Eco-anxiety makes me feel like I’m living in an alternate universe
Ever read more devastating news about the climate crisis, only to be baffled by the fact that no one else around you seems to care? You're not alone.
The inside of my head currently operates in two modes: news headlines infinitely looping around the back of my ears to the front of my brain, or total clarity of inevitable doom. I don’t know if this is what people feel like when they start going crazy, but lately, I keep checking if I’ve grown a tin-foil hat or a Russel Brand-style beard.
“What’s the point of saving up and paying off a mortgage if the world won’t exist in 25 years!” a Whatsapp voice note I left my partner shrieks. “I want to spend as much time as I can to try and do everything to stop this madness!” This latest episode of spiralling followed my discovery of a tweet where scientists predict mass death and extinctions by around 2045 due to the climate crisis. Can you blame me?
I’ve always dreamed of living in a beautiful house with a garden I could grow things in and a spare bedroom that would double as an art studio. Being in London, this dream keeps slipping further away and can only be achieved by committing to a life of corporate hell or stumbling upon generational wealth. Today, life in a major city seems to present two options: either play the wealth-building game (get a mortgage and buy a house) or get played (endless exploitation by landlords while they grow their own wealth).
I won’t lie and say that I couldn’t continue working with my current income and try to get a mortgage – I probably could. But the thing is, lately, I just don’t want to. I want the “game” to be destroyed altogether because it’s not just about me. The world is bigger than my personal ambitions and not everyone has the luck of financial circumstances that might survive rising inflations and stagnant wages. And while we argue over the arbitrary rules of this “game”, widening social injustice continues to break the planet. What’s the point of patiently laying money aside for a garden when erratic temperatures could simply destroy all living things in it anyway?
Last week, a heatwave in Antarctica recorded a temperature almost 40 degrees Celsius higher than normal, beating the last heatwave record by nearly 20 degrees. Having both the North and South poles melt at the same time is highly unusual because they are melting in opposite seasons. Scientists worldwide worry that such unprecedented events edge us closer towards a worst-case climate scenario. This is the panic button moment. This is the stuff horror movies are made of. This is when world leaders should be screaming at the top of their lungs. Instead, here in the UK, we see a rise in climate sceptics and a push back on 2050 net-zero targets from hardline Brexiteers. These ideas are currently propelled by groups who are not only invested in protecting their private wealth, but committed to growing it via disaster capitalism.
The truth is, I feel like I’m living in an alternate universe as I watch all of this happen, slightly out of step with everyone else. I don’t want to bring this stuff up to the people around me: my family, who I see a few times a year, or my friends, who are dealing with issues of their own. But the catastrophising oozes out of me, either in depressing jokes or total teary meltdowns. I bumped into a colleague on the train the other day and chewed her ear off about the possibility of the world as we know it ending in 20 years. I got off the train feeling dirty and embarrassed. Exhausted by my own exhaustion, I apologised profusely for “bringing the mood down.” She reassured me that it was okay and that she felt the same, but I still felt terrible after.
Perhaps this is the bad place again; the black dog waiting outside my front door, peeking through the windows as the sun (my only source of vitamin D and happiness) sets, begging to be let in. But more likely, it’s the reality of absolutely everything getting worse. And I mean everything.
At the moment, the morning newsreel greets us with stories about the violent invasion of Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, a forgotten Afghanistan, a forgotten Yemen, and scientists discovering plastic in human blood for the first time. Whatever bad thing you can think of, there will be a news article about it confirming that things are, in fact, worse. All of this is happening while the world continues to burn.
Sure, it might be the internet bringing all the faraway events right to our doorsteps, making us feel like we’re participating in them as they come up on our newsfeeds. It’s also true that generations before lived in constant threat of nuclear bombs and other existential crises. I can’t speak from a different time in history because I wasn’t there. But I can’t help thinking that at least the past had distinct seasons and insects. At least there was a promise of a better tomorrow, because the climate scales hadn’t yet tipped in a direction of mass extinction.
It’s hard to know what effective social progress towards climate justice would look like when those in power are so reluctant to even engage with the problem. But I sure as hell know that it doesn’t look like nihilism, political apathy or complying with the ever-shrinking parameters of daily life in capitalist England, where everything is getting more expensive and everything keeps feeling shit. At some point, something has to give. And I’m not the only person feeling this way: three-quarters of adults in the UK want climate action too.
No one knows how much time we have left on this planet but one thing is certain to me: I don’t want to spend a single second more accepting this shit (the Tories, the cost of living crisis, shitty landlords, Big Oil crimes etc.). I want to free up my time as much as I can, read up on the history of nonviolent resistance, get actively involved in climate justice, work with existing climate groups and try to live as much of a joyful life as possible.
Kim Cattrall (an icon) once said in an interview: “I don’t want to be in a situation for even an hour where I’m not enjoying myself.” Similarly, I don’t want to be in a situation for even an hour where I’m not engaging in activities I consider to be worthwhile. If there is anything to live for these days, it’s the hope of a better time ahead. Right now, this feels like the only way of soothing eco-anxiety and surviving the inevitable future.