From unseen viruses to the unmistakable effects of climate change, threats seemingly bigger than our capacity for change have many of us in the grip of a specific kind of terror. Anita Lowe Taylor says it even has a name.
Here in the Bay Area, it can feel like we are ground zero for climate change. From the heat waves sending fainting seniors en mass to the emergency room, to wildfires that make Mordor feel downright hospitable, this area has induced in me a certain degree of anxiety. As it turns out, I am so unoriginal in these fears that there’s already a name for this: Eco-anxiety.
The American Psychological Association first defined eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom,” which just about sums up my current mental state. As I watch our wilderness replaced with vacation homes, I’m kept up thinking about how, as each generation is born into a world further removed from the one in which our very DNA evolved, we will accept a lower and lower standard for environmental integrity.
Because all the self-help books recommend taking action as remedy, I recently joined a group of medical students addressing the health effects of climate change. This is turning out to be more therapy for me than for the planet, but I soothe myself with how I can at least tell my eventual children how I pontificated at a few meetings.
But in all seriousness, I think that eco-anxiety is well placed. The World Health Organization calls climate change “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.” So of all things for privileged white people like myself to worry about, it’s at least better than stressing over who has the most expensive yoga pants. I also understand that while I have the time and security to become a stress case about these issues, those most likely to suffer — the poor and underserved — do not.