Are we heading for extinction?

We need to talk about eco-anxiety

My name is Tupelo, I’m 16 years old, and my pronouns are she/her. I’m from Gainesville, Florida.

I’ve always cared about the environment and been interested in climate change, but I wasn’t involved in the climate movement until last year – when the US went on lockdown. That summer, I spent a lot of time inside, scrolling online. I stumbled upon the TED talk “How to turn climate anxiety into action” by Renée Lertzman and, consequently, fell into a rabbit hole researching climate psychology. I was fascinated to learn that I wasn’t alone in my eco-anxiety – and that these feelings were a normal, healthy response to the crisis unfolding around us. This radically changed my relationship with nature.

I have loved the outdoors for as long as I can remember, but as I processed my feelings around climate change – the anxiety, and grief – my love became more fierce. This relationship felt that much more precious, as I realised just was at stake.

Today, I have a greater appreciation for the way sunlight makes leaves glow and cast swirling shadows on the ground; for the sound of birds singing in the morning; for the majesty of rain; and for every insect, which I previously thought insignificant.

Now, I no longer view Nature as the “other” as I was taught to. Instead, I can see how confusing it is that our culture and language separate Nature from us humans; when we are, of course, a part of Nature and completely interdependent on it (something Indigenous people have known, and lived, for thousands of years).

Eco-anxiety and climate distress

For me, eco-anxiety comes in lots of shapes and sizes. Anxiety, grief, guilt, panic, paralysis, overwhelm, or a combination. It can feel like a rise of panic in my chest, or like I’m sinking into a dark cloud.

My mind fixates on the worsening hurricane season; the rising heat of the summer; the wildfires and floods splashed all over the news. I fear that our world’s manatees, monarchs, and sea turtles will go extinct; that regular seasons – spring, summer, autumn – will become a thing of the past, replaced with hurricane season or fire season. Renée helped me see that my eco-anxiety is normal – yet it impacts my everyday functioning. It can make it difficult for me to focus, enjoy activities, or even plan for the future.

Closing thoughts

I only recently started on my climate journey, but the best advice I’ve received is to tune into my feelings, find areas where my passion meets my pain, and find a community of changemakers to heal and act with. I’m fortunate to have found this through Force of Nature. You have the power to do all these things, too – after all, we’re in this together. We need one another. And just as we need nature; nature needs us to have the courage to build a world of liberation, love, healing, care, and connection.

You can listen to Episode Eleven, Season Two, of the Force of Nature podcast here.