Conquering Eco-Anxiety

by hand_in_there

Eco-anxiety is clearly one of the defining conditions of our age. Every period seems to have something. In the 1950s there was the Cold War and the constant fear of nuclear holocaust. Daniel Smith in his New York Times column It’s Still the ‘Age of Anxiety.’ Or is it? wrote

Earlier eras might have been even more jittery than ours. Fourteenth-century Europe, for example, experienced devastating famines, waves of pillaging mercenaries, peasant revolts, religious turmoil and a plague that wiped out as much as half the population in four years. The evidence suggests that all this resulted in mass convulsions of anxiety, a period of psychic torment in which, as one historian has put it, “the more one knew, the less sense the world made.” Nor did the monolithic presence of the Church necessarily help; it might even have made things worse. A firm belief in God and heaven was near-universal, but so was a firm belief in their opposites: the Devil and hell. And you could never be certain in which direction you were headed.

While the early part of the the 21st Century doesn’t have anything quite like the Black Death or the immediate threat of nuclear war, we still have global warming, an economy that seems to be going nowhere and the threat of international terrorism. It’s no wonder that people could be a little anxious. There’s plenty to worry about. To cure eco-anxiety the standard advice has been to take concrete steps so that you are doing what you can to take control of your life and minimize your own contribution to global warming. (For more on that watch this video on eco-anxiety.)

Making small changes in your life can give you a semblance of control when it comes to slow progressing problems like global warming, but when faced with immediate crises like the economy and terrorism, small steps might not do it. What then are we to do? Staying at home paralyzed with fear isn’t the answer. (Then Exxon wins, particularly if you turn up the air conditioning.) Israeli’s have been dealing with the imminent threat of terrorism for decades. They get up a go to work the next day or reopen the bombed pizza parlor within a month.

I’m sure we would all sleep a little better if there was a concrete international plan to move us away from fossil fuels, get the global economy moving, and fight international terrorism. Unfortunately, that’s not too likely any time soon. Maybe what we do need to do is recognize that those three issues are linked. Investing more money in clean technology R&D is the best way to get a handle on global warming, get the global economy going and also encourage political reform in the Middle East.

It’s too bad the plans for the new World Trade Center do not capture this idea – it would have been a great intermediate step. One World Trade Center (formerly known as the Freedom Tower) will be 1776 feet high, paying homage to the year of American Independence. A grander version of the new trade center in Bahrain with its integrated wind turbines would have captured where the world needs to go much better. The freedoms associated with the founding of our country are all well in good, but we also need to be freed from our dependence on oil, which is at the root of so many of our problems today. Then maybe we will all start to sleep a little better.

In 2002, during his State of the Union Address, President Bush coined the phrase Axis of Evil to refer to Iran, Iraq and North Korea for their support of terrorism. Fair or not, the phrase stuck. I think we need something similar to help link global warming, the economy and terrorism. What about Axis of Destruction?



  1. How can we ordinary citizens combat the massive power of large corporations and their corrupt allies; the conservative, climate denier politicians who are now in power in Australia…? Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” is bigger and stronger than ever!

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