Eco-anxiety is very real!
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
I didn't know this until recently, but unfortunately, I can't say I am all that surprised.
There is unarguably an increasing knowledge and awareness surrounding climate change. You only have to consider the recent socio-political movement Extinction Rebellion, School Strike for Climate, and (of course) the ongoing work of David Attenborough.
We are also confronted with daily headlines detailing extreme weather events, from cyclones, droughts, to heatwaves. Only today I came across the headline “One climate crisis disaster happening every week, UN warns”.
While there are a wave of individuals who are demanding action, we also have large groups of individuals (including many of whom have the power to enact change) who are simply denying the impact of climate change altogether.
The 2018 report from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, called for “urgent and unprecedented changes” in order to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. To put things bluntly, they were essentially implying that if we don’t get our s#*t together (and soon), a rise in the earth's temperature by even half a degree, could see us facing a major environmental catastrophe. Or as the amazing Greta Thunberg put it;
“Our house is on fire...Adults keep saying, we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope, I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic.” - Greta Thunberg
When confronted with information like this, you can understand why the uncertain future of our planet is having a negative impact on our mental health and wellbeing.
Susan Clayton, Professor of Psychology and Environmental Studies at the College of Wooster, and coauthor of a 2017 report titled 'Mental health and our changing climate: Impacts, implications, and guidance', says “a significant proportion of people are experiencing stress and worry about the potential impacts of climate change, and that the level of worry is almost certainly increasing.”
But what is eco-anxiety?
Described by Psychology Today, eco-anxiety is “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis."
While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), does not currently include eco-anxiety as a specific diagnosis, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2017 report ‘Mental health and our changing climate: Impacts, implications, and guidance’ does detail the impacts of climate change on mental health, and identifies eco-anxiety in their glossary as "a chronic fear of environmental doom."
What’s stopping us?
It would be fairly accurate to say that there has been a particularly 'slow' response to addressing the reality that is climate change.
But why is this?
According to Susan Kassouf, a mental health clinician, it may stem from an inability to define and understand the relationship between people and "the nonhuman environment". Are we separate, as one, or are we humans in charge of it?
Or maybe it is a matter of denial? According to Norwegian psychologist Per Espen Stoknes “when we negate, ignore, or otherwise avoid acknowledging the unsettling facts about climate change, we find refuge from fear and guilt.”
Stoknes findings identified that denial keeps climate change "off the radar of consciousness", after reviewing polls dating back to 1989 about the level of public concern about climate change, which indicated that “the more certain the science becomes, the less concern we find in richer Western democracies’
So where does fashion fit into all of this?
To think that the fashion industry which contributes £32.3 billion to the UK economy in GDP and the 890,000 individuals working within the industry are exempt from all of this is a severe oversight.
Let me just start with a few statistics regarding fashion's contribution to climate change to put things into perspective.
Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined, producing an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year.
The increase in demand for synthetic fibres (such as polyester) results in much higher emissions as they are produced from fossil fuels such as crude oil.
With inadequate recycling methods nearly 60% of all clothing produced ends up in landfill or incinerators within a year of production.
Lastly, the heinous process of incinerating unsold stock that has popped up in the news of late, multiplying the climate impact of the product by generating further emissions and air pollutants that can harm human health. When incinerating clothes made from synthetic fibres, plastic micro fibres may be released into the atmosphere. Furthermore, climate changing emissions will have been generated when the products were created and more CO2 will be produced when they are burnt.
Not all 'doom and gloom' though. Don't lose hope!
I can appreciate that being exposed to all of these anxiety provoking and distressing facts about the industry (whether you work in it, or just have an interest) on a sustained basis can can definitely take it's toll.
Caring about the planet we live on, and issues it faces, like the issues of climate change, plastics in our oceans, or the 'consume-and-chuck' mentality, means we have probably had that “Oh s#$t moment", but we mustn’t lose hope.
Awareness is mounting, and the issues are moving into the spotlight. While progress and change probably will be slow, it is 'a happenin'.
Here are just a few examples of some of the fantastic and initiatives within the fashion industry today!
Under the guidance of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), fashion stakeholders have collaborated to identify the ways in which the broader textile, clothing and fashion industry can move towards an holistic commitment to climate action. In 2018, the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action was created, containing the vision to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
The British Fashion Council (BFC), Dame Vivienne Westwood and the Mayor of London are calling fashion brands and businesses to make a commitment to ‘switch’ to a green energy supplier or green energy tariff by the year 2020 (in line with the Paris Agreement within the UNFCCC).
Brands that have already committed to the ‘switch’ include Harvey Nichols, Kering, Stella McCartney, Teatum Jones & Vivienne Westwood.
GFW is non-profit international event that is working in collaboration with the UNFCCC. The fashion designers and international companies involved in the event promote sustainability through their collections and their products.
GFW demonstrates climate neutrality through the release of a sustainability report, the analysing and quantification of the unavoidable CO2 emissions generated during the event, and based on the results of the emissions, the GFW contributes to the reforestation projects in the Amazon.
Our wardrobes are dominated by cotton (whose production involves high levels of water usage, and pesticides), and synthetic fibres, such as polyester (remember what I mentioned earlier, that synthetic fibres result in much higher emissions as they are produced from fossil fuels such as crude oil).
In step ‘foody' fibres, including “orange fibre” (from citrus juice byproducts), "pineapple leather" (made from the pineapple's leaves), and “Milk” (from yep, you guessed it, milk ) just to name a few.
Don't overlook the small day-to-day changes you can make.
We need to overcome the belief that 'changing my behaviour won't do anything in this global world'. Sure, I get that Primark aren't going to miss you, or lose sleep over the fact that you aren't going to shop with them anymore, but your choice to shop with ethical and sustainable brands can have a profound impact. Just think about the ripple effect of sharing your story with friends and family, or the power of social media.
If you find yourself in need of support, or know of someone who is, there is help out there.
Secretary-General António Guterres calls for global action on climate change