Is the future of the planet making you depressed? Congratulations, you have Eco-Anxiety.
The Amazon is on fire. The Amazon is on fire and the ice caps are melting and all day every day trucks grumble up and down endless motorways, guzzling fuel, emitting poison, carrying frightened cattle destined for slaughter. Farmland in the UK is well on it’s way to being destroyed, animals are suffering, THE AMAZON IS ON FIRE.
Baby turtles die with plastic straws, cast aside by a tipsy consumer who argues (quite rightly) that straws have no place in a martini, in their noses. Birds fall from the sky, their insides contorted and destroyed with by-products of convenience. Tampon applicators, face wipes, cotton buds, they wash up on UK beaches in their millions.
And the Amazon is on fire.
The Amazon: the world’s largest rainforest, popularly known as the lungs of the world. It contains over a third of the world’s remaining rainforest. The Amazon is described by WWF as a key ally in fighting the climate crisis with the trees containing up to 140 billion tonnes of carbon, which is more than humans produce in 100 years. Despite covering only 1% of the planet’s surface, the Amazon is home to 10% of all the wildlife species we know about. The fires are a direct result of soaring deforestation rates to clear or prepare land for agriculture and cattle farming. More than a football field worth of Amazon forest is falling every minute.
As I sit here now drinking a cup of coffee, the Amazon is on fire. As I lay in bed last night reading my book, the Amazon was on fire and the day before that, and the day before that and the day before that. It’s been on fire.
Without meaning to be dramatic: the world is ending. OK, fine, I did mean to be a ~bit~ dramatic, but it’s probable true.
The state that the world is now in and its current trajectory is more than frightening. It’s devastating and heart-breaking and scary and awful and utterly inevitable.
The world is shrouded in a cloak, a suffocating cloak of light pollution and over population and fast fashion and mass production. We are catapulting ourselves into the abyss and it is as alarming, as anxiety-inducing as anything else I can think of.
No longer something that just hairy women and men in sandals harp on about, the devastating consequence of humanity on the Earth is now widely acknowledged.
Whether or not we act on the (often overwhelming) advice we are bombarded with on a daily basis, we know now the importance of recycling, the horrific realties of the meat industry, the repercussions of single use plastic, the effect that our car fuel is having, why we can’t leave the tap running whilst we are doing our teeth.
There are lots of ways in which we must be better; I’ve written before about this, the weight on the shoulders of young people and what it feels like to be a part of “generation guilt” and to live with a constant feeling that you are not doing enough. If anything, these feelings have worsened in the nine months since I wrote that.
It doesn’t help that the Amazon is on fire.
I chastise myself for leaving the house without my bag for life, I hate myself for succumbing to temptation and buying a bottle of water, I feel an overwhelming guilt with every juicy bite of meat I take.
I am consistently doing my bit and hyper aware that I am not doing my best.
I don’t do my best.
I eat meat although I hate that I do. I get on planes and I drive my car. I hate fast fashion but I love new clothes. I stay too long in the shower. I drink a lot of coffee and don’t always remember a recyclable cup, I use tampax because that’s what I want to do.
I do not do enough. And yet I’m still probably doing more than most, and this is where my eco-anxiety kicks in.
Everywhere I look there is not enough and it worries me, all the time. It is becoming more than just a niggling feeling, something to accompany “take clothes to dry cleaners” on the to-do list (probably in itself something that I shouldn’t be doing in my bid to be sustainable), a fun little passion project that I will no doubt tire of in time. It has become crippling. This constant state of eco-anxiety. Of wanting to stand up and scream and shout and beg for someone, somewhere, to do something because this can’t be real.
I have entirely lost my cool. I am feeling this shit deeply.
Someone got our bins mixed up the other day and put the remnants of his curry in our recycling bin and I shouted at him to leave the house. I had to fight, hard, to keep back tears whilst in conversation with a guy last week who said he’d continue to eat fast food every day regardless of had to happen to the animals that go into his burgers. I regularly find myself bin-diving at home after Alex throws away another plastic bag.
We don’t need it, Em!! It’s just taking up space, we have thousands already.
WELL WE’D RATHER IT IN THIS HOUSE THAN AROUND THE HEART OF A WHALE WOULDN’T WE? PUT IT BACK AND WE WILL HAVE ONE THOUSAND AND ONE!!!
On an individual basis I try to hold myself and my friends accountable. I am aware of my extraordinary privilege in both my being a middle class white woman and having had a brilliant education and I know that to an extent this enables me to make so many of the positive changes I have, with relative ease. I will spend more money on organic food, was educated at a time when global warming was on the syllabus and was taught ways in which we could come together to prevent it and have enough time to make necessary changes to my own life. I am incredibly fortunate to have the resources I do, and recognise the part they play in my own story.
I also recognise my ignorance. In my area of South West London, the conversation is very different to the ones happening elsewhere; where fast food is the most time and cost effective option, where the council don’t come and collect recycling bins, where straws are not just decorative parts of a cocktail, rather a means of allowing a disabled person to drink.
