A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to be… anxious?

I was recently interviewed for an article on “eco-anxiety” forthcoming in Your Environment, a magazine published by the Environmental Agency. The question was, is there such a thing as “eco-anxiety”? It’s a term we hear bandied about increasingly – a handy tagline and handle, that somehow sums up all those messy, tangled and sticky issues about how we are to live in our future world, sustainably, peacefully, and in coexistence with our non-human neighbours. It’s feeding into a whole new industry of “eco-therapists” who hope to help ease and channel anxiety into action and practices.

What is your current eco-anxiety level? You can now take a quiz to find out. In the famous opening scene of “Sex, Lies and Videotape” we see Andie MacDowell shamefully confessing to her therapist about being haunted by images of rubbish barges circling the globe, with no where to put the mountains of waste. We found this amusing back in 1989, but if a film portrayed a character in the grips of anxiety about any number of pressing ecological threats today, we are more likely to see this as a sign of the times. Maybe even reassuring or affirming.

My response to whether there is such a thing as “eco-anxiety” is both yes and no. Of course, more people are starting to experience anxiety about climate change, loss of habitats and the threats of natural disasters, among other things, because we hear more about it in the news and in some parts of the world, the changes are becoming tangible and real. But whether we need to label this phenomenon as “eco-anxiety” is another matter. It is time for us to stop seeing ourselves and our concerns as somehow separate from the “eco” part of the equation. It is not so much about eco anxiety, as the realisation that we cannot continue living as if resources are endless and our actions have no consequences. It is time to stop seeing the human being as somehow exempt, or separate, from the biotic webs and networks in which we live and depend on.

By signalling anxieties as “eco” we are continuing to reify this dualism, the practice of splitting up the world between human and “nature” or “eco”. This dualism is ultimately false. It is a perceptual error, costing us (and future generations) irreparable damage to our precious and awesome natural heritage that we, as humans, inherited. It is time we start seeing all matters as inherently “eco” and inherently “green”. Is it time to drop the hyphenated worldview, and start seeing ourselves as one part of a dynamic, complex whole that desperately needs us to change our ways of being?

Am I anxious? Yes. Very. But as Freud pointed out, one of the best ways of managing anxiety is to begin by naming and acknowledging it, and addressing its root causes. It’s time to get dirty, busy and organised.

Posted by Renee Lertzman

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