• Carli Van Stolk

How To Cope With Climate Anxiety

The state of the world right now is no joke. Living in British Columbia, this wildfire season is unlike any other. There are thousands of hectares of burning forests, hundreds of displaced people, thousands of exhausted firefighters, and countless dead plants and animals. And these numbers don't factor in the long-term impacts of this single season—in one corner of the earth. With unprecedented floods in Germany, India, and beyond, climate anxiety—the feeling of environmental doomis felt across the globe. The IPCC report stating that these disasters will worsen only intensifies this. But what can be done? How do you cope with climate anxiety?

I am certainly no psychologist, but I do have my bachelor's degree in environmental studies. After incorporating lessons from my degree, navigating my own climate anxiety, and doing more research, here are some actions I take to cope with climate anxiety.

1. Get involved in politics.

Individual action only does so much. Not that we shouldn't all lessen our environmental footprints—we absolutely should—but we must put people in power who care to enact meaningful change. Although Justin Trudeau's government has been relatively climate-sincere, they can do better. The Trudeau administration purchased the Kinder Morgan pipeline—which is at significant risk of oil spills—and on top of that, spent an additional $18 billion in 2020 alone to fund oil and gas exploration, production, refining, transportation, and more. These actions reinforce our dependency on oil and gas instead of transitioning Canada to renewable energy. Pivoting to renewables is not only the way of the future but is necessary to meet the IPCC targets. With the upcoming federal election, it's essential to keep this in mind. And national politics are only one piece of the puzzle. Remember that local, municipal, and provincial politics are influential, too.

Getting involved in politics helps mitigate climate anxiety because you don't feel as helpless: you have a positive impact where it counts. Systemic change is what we truly need to make a difference.

A picture of someone filling out a ballot. Getting involved in politics is an action that can help mitigate climate anxiety.

2. Take news breaks.

It's essential to stay up-to-date with the news. Learning about others' experiences sparks empathy and motivates us to act. But there's a fine line. The media almost exclusively focuses on negative information. Today alone, my news cycle was dominated by footage of the BC wildfires, the rising coronavirus cases, and people fleeing Afghanistan. It's overwhelming. On top of other news, climate crisis news reinforces feelings of impending doom, worry, and hopelessness. All this to say is: although staying informed is necessary, take it with a grain of salt. Try limiting your intake. And for information about the climate crisis, sometimes you may need extended breaks (days or weeks) altogether.

3. Do your part.

This section is purposefully listed after #1. We all have our part, but governments and large corporations play a more significant role. Hold those bodies accountable.

When lessening your environmental footprint, pick your areas of impact. You can't do it all. For me, I eat primarily vegetarian and buy fewer clothes. When I shop, I buy second-hand from Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace, consignment shops, and thrift stores. I also make more of a concerted effort to drive less, carpool, and bike more. Lastly, I try to reduce my energy usage by keeping our thermostat down in the winter. For this upcoming winter, I plan to add window insulation to reduce our energy usage and save money. Areas to work on are conserving water when washing dishes and keeping lights off when possible. I chose these areas because they are the most relevant to me and my lifestyle. As one person, I can only do so much in the world that we live in. I recognize that I will never have no environmental footprint, and that's okay.

The impact of these actions is small in the big scheme of things, but they can help ease my anxiety because they give me hope. They make me feel like I'm contributing to something more significant. Hopefully, they inspire others to do their part, too. If enough of us implement our own practices, it can make a difference.

An image of a bike leaned up against a wall. Individual actions, like biking, can reduce our environmental footprint and help mitigate climate anxiety.

Ultimately, climate anxiety is a problem that many of us—particularly younger generations—deal with daily. However, although my climate anxiety is real, I am privileged. My anxiety has not been, and will never be, as significant as those severely impacted by the climate crisis—specifically Indigenous communities in Canada, who first-hand feel the impacts of the climate crisis due to environmental racism. Indigenous peoples have always lived in balance with the earth. Their teachings can reduce our collective ecological footprint. To help mitigate climate anxiety for all, Indigenous voices must be centered.

What are actions you take to cope with climate anxiety? I would love to hear.

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