I have a bit of climate anxiety.
This is one of those statements that I just know would wind up the boomers and gen-xers, the sort of thing that makes them think that my generation is full of wet wipes and snowflakes.
But it’s true: I’m scared for the planet. And I think that’s fair enough, when we’re all constantly bombarded with images of fire and floods (but not in the same places) and warnings that time is running out. It’s difficult not to internalise the messages of CRISIS, DOOM AND IMMINENT DISASTER.
I’m not a psychiatrist but I do think, for me personally, that actions can help alleviate general anxiety and stop the feeling of powerlessness. And actions we can do as individuals are obvious because they’ve been drilled into us: eat vegan, eat local produce, don’t buy new clothes, recycle, walk, don’t use plastic, be conscious of everything you do and buy.
I am far from doing all I could for the environment. In fact, I am pretty dreadful. I love online shopping, and while I do try and avoid the super-cheap, super-fast brands, I am still an avid purchaser of brand new clothes. I eat meat, not everyday, and while I try to eat just Manx meat, it doesn’t always happen. I walk to work, but that’s because I haven’t learned to drive. I have thrown things in the bin that should have gone in the recycling.
Maybe, then, I deserve to be anxious. And, while I think that collectively our personal actions can make a difference (who wants to be responsible for the plastic pollution that kills a turtle?), without large-scale institutional change, I think we’re probably pissing in the wind.
The actions that we are encouraged to undertake to combat change are, overwhelmingly, geared towards the middle-class. While there are some changes- like shopping for secondhand clothes- that are cheaper than the less sustainable alternative, others are more expensive. That’s great if you can afford to do them, but in a time where more and more of us are struggling with the cost of living, it seems cruel to suggest a pair of £10 knickers as an alternative to the £1 Primark thong.
There’s also the issue of time. Shopping consciously and sustainably takes time, and, for many of us, scouting for eco-toothpaste is simply too high up on the hierarchy of needs. Making a meal out of sustainably sourced products is great, but cooking from scratch is not always practical for those who work long hours or the chronically ill.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t make a change where we can. But changes that ultimately might have a small effect on the planet may have a large impact on an individual: whether that’s on their finances, their time, or their wellbeing.
And this is why institutional change is so important. It shouldn’t be down to just those who can afford to make a difference to make the difference: ultimately, that won’t be good enough.
Changes need to be affordable, accessible, convenient and easier than the less sustainable alternatives. That means companies are responsible for reducing their packaging and coming up with eco-friendly solutions. It should be harder to consume in a non-sustainable way than a sustainable way.
Putting the onus on companies may seem risky if there is no incentive- how many big companies are willing to lose significant profit? It could be argued that consumer habits will influence their behaviour, but we can’t rely on companies to simply change their ways. Governments need to intervene: whether that be with a carrot (subsidies) or sticks (charges). It might seem outlandish to some, but think how we’ve adapted to having a charge on plastic bags- or even the social pressure not to use plastic straws. Now think about how each industry could be changed: from food, to fashion to construction.
To reiterate: it is important that each option is accessible to everyone. If the cost of living goes up, then so should the minimum wage. One of the points of tackling climate change is assuring that as many people have a good quality of life, across the globe. We should protect the poorest in our society, always.
The Isle of Man has the opportunity to lead on these issues. However, we’re not even on par with our neighbours. Recycling is difficult on island and kerbside recycling isn’t even island-wide: something that is truly absurd in 2021. Making recycling easy and convenient is key to reducing waste.
I know I’m not alone in being anxious about climate anxiety: the fact that there is a term created demonstrates that it is a widespread issue. How do we tackle it? We can tackle the symptoms of anxiety. Or, as a society, we can address the issue. I know which makes more sense to me.