For me, it struck hardest watching David Attenborough’s latest series ‘Our Planet’. The polar bears struggling to survive, the altered migration paths of whole species and the devastating decline of wildlife by 60% across the world. It filled me with overwhelming guilt and disgust at not only myself, but the whole human race. However it was one of Attenborough’s opening statements, delivered with such gentle but immense impact that only Attenborough can do, that haunted me the most. Twenty years – we have 20 years to act now on climate change before it’s too late. Beyond this, the damage we have inflicted on the planet is irreversible.
It’s not a number I can simply forget about. A number of years so distant and beyond my lifetime that I can ignore hoping that the generation below me will solve instead. It’s a period of time that I can see myself in clearly. I can even see myself with children – taking them to places I know and love around the world as well as discovering new wonders with them. But will they see the same version of a world that I have? Will the pink river dolphins that I saw in Bolivia or the turtles in the Great Barrier Reef just be mythical creatures they can only imagine when I tell stories at bedtime? Quite possibly.
It is this fact, that 20 years really isn’t that long at all, that fills me with immeasurable anxiety and dread in equal parts. We really don’t have long to save the world.
But one thing I’ve learnt talking to other travellers, who like me, are in a dilemma about wanting to see the world but in the same breath fearing the consequences of doing so, is that I am not alone.
Although no official stats have been done to measure this mental phenomenon, psychologists all over the world are noting an increase in what they call ‘eco-anxiety’, a worry of the ecological threats facing the earth.
Chatting to some friends, I notice that it is the frequent travellers who especially experience environmental anxiety-like symptoms (though of course it is by no means limited to them). When I asked a friend I met in Sri Lanka why, I think she summed it up pretty well: “seeing it all first-hand – the pollution churning out, the oceans, rivers and beaches covered in litter and people and animals being actually affected by global warming, it really hits you. When people don’t leave their home town, well then of course they could be mistaken in believing that climate change doesn’t even exist.”
Eco-anxiety for many people has now initiated changes in the way they travel, or has even meant they are reducing travelling overseas altogether.
For me, eco-anxiety has also altered the way I approach travelling: I now pay to counteract my carbon emissions every time I book a flight, I opt for public transport over short flights, I adhere to a leave no trace policy. I’ve altered my lifestyle considerably too – cutting out red meat, switching to dairy-free food products, reducing plastic usage and so on. But is it enough? No – probably alone it isn’t. But the more of us that do this, we in turn become united as one force. Our needs and wants as consumers and citizens will shape the actions of governments and corporations who have the power to do the most.
As much as I would not wish regular fear and anxiety on anyone, at the same time, I am glad that more and more people are experiencing it in this capacity. At least people are now becoming aware of the ticking time bomb of climate change, and with worrying about the future, hopefully comes an increase in action.
So let’s hope we come out from cowering under the covers and channel our anxieties into change. Sign those petitions, join those protests outside the houses of parliament, cut down the number of trips we take, educate our peers on the seriousness of this cause. Let’s get our voices heard and allow our actions to speak even louder. Yes we are only one person, but we cannot underestimate the change we can accomplish when we gang up together.
So, with a bit of luck, it looks like eco-anxiety could just be the start of something big…
If you want to learn about some really simple ways to minimise your environmental impact, have a read of my other post ‘