The only good cure for eco-anxiety is action

Eco-anxiety is a First-World problem. Literally, writes Suzanne Harrington

In the developing world, they are living it — floods, cyclones, famine, drought, forced migration — but in the developed world, we still have the luxury of worrying about it. For now.

A recent academic paper on ecological destruction has already been downloaded 110,000 times, resulting, says the BBC, in people actually seeking counselling. Such is the feeling of existential eco-doom that those willing to read up on what’s really happening are buckling under the weight of catastrophic knowledge.

Psychology Today defines eco-anxiety as “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis”.

Except it’s not a psychological disorder, and to call it such is just more of the lazy-ass denial that has humanity sleepwalking towards whatever dystopian sci-fi movie future lies ahead. It’s not a disorder, it’s an acknowledgement of what is happening, and justifiably freaking out about it. (Disclaimer: I have only skim-read it). As Greta Thunberg says, the grown-ups need to stop mouthing platitudes about hope, and start panicking instead.

Except we can’t live our lives in panic mode, because we’d get nothing done, our adrenal glands would combust, and we’d be no use to anyone. We still need to think about what’s for dinner, and walking the dog.

So what can we do, as tiny powerless inconsequential individuals on a planet of billions ruled by lizard billionaires? How can we stop feeling so utterly helpless, even as we recycle and switch to oat milk and fly less and fret more?

The fledgeling Extinction Rebellion and their non- violent direct action offers a spark of hope, in terms of permeating mass consciousness with their gentle, but highly visible, disruption.

Their manifesto is based on science and statistics; to achieve active change, 3.5% of the population needs to be mobilised. This is the magic number, the number that gets stuff done, that creates greater change. Think suffragettes, civil rights, gender equality, LGBT rights — it only took a small percentage of people getting active to affect lasting social change.

XR are post-political, their citizens’ assemblies are places where everyone comes together to share ideas without all the usual point-scoring and backstabbery associated with party politics. There is no central power — every XR group is in charge of itself, adhering to principles of non-violence, non-blaming, listening, learning, training, and doing things that get the message — that this is an emergency — noticed by the world.

So, off I trot to my first local XR meeting, determined to get a bit more stuck in. It’s full of old people and young people, plus people too eco-anxious to start families, all swapping contact details, joining affinity groups, pitching ideas for action. Ordinary people, like you or me. Because it won’t be the lizard billionaires who make the changes — it will be us. The 3.5%, and then, everyone.

Doing it for our future grandkids.

More on this topic

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These are some of the pioneering plastic-free stores in Ireland and the UK

Higgins: Gardeners the 'canaries in our coal mine' as they have suffered effects of climate change

Climate action: Meet the young doctors who want to save the planet