Climate Change and the inescapable sorrow of Eco-Anxiety

Sunday, September 29, 2019


If you are having sleepless nights mired in anxiety about the overwhelming existential crisis of ClimateChange;
having panic attacks over being utterly helpless in the face of global inaction and unawareness,
feeling you are alone in the realisation that the world is literally burning its future in front of your eyes,
and no one except you seem to be seeing it for what it is.

You are not alone.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

We, the common people, are now merely sharing the burden with thousands of depressed and anxious climate scientists whose studies & warnings were categorically ignored for decades. In fact, the condition is so widespread now, we even have a term for it– eco-anxiety. And this anxiety is fully justified, you are not being alarmist or paranoid. There, you now realise you are not alone in this, right?

[To the old blog readers who don’t follow me on Instagram, if you are wondering why this odd post on climate change suddenly, here’s why. I’ve been doing weekly posts on Instagram on climate change for few months now, decoding the science behind climate change and talking about why it is an issue we cannot ignore anymore. This post here is an extensions of that series.]

But how do we cope with this gargantuan grief? If you are even a slightly aware and empathetic person, unfortunately I’ve to say there is no escape from it, only managing it, as @carapiranha beautifully put it few days ago.

Earlier this year, I was deep in the pits of despair over this very same eco-anxiety. I couldn’t function normally, it felt like constantly carrying a heavy burden on my heart fully knowing no amount of crying or screaming would help me get over the sadness or paralysis induced by fear of future. The last nail in the coffin was when I had a conversation with old friends who seemed totally unbothered by climate change. But somehow miraculously, here I am “preaching” to you today on how to handle ecological grief.

So what changed and what helped? Few things, let me break it down for you. It may read like hollow words from a self-help guru to begin with, but stay till the end, I have insights for you, I promise.

  1. Letting the grief run through me first. I had to accept it as it is, give it time to attack me and give myself time to wallow before I could even think of getting back up. You can see these posts here, here and here to see how depressed I was.
  2. Finding support. Grief is a universal condition. Everyone has faced it at some point in their lives and many have found ways to overcome it. And thankfully, they have lessons for us. I reached out to those who faced much tougher setbacks in life and continue to rise upto the challenge with grace. And they told me to be patient, keep faith and stay strong, and that a path will appear. Simple words really but they are surprisingly effective. The resilience of other people turned out be to my strength and hope when things looked really down for me. This sounds very gospel like, I know. And I’m a total atheist but here’s the life story of a real life hero whose internal struggle and eventual life trajectory explains this idea - Your Call to Adventure: The story of a young man who turned his suffering into one of the greatest works ever.
  3. Finding community. Now this is very important. I had about a handful of people with whom I could sit and cry over the fate of our future but I had no real community with this shared concern so to speak. Once I decided I had to do something about climate change myself and started talking about it here, I suddenly found a community! I do not feel alone or helpless anymore. I feel understood and find solidarity, feels like I now have support from those who share similar concerns as me.
  4. Taking action. I think this is the most important thing that helped me. Now that I decided I’m going to “spread awareness” about climate change, I had to read up on it first. And just like that, as the others told me, I happened to find a purpose and a meaning that drove me from within. And not surprisingly, with all the new information I was gathering, I not only understood the challenges of climate change but I was also seeing few people fight tooth and nail despite the overwhelming odds. Knowledge is truly power. And optimism, faith and hope are truly contagious.
  5. Finally, acknowledging the reality and letting go of the anger. I was full of anger before because neither did I understand the complexity of the crisis nor the valid limitations. I wouldn’t leave angry comments on twitter or instagram over every new devastating update, but in my mind I would be screaming profanities at how the world is going to the dogs. Now the anger persists over valid issues and inequalities but it isn’t the single emotion painting my entire interaction with this defining existential crisis of our time. My climate change outrage has now become climate change concern/action and I cannot tell you how liberating it feels to let go of that incapacitating anger.

Does this mean I’m not sad or angry anymore over climate change? Not at all. But I now know how to manage it a bit better and not let the fear paralyse me. I now know to recognise little rays of hope and not let the overwhelming nature of climate crisis make me an outright cynic. I now know to have faith in the process and in the resilience of humans overall.

Are you now wondering what are these little rays of hope I speak of? For that, we need to learn to zoom out and see the larger picture much beyond instant headlines and standalone events.

