As I write this, thick smoke from nearby wildfire fills the ancient lake bed known as Missoula. Our Human Impact on this delicate ecosystem, and the planet as a whole, has brought an end to an era of stability- an era known to Geology as the Holocene - a period of relatively predictable weather patterns and 4 seasons that has allowed our species to adapt and evolve. As humanity marches forward into the Anthropocene Era, we find ourselves surrounded and assailed by the consequences of our own actions: rising sea levels, drier and hotter fire seasons, the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers, and the acidification and poisoning of our water supply.
It is easy to feel powerless and hopeless in the face of these new challenges, especially when those in power do not seem to respond to a Climate Crisis with any sort of urgency. This feeling of despair that washes over many of us- myself included- has been recently coined as "Eco-Anxiety". I have struggled with this feeling and am here to give some tips on how to better manage thoughts and fears about an uncertain future, so that we have the ability to respond to the many challenges we face as a species.
1. Reduce Your Own Carbon Footprint.
I like to say that Human Impact is a force of nature. As all forces of nature that leave lasting changes to our environment, such as wind and water, it is a buildup of small forces that create dramatic change. The very existence of mountains, and places like the Grand Canyon, are the results of geologic forces that may seem insignificant in the moment- like a gust of wind- that add up immeasurably over time. The same goes for our individual actions. While it may not seem like one person can make a huge difference, when you take into consideration that the average person in the U.S. emits about 27 tons of CO2 per year, that adds up to a huge difference.
You may well find that once you start making changes in your life, it spreads to your coworkers, friends, relatives, and even strangers. When I made the decision to go plastic free, just living my daily life made climate action a constant conversation. I've found that most people want to be more conscious of their impact on the earth, but aren't sure how or feel too bogged down with eco-anxiety to act. Once you set an example, watch as your community begins to change.
2. Practice Thought Inquiry.
When I have a stressful thought, whether about the climate or something in my personal life, I take that thought through the process of inquiry. The Work is a process of inquiry developed by Byron Katie, a modern spiritual thinker. This method takes a stressful thought and turns it around, and allows us freedom from the chains of our thoughts and beliefs so that we can act. I'll link the site with the four questions here, where you can also print out worksheets that will help with your inquiry.
When taking some of my thoughts regarding Climate Change through The Work, I was able to identify my beliefs that were holding me back from making changes that would actually help to solve the crisis we face. Without being bound to hopeless, nihilistic thinking, I was able to take steps to reduce my own carbon footprint and help bring awareness to our own impact, including starting the Human Impact Project.
3. Follow the Positive.
Sometimes staying informed can become an addiction, and often your social media feed and news sources can really be a detriment to your overall mental health. Instead of "doom scrolling", seek out some positive news. The truth is that there are plenty of amazing people doing amazing things for our earth every single day, and new technologies and breakthroughs are being developed constantly. I enjoy The Daily Climate's "Good News" newsletter, where they feature positive news about the fight against climate change and give readers a reason to be hopeful every day.
4. Start a Sustainable Garden
Tending to the earth in an intimate way is a great practice to ward off feelings of anxiety, and it also helps the fight against Climate Change directly. If done right, it can help sequester away carbon from our atmosphere and increase the health of the soil. Plants are one of our strongest tools to fight Climate Change, and they are also one of our greatest assets when it comes to mental health. Another way to feel connected to the earth is to start composting. Seeing your food waste turn into healthy, carbon sequestering soil can be really rewarding. A lot of places now offer compostable cups and cutlery, and watching them break down is incredibly fun!
5. Forest Bathing
The practice of shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing, is exactly what it sounds like. If you are able, get out in nature nearby where you live. Hiking isn't even necessary- just meandering around a forest can help. If there are no forests near you, simply observing a flower or tree can work as well. Studies have shown that getting out into a forest in particular has an incredible effect on mental health, and visiting a healthy, thriving forest is encouraging in and of itself.