written In collaboration with Lorena Gridelli
Interviews conducted and images provided by Ruth Mawia Mwanzia
Young climate activists have been affected by climate anxiety, a mental health disorder that leads to challenging emotions caused by environmental issues. What can be done?
Eco-anxiety (also known as climate anxiety) was defined for the first time in 2017 by the American Psychological Association as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. This phenomenon is widely spread especially among younger generations that feel the weight and the responsibility of this race against time to save the planet. However, it’s fundamental to stop the narrative of eco-anxiety being a psychological reaction of oversensitive young people, and to start representing it as a rational response to catastrophic and traumatic climate events. Clearly, the mental health impact of the climate crisis is one of the many effects that climate change has had on our society, as Anita Soina explained in her interview.
Eco-Anxiety: As Seen By Climate Activist
Anita Soina is a Kenyan climate change activist and founder of the Environmental Organizations “Spice Warriors”, Spice Warriors Kids, and the TV Project “Green Warriors”. She is also an author and was a speaker at the 2021 TEDx, doing all this at 21 while pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in PR and Corporate Communication at the Multimedia University of Kenya.
She and many other young climate activists have been at the forefront of the fight against climate change. Although the fight for this cause is necessary, being aware of the existential threat that is going on in the world and seeing in action from the people in power time after time again has started to weigh on these activists: “Apart from the normal, Climate Anxiety also known as Eco anxiety. It is the fear, anger or stress that develops as a result of being aware of climate change effects.”. This topic reaches activists moreover than the rest of the population, nonetheless, it is not exclusive to them, as eco-anxiety reaches a plethora of people, especially young people, who are aware of the climate crisis. In an international survey carried out in all six inhabited continents, it was found that around half of all young people feel that stress brought upon from the climate crisis affects their everyday life, and over half of them thought the planet was “doomed” .
A Widespread Problem
This phenomenon of eco-anxiety is translating every area of young people’s lives, from how they think about the present to how they are planning their future, with around 40% of young people being worried about whether they should have children and if the world will be able to sustain them. This fear that can be seen as irrational by people less informed is completely understandable to anyone educated about the subject and keeping up with recent developments in the fight against climate change and inaction by international institutions, as Soina stated: “The actions we take today cannot help that much unless we put in more efforts, more favorable policies and push towards 100 percent implementation. Too many conferences, workshops, and so on, to discuss solutions that very few are implemented.”.
How Do We Move From Here?
However, just because being informed of the current state of the world creates this condition amongst young people, it is still the only way to make a reasonable change and to rally the world behind the fight against climate change and climate injustice, and the only way to prevent this to linger on for years to come. The solution to climate anxiety is not becoming misinformed or apathetic to the subject matter, it is twofold.
Practice Sustainability Everyday
We should initially practice sustainability in your everyday life and do whatever you can, no matter how small, to contribute. Even if you know that your contribution is relatively small, acknowledging that you are doing all to your power is a good start to having better mental health.
Advocate For Stronger Climate Education
Then we should advocate for the further spread of education and further action against climate change because that is the only way that future generations will not face the same problems and the only way to help with the crisis, as Soina stated when asked how we can help solve the crisis: “Coming up with policies that help to protect the planet, mass education, mass tree growing to help increase the forest cover, ban single-use plastic with alternatives and including environmental education in the curriculum.”