lives, and we have to learn how to be vulnerable. I sometimes dream about a new era of active citizenship, where instead of getting stuck in dread and doom-scrolling we, the young people, start study groups, engage in activism, and share our emotions. Because what we do does matter.
Whenever I feel like a drop in the ocean, I try to think of all the people I know, all the people I meet. I affect all of these people in some way. And through them, I reach many, many more. If all the people who care about climate change did what they could, we would have a mass movement with a lot of power. So start your journey from eco-anxiety to eco-action today. Both your future and the planet will thank you.