A practical guide to dealing with eco-anxiety

Climate change is taking a greater toll on the world and eco-anxiety is on the rise as we deal with the role we played in it. But there are ways you can assuage your climate grief, minimize your carbon footprint and help the world become a better place.

Whether you call it eco-anxiety, climate grief or eco-guilt, it’s the same thing.

New research from RMIT reveals that undergraduate students’ emotional responses to environmental changes span anxiety, frustration, overwhelm, guilt and grief.

With household names such as David Attenborough warning of the “irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies” and the UN saying there are only 12 years left to avoid “climate catastrophe,” it’s no wonder that millennials are despairing about what we are doing to the planet.

Asher Bowen-Saunders, whose Instagram handle is @naginya_way, is one of them.

The 26-year-old dancer from the Gold Coast grew up in what she thought was a family of environmentalists. Although she learnt to recycle and take short showers from an early age, it wasn’t until she was 19 that she realized she was only doing “the bare minimum.”

“I blinded myself to how much impact I was having on the planet,” she said.

“I had a massive wake up call at university. I’d been vegetarian for 10 years and thought that was the be all and end all, but then I had this moment when I was eating a muesli bar while standing out the front of mainstream supermarket and thought, ‘OMG for the sake of me having 20 seconds worth of food, this plastic wrapper has to stay on the planet for 400 years.’”

Realizing the impact her lifestyle had on the planet was a sobering moment.

“One of the most devastating places to be is that first waking up period where you start to see the thing you do in your life as potentially harmful. You feel you should change everything all at once,” she said.

Bowen-Saunders said it was a lonely experience being labelled the “weird green hippy friend.” She felt that her efforts were pointless until she found a community that was also “living more compassionately.”

“Lauren Singer is the poster girl of waste free living, it blew my life to see what I wanted to do was actually possible, that people could live sustainably, compassionately and in abundance,” she said.

“I now teach waste-free living online at The Waste-Free Way, which shows people how to transition to waste-free living. It’s important that people have a positive relationship with their new lifestyle so they don’t resent it.

“It’s hard to change it all at once, but if you change at your own pace and welcome it, it’s a positive experience that will last for lifetime.”

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Here are eight practical, positive changes that will make a difference to the planet

Change how you use your car

A study from Sweden’s Lund University ranked 148 individual actions on climate change according to their impact. Going car-free was up there, it can reduce 2.5 tonnes of CO2 or about a quarter of your annual emissions. If it’s not possible to walk, ride or take public transport think about borrowing a car from your neighbours or via sharing platforms like Car Next Door.

Fly less

Backing up the first point, transport is the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. Flight shame is now a thing.

A transatlantic round-trip can release around 1.6 tonnes of CO2, almost as much as the average yearly emissions of one person in India. We’re not telling you to never board a plane again, but consider offsetting the carbon through something like CarbonBack, which purchases government carbon-offset for the carbon generating activity.

Cut back on meat and dairy

Researchers at the University of Oxford found that not eating meat and dairy products can slash a person’s carbon footprint by up to 73%. That’s because raising cattle contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and uses a high amount of water and land. If you thought of cattle as its own nation, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US.

You don’t have to go vegan, but simply cutting back and buying local and organic will make a difference.

Get smarter with your energy use

Australia produces around three times more energy than we consume, mostly coming from non-renewable sources such as coal, natural gas and petroleum.

By simply switching to energy-efficient light bulbs, unplugging electronics when they’re not being used and picking appliances based on Energy Star labels, you can reduce your carbon footprint.

The federal government’s Energy Made Easy site is a simple way to do a quick home energy audit.

Change how you shop

Fast fashion is fast contributing to environmental decline: there’s the cost of transport, the plastic it comes packaged in and the toll producing all that cheap fabric takes on the environment. Think about repairing clothing, shopping second hand, buying less or even renting outfits from sites such as Her Wardrobe.

Keep the conversation going

Talking about the problem is actually a good way to bring about change, especially since people are more likely to trust peers, family and loved ones more than experts, scientists and newspapers when it comes to the debate around climate change. The David Suzuki Foundation’s new CliMate conversation coach helps people navigate those difficult, but important, conversations.

Hold off on having kids

A Lund University study found that having fewer children is actually the best way to reduce your contribution to climate change, with almost 60 tonnes of C02 avoided each year.

Change the way you bank

Do you know where your bank or superannuation fund invests the money they handle in your name? Since 2008, Australia’s big four banks have loaned $70 billion to fossil fuel projects. So ask the question, because they’re likely to invest in industries such as mining which don’t align with your ethics.