Eco-anxiety as a driving force for change

Several studies show that young people are particularly affected by eco-anxiety.
Credit: Espace pour la vie/Mélanie Dusseault
Plusieurs études démontrent que les jeunes sont particulièrement touchés par l’écoanxiété.
  • Plusieurs études démontrent que les jeunes sont particulièrement touchés par l’écoanxiété.
  • Pour diminuer notre niveau d’écoanxiété, on peut pratiquer des activités extérieures dans les parcs urbains et prendre des bains de forêt.
Eco-anxiety as a driving force for change

We’re sitting around the table with my 14-year-old daughter and her five friends and talking about the magnificent nature that surrounds us. Then it occurs to me to ask whether any of them experience eco-anxiety. All of them answer in the affirmative. I’m not that surprised, and I realize that the understanding and expression of that feeling differ from person to person.

So I set myself the task of getting more information, the better to support my two daughters and their buddies in what is a concerning new challenge.

The climate crisis – a stress factor?

The climate crisis is at the heart of environmental catastrophes (flooding, forest fires and droughts). Those catastrophes have an important impact on the communities that undergo them and on the loss of biodiversity. Such disruptions may represent a significant challenge for people’s psychological health and their wellbeing because they increase to feelings of fear, sadness, anger, helplessness and even distress – all of them associated with the phenomenon of eco-anxiety, according to research carried out by Anne-Sophie Gousse-Lessard, associate professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal’s Institut des sciences de l’environnement.

Climate change has a grip on our future, and that’s troubling.

The extent of the phenomenon

An international study, which surveyed 10,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 25 in 10 countries and which appeared in 2021 in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health, reveals that fear and a sense of worry are on the rise among them. The young feel more concerned by environmental issues because their future is at stake.

In Québec, a Léger poll published in September 2021 illustrates that no less than 73 percent of Quebecers from 18 to 34 years old confess to feeling eco-anxiety, and 38 percent of them state that their level of eco-anxiety increased in 2021. The other strata of the population are affected as well: in total, 59 percent of people 18 and over claim to be eco-anxious.

As can be observed, the feeling of anxiety caused by the climate crisis hurts..

Where to begin

Knowing more about the phenomenon and the cause

The preliminary results of Imagine a Future Biosphère, an exhibition that has surveyed close to 6,000 visitors on environmental issues since last June, demonstrate the interest of the public in finding out more about the matter, their interest in having the subject explained and discussed. The mediation teams of the five Space for Life museums offer scientific and artistic activities to help participants understand the impacts of climate change and in so doing contribute to starting a dialogue on these issues with your youngsters.

Welcoming emotions

Isabelle Béliveau, cofounder of Éco-motion, suggests that we welcome our feelings, understand and learn to accept them in order to adapt to climate change. Lastly, she recommends finding our role as individuals to reduce the sense of powerlessness we might feel.

Taking action

According to Rhéa Rocque, lecturer in psychology at the Canadian Mennonite University, the first thing we need to do is to slow down the pace we live at and observe what surrounds us so that we can establish a relationship with living things. Nature is everywhere: we have to learn to appreciate it. To lower our level of eco-anxiety, we can practice outdoor activities in urban parks, and take forest baths. Young people can develop a close relationship with nature by way of projects like the Youth Gardens program, the Cercles des Jeunes Naturalistes and the Biodiversity Challenge, or even the day camps.

At a conference on eco-anxiety, the eco-sociologist Laure Waridel mentioned that the best antidote to this state lies in social activism. There are a number of interesting ways to get involved: for example, participating in environmental or citizen’ groups that protect species at risk.

In conclusion, I’ll be suggesting to my daughters and to young people experiencing eco-anxiety that they break the silence and talk about it with their family and friends. Make small gestures to reclaim a degree of control over the situation, and finally be part of collective actions.

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