Eco-anxiety is real and it sucks. The very real threat of environmental degradation, as well as the constant news cycle of doom and gloom, is debilitating. All you have to do is look at your News Feed (or look out a window if you’re on the East Coast rn) to be scared.
“We are more than canny enough to digest the science as well as what we can see outside our window. I’m not a scientist but it doesn’t feel normal. It feels threatening, and makes me feel tired,” Ruth Nelson, clinical psychologist and climate activist relates to Syrup.
“I’m a grown-up and I want a grown-up to do something! What’s different [with eco-anxiety] is that there is a lot of fear that is totally justified and real.”
The real and present threat of climate change is perhaps the biggest single existential crisis the planet faces rn. (Phew!) But it’s exactly that scale; how dramatic the threat is, that can make it so hard to stay positive.
“What we know is that when people feel threatened, they feel immobilised, and that leads to trauma. Fear leads to anger which leads to grief and loss of hope.”, Nelson says.
So, what can we do to remain positive whilst not being complacent about climate change?
Eco-positivity is all about making proactive decisions to avoid eco-anxiety, to prevent you from being complacent about climate action.
There’s a thin line between being motivated to act more and being so stressed that it makes you act less—if you spend all day thinking about climate action, you’re gonna go crazy! But if you don’t think about it, you’re part of the problem?? Argh!!
So how do you start introducing ‘eco-positivity’ into your life? We’re so glad you asked…
BALANCE THE GOOD WITH THE BAD
One way of staying eco-positive is by balancing your consumption of negative climate news with positive climate news, or through making your climate activism positive in nature.
Issy Phillips is a comedian whose deeply funny routine—Could ASMR be the Answer to Climate Change?—is a prime example of eco-positivity.
“The way that I combat eco-anxiety is by taking action,” Phillips relates.
“For a long time I thought I couldn’t take action because as a writer and comedian, I don’t have the traditional skills needed to affect change. I’m not a scientist or engineer. But I realised I can use my own skills to make space and be an activist. We need interdisciplinary action in order to achieve climate justice—creatives as well as traditional activists can help make a difference.”
LOOK TO YOUR FRIENDS
Another way to stay eco-positive is to surround yourself with other people willing to make a difference, too.
“My friends who take action are my biggest source of positive inspiration,” Phillips shares.
“Being involved in a community that cares about climate change makes me feel as if my thoughts and feelings are valid and being acted on. It’s all about localised community support. As we’ve seen, there’s no action at the top, so all serious action is going to have to come from the grassroots.”
“You can’t do everything on your own,” Nelson echoes.
“Connect with like-minded people because that’s where hope lies. On your own you can collapse into despair. Despair can paralyse us and make us turn away from the truth. Communication can help us face that truth.”
THE BEST DEFENCE IS A GOOD OFFENCE
Phillips and Nelson both agree that the best antidote to eco-anxiety is action.
“The word motion is in emotion,” Nelson elaborates.
“Where emotions get us stuck and isolated, that leads to despair. You can overwhelm yourself by consuming frightening news. Take a break if you need to, but don’t stop taking action. Even if the actions are teeny-weeny, it’s still positive. Hope is a set of muscles—it’s not some passive thing. It’s a whole bunch of different actions that you have to practice every day. It’s like physical training.”
Phillips agrees, and has some wisdom of her own:
“I have this phrase… ‘Hope is active, and to have hope, you need to do something. Hope is standing up and fighting’. The way that I combat eco-anxiety is by taking action.”
HAVE FAITH IN THE SOLUTIONS
Syrup also spoke to Isabella Lamshed from the Climate Council, who had this to add:
“We like to talk about climate solutions as a form of eco-positivity and antidote to the overwhelming stress of climate change. Climate change is here, now, but so are the solutions to solve the problem.”
“Australia is [one of the] sunniest and one of the windiest countries in the world, and we have enough wind and solar capacity to power the country 500 times over. Renewable energy and storage technology offers a huge opportunity for Australia—economically, socially, environmentally—and we could be leading the world. The global momentum around climate change is only getting stronger and more powerful, and it’s being led by the youth.”
DON’T GET DISTRACTED
It’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest science and happenings but sometimes the media isn’t your friend when it comes to staying eco-positive. It’s easy to get suckered in to negative feelings and the negative messages the media pushes.
“We get distracted by the media and superficial living,” Nekson explains.
“Buying stuff when you feel bad is a bad idea. You don’t feel better afterwards, and it’s just this consumerism that contributes to too much rubbish filling up the planet.”
“The media tells young people that they’re wasting their time by being climate activists. You might have a relative who doesn’t believe in climate change and won’t ever change their mind. Don’t listen to those voices: they will be there your entire life. Don’t get distracted and waste your time on people or things that aren’t going to change; instead, go out there and act. Write a letter to your MP. Go to a protest. Do something!”
PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS
If you’re interested in climate activism but are scared, or don’t know where to start, start from the basics, says Phillips.
“Think about what you’re good at, think about what you like, and play to your strengths. Combine that with fighting for climate justice and you can’t lose.”
THINK ABOUT THE BIGGER PICTURE
Climate change is only one challenge that faces humanity. Like most social justice issues, climate change is systemic. It can’t just be solved by planting trees or using keep cups.
Nelson’s advice? “Connect with First Nations activists, labour activists, rural activists… All these issues they campaign for are connected to climate change. You can learn a lot and be motivated by and through systemic activism.”
You energised and want to take action? Read Syrup’s list of achievable things you can do to help be more sustainable.
Lead image courtesy of Issy Phillips.