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L'angle mort des sciences : 
sexisme, discrimination

et inégalités des genres


Dans le cadre de la Journée des femmes

et des filles de science

Ecoanxiety

or the quest to align

one's life with climate action

By William Gagnon

Building engineer LEED AP BD+C, LEED AP ND, LFA, ECO Canada EPt

By William Gagnon

Building engineer LEED AP BD+C, LEED AP ND, LFA, ECO Canada EPt

Environment | Society | Case file

Ecoanxiety and the ecological grief, the new state of mind

Imagine you are walking through a forest by yourself in the woods, with your earphones on, lost into some deep thoughts.  Suddenly, a bear appears a few metres ahead and it’s running towards you. Your body gears into a reaction, survival mode that we call fight or flight.   This is how various animals fled from predators, and survived.  This fight or flight mode is a constructive unpleasant emotion : it’s allowed us to evolve and survive up to this day.

 

Now you’re on the bus home reading the news.  Melting glacier. Rising sea levels. Increasing carbon dioxide levels, and politicians stalling more than ever.  You’re getting this very uncomfortable feeling. Depressed, anxious, sad, outraged : Ecoanxiety is also a Constructive Unpleasant Emotion; but you need to know what to do with it. However uncomfortable it might make us feel, however annoying it might be (we have a strong tendency to avoid thinking about it), we as a species need to figure out ways to react to it.  It might just save our existence on this planet. 

 

Watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations, may be an additional source of stress (Searle & Gow, 2010). Albrecht (2011) and others have termed this anxiety ecoanxiety. Qualitative research provides evidence that some people are deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness, and frustration due to their inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change (Moser, 2013).

Now humans are faced with the threat of extinction -- yet we are slow at running away from the danger.  We are bombarded with negative news on a daily basis and this is causing a lot of anxiety. We are slowly building a set of emotions that is helping us as a species survive this existential threat, and ecoanxiety is one of them: it’s a constructive unpleasant emotion, if you know how to channel it. 

 

Some of us have an easier time expressing it, like Greta Thunberg; she is very open about her Asperger’s syndrome that allows her to see only black and white. In her TED talk, she explains that it is one of the reasons why she is speaking up about climate change.

«

Certaines personnes – des hommes, bien sûr – m’ont découragée en disant que la science n’était pas une bonne carrière pour les femmes, ce qui m’a poussé encore plus à persévérer.

»

Françoise Barre, virologue qui a remporté
le prix Nobel 2008 en physiologie et médecine

Not alone 

In a meeting in Toronto with Innovation Norway, Alana Prashad shares with me her experience of dealing with two chronic immune diseases.   Her body gets triggered when she is exposed to high levels of stress — climate change news, populist politics, and other bad news. 

 

Our conversation drifted away from green, clean business in the Norwegian trade context to a discussion about ecoanxiety, and turning it into something meaningful: 

 

Alana tells me that she had to find ways to uses her anxiety about the state of the planet, and turn it into something good; she tells me that she tries and sees beauty in desolated landscapes: plastic floating in oceans, rising sea levels; she finds in these bleak images the elements that are worth fighting for — the beauty, the little bits of light in the darkness, the “okay, what do we have”.  

 

Again — action alleviates anxiety.

 

In Alana’s case, she had to quickly get adapted because she was becoming very ill.  

 

Now Alana is aligning her work on fighting climate change through Innovation Norway’s business development agenda.  I thought this was very inspiring — turning ecoanxiety into climate action. I was stunned. I left our meeting empowered, and convinced that we’d change the world together, somehow. 

«

Ne laissez personne vous voler votre imagination, votre créativité ou votre curiosité. C’est votre place dans le monde; c’est votre vie. Continuez et faites tout ce que vous pouvez avec elle, et faites-en la vie que vous voulez vivre.

»


 

 Mae Jemison, – astronaute et première femme
afro-américaine à être allée dans l’espace en 1992.

Aligning career and climate action into one

 

If you don't believe you can bring change to an organization or project, chances are you won't. But if you share your concerns with the team with confidence and clarity, they will be well received - in most cases, in my experience, these concerns are shared by others. However, it takes a lot of courage to share them. 

 

I believe we need to de-stigmatize mental health before we can deal with climate change. I believe that this is why we should consider climate change as a multifaceted issue, and be careful to consider only one measure (greenhouse gas emissions, for example). 

 

Regardless of the area in which you spend most of your time, there is a way to find an alignment between work, play and climate action. I hope these resources will give you some inspiration.