My priorities are different to other people’s in other places and I think this makes the conversation harder to have. We are in a vast expanse of micro-climates and the one thing that strikes me about that is how very small we, as individuals, are.
My plight and my efforts will be different to yours and although the argument remains: it is better to do something than do nothing, there is no denying that none of our somethings are enough.
On our own we are too small.
And perhaps it’s the fiercely independent do gooder in me, or maybe just the realisation that it is quite literally impossible in it’s current state, I am feeling the effects of eco-anxiety hugely. And I’m not on my own with it. This is a feeling shared by so many young people.
We know that is coming. We know what is happening. And we know that nothing we do will be enough. We are too small. And that is horrifying.
The Amazon is burning and no one is talking about it.
We might be on the way to acknowledging a problem, but we are far too far from finding a solution. For a fire in an abandoned building in France there was headline news for days $1 billion pledged for restorations. For the lungs of the World there was $20 million (which has apparently been rejected by the Brazilian Government) and a distinct lack of news coverage, particularly strange given that it is August and there is literally never anything in the papers in August that could be taking precedent over this… other than the way in which Meghan Markle has crossed her legs, obviously.
We are a world in denial. A people not willing to believe because it would mean acknowledging fault, accepting responsibility and vowing to make a change. It would cost too much.
So whilst I order my coffee in the keep-cup I drag all over London with me and pass up on the £4 t-shirt of my dreams coz #sustainability, the Amazon burns and the factories mass produce and farmers use pesticides killing the land that we all live off and Trump says it’s fake news and the Chinese Government don’t give a fuck and it all ends up in the sea anyway so what’s the point?
Seriously, what is the bloody point?
The world is full of people that are scared and sad and desperate to make a change. Who recognise the true cost of convenience on our planet. Eco-anxiety is a thing and it’s made harder by the fact that at every step of the way there are powerful people working tirelessly to discredit the findings, to undermine the cause and to stand in the way of positive progress.
Ask Emma Thompson, accused of hypocrisy for flying to a climate change gathering in New York to help raise VITAL awareness (the outcome of which, I’m sure, when measured, would outweigh the fuel emitted from a flight that was taking off anyway). Ask her why she didn’t fucking swim there instead.
Ask Leonardo DiCaprio more about his interest in women young enough to be his daughter because that’s more interesting than his foundation and his environmental work and his donation of $5m to help put out the fires in the Amazon.
Ask Greta Thunberg why she thinks the puffed up men representing western media are so hell bent on bringing her down, on poking holes, judging, belittling and talking over her. Ask her why they fixate on her age and her asperger’s and her parents and her appearance rather than what she has to say.
Someone, please, find out why they aren’t listening. Because they can hear me, they will hear this and they’ll let me know what they think. They will tell me that Greta has pushy parents and that Leonardo is into some weird sex stuff and that Emma is a bad actress (a crime worse than putting curry in my recycling bin, by the way) and they will do this damndest to prove me wrong.
They need to prove us wrong.
They call us snowflakes and they mock our reactionary tendencies; they declare that vegan food is revolting and they baulk when we tell them we’d rather cycle than drive. They laugh and they poke fun and they dismiss us and it doesn’t make sense because we are trying to help but it’s hard and no one is listening and the Amazon is on fire and what is the bloody point?
We are trying. A recently married friend of mine told me recently that she thinks she may not have children, such is her eco-anxiety surrounding overpopulation and climate change.
Having rescued battery farmed chickens a few weeks ago I have found myself unable to buy eggs since. I cannot move amongst my friends for finding vegans and vegetarians. They’re selling their cars and doing research and saying no to plastic and only shopping in charity shops. Here are the people seeing bad and doing something.
Something that isn’t enough. Even with all the resources and the money and the time, even in this privileged little bubble that surrounds London with our tote bags and total contempt for palm oil, these are people who on their own are not enough. And we know it.
It’s exhausting. Lonely and depressing and, is it futile? It’s sad and EXHAUSTING and yet it’s imperative.
The solution to climate change and the subsequent problems will not be you remembering your bag for life every day, nor will the planet turn into a burning inferno any sooner if you forget it.
It is perhaps not our actions, rather, our attitudes that will pull us from this mess.
It will not be the fighting and the demanding and the sacrificing that will save us, it will be our willingness to fight and demand and sacrifice.
It will be the tenacity we have and our strength in the face of those too self satisfied, too self interested, too fucking stupid to recognise the damage that they are doing. It is our refusal to shut up. It is by our willingness to have the conversations we don’t want to have and push the people that we don’t want to push. It’s calling out the bad and demanding better. It’s bin diving and litter picking and arguing and its sacrificing.
It’s a sacrificing and it’s asking others to sacrifice too.
It’s helping others and supporting those who are trying to help. It’s listening and trying and reading and learning.
It is us harnessing the eco-anxieties that we have collected and the feelings that we can’t stop feeling, thrust onto us by generation’s passed that will evoke the positive change that this world needs.
It is a promise to do our best.