Compassion, Internal Activism and Other Tools for Change

Thoughts on eco-anxiety.

Escrito por Sierra Riley

Compassion, Internal Activism and Other Tools for Change

01 Sierra explores how climate change can affect our mental health.

02 She discusses ideas found in Generation Dread by Britt Wray, such as the connection between racism and climate change.

03 While eco-anxiety can feel overwhelming to confront, it's crucial to use those feelings to create positive changes, both systemically and internally.

Eco-anxiety isn’t a clinical diagnosis, but this term has become popularized in recent years to describe the distress many are experiencing in response to the planetary health crisis. While eco-anxiety can be comorbid with other mental health conditions, pathologizing this specific experience can be dismissive of very rational, increasingly common responses to climate change. 

“It is reasonable to get worried when the World Bank foresees that 140 million climate migrants will be fleeing ecological catastrophes [...] It is normal to get anxious about mass migrations and resource scarcity increasing the risk of violence and war. It is appropriate to grieve when the UN reports that humans are driving up to one million species to extinction,” Britt Wray writes in her book Generation Dread.

“Generation Dread” isn’t one marked by years or decades. Rather, it includes anyone who has a substantial environmental identity or emotions that are rooted in a tattered Earth. The author reminds us that, though Western cultures may separate emotions from rational thinking, grief is a logical response to the environmental loss that humanity bears witness to. In fact, Wray argues that these very feelings are tools for inciting positive change.

This pain may feel particularly jarring for folks whose backgrounds have allowed them the privilege of feeling safe in the world around them, but it isn’t a new phenomenon.

For hundreds of years, Indigenous peoples have been forcibly displaced while their land has been, and continues to be, mistreated, pillaged and destroyed by colonial avarice. In the city now known as Vancouver, Indigenous reserves were relocated, in part because these communities did not aesthetically conform to Western, capitalist ideals of progress.

Today, low-income families and people experiencing homelessness in urban centers are being pushed farther outside of their cities into “fenceline communities,” which are located in closer proximity to landfills, chemical plants and oil wells. A disproportionate number of unhoused neighbors in Metro Vancouver are, not coincidentally, Indigenous, Latinx and Black, making these demographics more vulnerable to environmental hazards (including the climate’s threat to mental health).

Grief is a logical response to the environmental loss that humanity bears witness to.

To separate racism and colonialism from environmental ruin is impossible. In Generation Dread, Wray communicates that these issues are "inextricably intertwined," and that justice-oriented solutions are consequently essential. 

By 2100, Vancouver is estimated to be completely submerged underwater, barring intervention. It’s clear that the planetary health emergency is far more than a disturbance to colonial aesthetics. This crisis can’t be gentrified away by settlers and elites — it calls for global kinship.

"Although there are clearly important differences in how the climate threat affects diverse groups, the climate crisis is starting to create some critical overlaps in the stresses that anyone from any background can now feel," Wray posits.

This crisis can’t be gentrified away by settlers and elites — it calls for global kinship.

For the first time, White, cisgender, economically secure folks are facing a threat to their futures en masse. Wray, who identifies herself as one such person, “had a reckoning” with her own eco-emotions when she and her husband considered having a baby. 

Headlines announcing the potential overturning of Roe v Wade render the conversation of mothering doubly relevant. Reproductive rights are being threatened in real time, while many people of color were never granted reproductive safety to begin with. 

What world will our children grow into? This is a question many elders overlook. Working through eco-anxiety requires emotional labor, existential resilience and an acceptance of uncertainty. But while it may be a heavy reality to confront, Wray encourages folks to "live with the planetary health crisis and accept its gravity with some lightness." 

This discussion makes a few things clear: 1) These feelings transcend the confines of class, race, ability and geography. 2) Systemic change is an urgent necessity, and just as dire is the need for introspection, empathy and a sort of communal re-mothering. 3) By nurturing networks of care and creating a culture of compassion, humankind might transform its relationship to nature in order to find a way through this. 

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