Create your New Story — and don’t let anyone crush it

In a job interview for a private engineering firm, I ask what kind of projects I would spend my time on. Big firm, big bucks: my salary was going to double. The office associate tells me that they have “lots of projects” in the oil and gas sector, but that they were also “trying” to promote renewable energy. 

 

Uneasy, uncomfortable, I reiterate that I am not interested in work with anything that is even just remotely connected to the oil and gas sector.  

The HR manager then jumps in and she asked if I had ever worked on something that did not perfectly matched my values. 

 

“Yes.”, I replied.  

 

“So what did you do?”.  

 

“I quit!”

 

It’s important to create a new story for ourselves, and not live in the past.  The Great Transition is now. The Green New Deal is now. Renewable energy is now. Reversing climate change is now.  Don’t waste your time and career on something that is not worth it. What kind of future do you want? Write it down, and enact it. 

 

I turned down the job offer (and left before the end of the interview) with a strong sense of empowerment.  My mind was set on not letting myself be tempted by the financial gain, and I was really proud to leave this place feeling 100% aligned on my values.


 

Create your New Story, and don’t let anyone crush it.

Illustrations tirées de «Design Journeys», une collection d'histoires sur la vie professionnelle, les contributions et les portfolios de designers - contemporains et historiques - issus de groupes ou de milieux traditionnellement sous-représentés. 

Ecoanxiety and the ecological grief, the new state of mind

Imagine you are walking through a forest by yourself in the woods, with your earphones on, lost into some deep thoughts.  Suddenly, a bear appears a few metres ahead and it’s running towards you. Your body gears into a reaction, survival mode that we call fight or flight.   This is how various animals fled from predators, and survived.  This fight or flight mode is a constructive unpleasant emotion : it’s allowed us to evolve and survive up to this day.

 

Now you’re on the bus home reading the news.  Melting glacier. Rising sea levels. Increasing carbon dioxide levels, and politicians stalling more than ever.  You’re getting this very uncomfortable feeling. Depressed, anxious, sad, outraged : Ecoanxiety is also a Constructive Unpleasant Emotion; but you need to know what to do with it. However uncomfortable it might make us feel, however annoying it might be (we have a strong tendency to avoid thinking about it), we as a species need to figure out ways to react to it.  It might just save our existence on this planet. 

 

Watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations, may be an additional source of stress (Searle & Gow, 2010). Albrecht (2011) and others have termed this anxiety ecoanxiety. Qualitative research provides evidence that some people are deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness, and frustration due to their inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change (Moser, 2013).

Now humans are faced with the threat of extinction -- yet we are slow at running away from the danger.  We are bombarded with negative news on a daily basis and this is causing a lot of anxiety. We are slowly building a set of emotions that is helping us as a species survive this existential threat, and ecoanxiety is one of them: it’s a constructive unpleasant emotion, if you know how to channel it. 

 

Some of us have an easier time expressing it, like Greta Thunberg; she is very open about her Asperger’s syndrome that allows her to see only black and white. In her TED talk, she explains that it is one of the reasons why she is speaking up about climate change.

Learn more

References

  1. Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). "Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance." Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica.

  2. Doherty, T. J., & Clayton, S. (2011). "The psychological impacts of global climate change". American Psychologist, 66(4). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/amp-66-4-265.pdf

  3. Edwards, S. A. (2010, February 21). "Once awake: The waking up syndrome two years later". Retrieved from http://eco-anxiety.blogspot.com/

  4. Edwards, S. A., & Buzzell, L. (2008)." The waking up syndrome". Retrieved from http://old.relocalize.net/the_waking_up_syndrome

  5. Glaser, G. (2008, February 16). "Anxious about Earth’s troubles? There’s treatment". The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/16/us/16therapy.html

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Anne-Marie Asselin & Lyne Morissette

Green Building engineer, Environmentalist

William is experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis in his community of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, in the Canadian subarctic region. As an engineer, he leads the work for the Northern Centre for Sustainability, a space designed to support emerging entrepreneurs in achieving sustainable development objectives. The building aims to become the most sustainable building in the circumpolar North and the first building in Canada with negative carbon emissions. 

Green Building engineer, Environmentalist

William is experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis in his community of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, in the Canadian subarctic region. As an engineer, he leads the work for the Northern Centre for Sustainability, a space designed to support emerging entrepreneurs in achieving sustainable development objectives. The building aims to become the most sustainable building in the circumpolar North and the first building in Canada with negative carbon emissions.