Have you ever – like me – stood bewildered in the grocery aisle, trying to make a selection that keeps in mind both the family budget and the environment? When I was in graduate school, the professor for my “Climate Change and Human & Planetary Health” class asked students to track the carbon footprint of our meals for a day. As a born-and-raised Wisconsinite, it was near heartbreaking to learn that cheese has an extremely high carbon footprint (e.g. producing 6 ounces of cheese creates about 3 kg of CO2, while the same amount of potatoes creates about .06 kg of CO2). Being a consumer and meanwhile an environmentalist is complex business – and it can be downright anxiety inducing.
Author and environmental studies professor, Sarah Jaquette Ray, writes about this debilitating feeling in her book, “A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety.” She tells the story of a student who wrote a paper about her own environmental values:
Taking “zero impact” to its nihilistic endgame, she reduced her footprint by literally reducing the physical space she took up. At a grocery store, when she could not decide on a purchase that would not “somehow contribute to ecological, social, and personal health problems,” she would “leave without food altogether, deciding that it was better to go hungry than to make the wrong decision.”
Jaquette Ray came to realize that teaching students to be aware of and horrified by all of the environmental problems was not in fact empowering them to make a difference. It was racking them with guilt and leading them to feel powerless…hopeless. She decided to change tack.
Anxiety to Action
Changing climate anxiety into climate action means, for her, teaching resilience and making emotions a tangible part of climate change and environmental education. It means focusing on things that are going well, amplifying them, and “[disciplining] your mind to choose and create the world you desire.”
And some young activists are taking note. They’re saying “Ok, Doomer,” we’ve had enough of climate inaction and eco-grief, we’re ready for change. Recently, a video from climate activist and Youtuber, Ankur Shah, came across my desk. His video is below and I’d summarize his ideas for action into the following six steps:
- Learn about current and future solutions: organizations like Project Drawdown and Regeneration offer lists of ideas that you might enact as an individual or on a larger scale.
- Understand the multiple levels of action you can take (1) as an individual (2) with friends and family (3) within your community and local institutes, and (4) at the economic, systemic, or policy level. Some believe that the most impact can be made at level 3, which includes encouraging change that is scalable and replicable at institutions you are already a part of (i.e. work, neighborhood, school, or city).
- Assess your current job: is it harming the environment and if so, how might you make changes within your workplace to mitigate harm? Or maybe it’s time to change your career to one that’s focused specifically on climate solutions – you can use Climatebase or Terra.do to start your search.
- If you’re a parent, teacher, or educator, know that you are defining future generations in profound ways – teaching about permaculture, a connection with nature, and changing young peoples’ perspectives on nature and climate change is important work: suggested resources include CLEAN (climate and energy education), the Maine Environmental Education Association, and ClimateScience.
- Find climate coalitions for community action to stay engaged and find support: possible places to get involved include Citizens Climate Lobby or the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others.
- Remember that climate action can be exhausting so staying focused and uplifted is important.
See Shah’s full video and resources here:
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