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Eco-Anxiety

By Yetta Jager, Green Sanctuary Committee


Green Sanctuary Blog (6-15-24)

Eco-anxiety

We’re headed into a hot summer. This week, heat indexes over 100 stretch across the eastern US, while 1,200 people have already been evacuated due to wildfires near Los Angeles. Last year was the warmest year on record by a wide margin (>2°F above the 20th-century average. The bad news doesn’t end there. We are always finding new and innovative ways to poison ourselves. The threat to our health from air pollution caused by combustion is significant (7 million deaths per year). Rivers and lakes receive our wastes, including plastics and pharmaceuticals. Yes, we share our antibiotics, contraceptives, ibuprofen, antidepressants, caffeine, and other drugs with other humans, and aquatic biota. Veterinary drugs are also discharged to surface waters in runoff from manure and aquaculture. As a result, antibiotic resistance is projected to cause as many as 10 million deaths per year by 2050.

‘Eco-anxiety’ – is the chronic fear of future deterioration and risk. Symptoms may include stress, anxiety, depression, grief and feelings of loss, and cause tension in social relationships. Feelings of discouragement can overwhelm those who want to address ecological problems. We may either feel guilt or project blame onto others. It can turn us against each other, blaming those making marginally different lifestyle choices.

A recent study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology (yes, there is such a journal!) found that environmental concerns and concerns about climate change increase as individuals reach mid-life. Those at highest risk are those with two personality traits: openness to experience and neuroticism. Likely, people become more open and more aware of the impacts of climate change with age. Those who became more neurotic over time showed corresponding increases in environmental concern, leading to negative emotions.

How do we avoid eco-anxiety? Remember the serenity prayer, ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ Consider these rules for ecological discernment. Experience life and nature as a gift. Value forms of happiness that do not depend on the pursuit of property. Embrace simplicity by replacing the fear of missing out with the joy of missing out. Practice virtues (wisdom, justice, courage, temperance, wonder, patience, empathy, and humor) leading to good choices when facing complicated ecological problems. Ecological consolation comes from imagining the voices of our grandchildren, the poor, and nature and taking small steps toward living an environmentally conscious life. Here at Westside, we can act locally (on our grounds) and in the wider community. For example, mark your calendars to join us July 6th to visit ReFill Knoxville. Remember that others may be following different, but equally valid paths to improving our world. We can foster optimism by seeking out news sources that highlight solutions. We can by spend more time outdoors together. Whether you are passionate about hiking, gardening, lobbying for and using clean energy, or education, we welcome your enthusiasm and creativity.

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