  1. Consider the rise of citizen movements like Extinction Rebellion, Sunrise Movement and FridaysforFuture among others where young people are putting so much pressure on the governments that climate change is a political issue now. And last January we neither had Greta Thunberg nor Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez but today they have both become fierce advocates of climate action. Love ‘em or hate ‘em but there’s no ignoring them and their message anymore. AOC’s Green New Deal is now a talking point and several new US presidential hopefuls have coopted variations of this proposal. And to think no one heard of either of them before last year!
  2. That just four years ago, climate change was a non issue in US politics yet today we have several candidates running campaigns on climate action. But if you are wondering how do US politics affect us in India? Well that’s the thing with climate crisis, no country is immune to it and the largest polluters must take most responsibility to handle the fallout. US’s cumulative global emissions are 400 billion tonnes of Co2 historically, largest of any country globally. Even today, US accounts for 14.6% of total global annual Co2 emissions. So it is very good news that climate change is an election issue there today. While we don’t know who’s going to win and if at all they will act on climate crisis, for now this is a ray of hope we can hang on to. Climate crisis is a fight that’ll not end in our lifetime and we need to keep getting back up and as long as we have encouraging signs like these, we may be just fine.
  3. Surprisingly, despite India’s terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection, India actually is on track to meeting the National Determined Contributions as agreed in Paris Agreement. Paris Agreement is where individual country Co2 contributions were decided and very few countries are on track the meeting the emission cuts as per the agreement. So it is positively surprising that we have still managed to shift to renewable energy production and bring down our Co2 emissions as planned. (Take this news with a pinch of salt because it is individual government’s responsibility to report numbers to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCC) and our current government famously lies about its achievements vis-à-vis Balakot airstrike deaths, economy/employment is fine, demonetisation benefits, all is normal in Kashmir etc etc)
  4. Big corporates(aka big polluters) are acknowledging and working towards minimising or fully eliminating their carbon footprint. BOSCH, the German automotive and engineering giant declared it would be fully Carbon Neutral (as in extra carbon emissions that cannot be avoided will be offset by buying carbon credits or sequestration techniques) by 2020! MAERSK, world’s largest commercial cargo & shipping company pledged to go carbon neutral by 2030 and achieve a zero carbon emission goal by 2050. Helsinki, the Finnish capital has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2035. Coming to India, did you know that Delhi airport is the first carbon neutral airport in Asia-Pacific and several other GMR run airports are on their way to getting the carbon neutral accreditation? Yeti Airlines flight I flew in Nepal over the last few weeks is also a carbon neutral airline. Industry leaders taking carbon emissions seriously not only sends a strong signal to other corporates, it also paves the path for lesser companies that do not have money or resources to invest in research & development to go carbon neutral or net zero using the technology and learnings from bigger companies.
  5. Over 170 news outlets world over, including 5 from India(HT, TOI, The Wire, PARI, News18), pledged to amp up climate change coverage ahead of the critical United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on Sept. 23. where the world’s governments will submit plans to meet the Paris Agreement’s pledge to keep global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. And Guardian has already changed its language to convey the urgency and severity of the climate crisis(it is now called climate breakdown!). It is a welcome change to see media step up and understand the need to cover climate change much more than it does now because climate change as a topic is extremely abstract, complex and multi-disciplinary. Communicators need to find ways to make general public understand the gravity and urgency of the situation without falling into the trap of incessant outrage, which would only alienate a vast majority of the people who do not have the basic understanding of the science behind climate change.
  6. And last but not the least, did you see the global climate strike turnout last week?!! Not only youth from major metros in India took to the streets to protest, kids even in Jalgaon striked as part of the global #FridaysforFuture strike! The September 27th 2019 Global protest was likely the largest climate change protest we’ve seen so far with over 2500 events scheduled in over 163 countries worldwide! As per some estimates, upto 6 million participated in the protests worldwide. (WHAAATTT!!!!) That individual teens striking alone in front of their schools have today somehow spearheaded the largest global climate change protest yet is a cause of great joy and hope.

If you look at the world events today, everything is all round depressing. The ice caps are still melting, the floods are not relenting, hurricanes are assaulting non stop, coral reefs are dying, fishes are disappearing, forests are still burning. But the big difference now is that people are acknowledging these things. They aren’t faraway events that do not affect our lives, we all are seeing them affect us in our daily lives. The only thing left to do is to connect the dots for those who do not see how climate change is behind all these exacerbations. Now think of five years ago where we were on the topic of climate change and think of all the strides we’ve made in advancing the conversation today. Individual events matter, they stack up and can lead to huge progress. Seemingly insignificant ideas propagate and can manifest in surprising ways. Greta’s school strike is now a global movement and AOC’s Green New Deal has a life of its own today and if any version of it brings clean energy to the US, the world will be so much better for it.

So you see, while we grieve for the world and seethe in anger over the terrible future we’re hurtling towards, it is also extremely important to acknowledge the strides we’ve taken in the right direction. Because if hope is lost, we’ve lost the fight already. And today I want to tell you that there is still hope. If not for the next generation, we owe it to the scientists who have carried this knowledge/burden for decades, but were ignored, yet they somehow wake up in the morning and still fight to date to save humanity.

And so we must keep faith too, that humanity will come together and triumph.

Come along with me, on a virtual journey! Find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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