The year is 2017. This strange headline occupied a considerable amount of real estate in most climate newsletters sitting in people's inboxes but hardly any real estate in their minds. In all likelihood, I too, must have skimmed past it, not knowing anything about cicadas and, to be honest, not even caring enough. Cicadas emerged four years early, so what?
A few days ago, I (now working at a climate tech company) came across this headline again. Surprisingly, I actually read it this time and even more surprisingly, it affected me a lot more.
"But why is that?" I asked myself.
My initial hypothesis was that since I'm a more interested reader now and am more welcoming of new sources of knowledge, it troubled me more.
However, a deeper dive into the subject led me to a different conclusion.
Am I the only one?
As a first step, I wanted to figure out if I was the only one who was feeling it. So, I checked with a few people working in the climate space.
I asked them, "Do you find it depressing to work in climate change?" and here's what they had to say:
"Some days are really bad, honestly, especially when I end up witnessing climate change closely. I recently went scuba diving in the Andamans, and most of the coral reefs are bleached. While the marine ecosystem is still beautiful, looking at the reefs and fishes, there was a constant thought at the back of my head - I am in someone else's home without an invite, and overall as a generation, we don't just enter their home without an invite, we completely ruin it." - Yashika Maheshwari, Strategy Lead, Blue Sky Analytics
"Science has never been more scary. Climate change takes almost 30 years to show its results and now, we can see increasing numbers everyday which is horrifying." - Aarushi Tanwar, IYCN
These conversations gave me renewed confidence to pursue my quest to get to the bottom of this, which led me to the term -- 'eco-anxiety'. It is defined as the fear, loss, sadness, anger, and panic humans feel as they learn about, or see first hand, the impacts of climate change.
⛈ Intensified climate crisis
The past year has probably been one of the most exhausting years for folks in the climate space. Not only was it marred by a host of different climate-induced calamities, but it also saw major developments in the socio-political landscape. From heatwaves to floods to debatable infrastructure bills, this year has seen it all! To add to this, the landmark reportreleased by The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) puts forth a bleak image of the state of the planet.
🗞 Increased Proximity
Working in the climate tech sector, I come across headlines and numbers like these every day. 60% humans this, 35% species that. All affected by one common enemy — climate change. And as these numbers and headlines worsen and my awareness about them intensifies, my mental health deteriorates. Lately, news and imagery like the one below are making things even worse.
🤷♀️ Feeling of helplessness
Working in the climate sector, I feel responsible for playing a part in solving the climate crisis. Often I am faced with the question, am I even making a difference? Will it ever be solved? Also, reverse shaming by corporations with terms like "carbon footprint", which is, in fact, a "devious, manipulative PR sham", to shift the guilt to individuals also leads to a feeling of futility. We need to understand that what we need are systematic level changes and not incremental changes.
"To address climate change, we need to establish a whole new system from the ground up, and thereby kill the old system because when you are doing efficiency plays, you are not accounting for consumption increment in the old system" - Abhilasha Purwar, CEO, Blue Sky Analytics
📢 Big words! No Action!
The world of climate action is distraught with words like climate risk, ESG, net-zero targets - so many sound great mean-nothing words. Using these words and deflecting responsibility is the new greenwashing tactic many organisations have adopted as a smokescreen. There is no way to penetrate this smokescreen as currently, most companies self-report, and there is no quantitative and objective data available. Being a part of this ecosystem that gives me access to this knowledge fuels my doomism!
Finding the balance
After a lot of introspection and research, I realised that the first step towards dealing with eco-anxiety was recognising that it's a rational feeling to have.
"Climate anxiety isn't a pathology. It's a reasonable and healthy response to an existential threat." - Caroline Hickman, Researcher at the University of Bath
In addition to acceptance, the following things have helped me:
When I feel overwhelmed, I usually take a time-out and spend mindful time doing things that make me feel positive and safe. For me, it's usually watching an episode of The Office or picking up my guitar. Interacting with my colleagues, I found that everyone has a different coping mechanism:
"Sometimes the figures are too much to bear, and all the efforts we do to raise awareness and solve the climate crisis seem useless. I take a breather, put on some music on my speaker and enjoy a nice cup of coffee on my balcony as I watch the sky. This reminds me of how lovely our planet is, and even the tiniest effort to save it, matters." - Ajitesh Bohra, Creative Associate, Blue Sky Analytics
Working with others who also want to solve climate change increased my sense of connection and eased the sensation of struggling alone.
"For me, working with grass-root communities and learning more solution based climate change stories has been a constructive approach to overcome my eco-anxiety!" - Aarushi Tanwar, IYCN
While I keep on going back and forth between balance and despair, I also know now that it is this doomism that drives me every day to work towards saving our planet.
If you too want to work towards solving the climate crisis but are unsure of where to begin, listen to what Amber Luong, Head of Partnerships at Blue Sky Analytics has got to say!