Eco-distress is how people feel when they hear bad news about the planet or environment. Often, there is a sense of disempowerment and vulnerability, so what is the best way to respond? Climate distress is fairly new, and new approaches are needed to resolve issues.
Anxiety happens when there is a perceived threat to a person’s life; this is a primitive response that has evolved to protect us from imminent dangers, such as large-toothed animals. But as large-toothed animals don’t exist in the modern world, anxiety may be an overstated response.
However, when it comes to the climate crises, fear is not overstated; in fact, it is a realistic response to an existential turning point. Instead of minimising the situation to resolve anxious feelings, it is better to accept the realities of crisis along with fear. Although it can be challenging to accept these strong emotions, it can help to make us more resilient climate contributors.
Take Climate Action
One of the reasons we feel fearful and vulnerable in the face of the climate crisis is our inability to influence it in any meaningful way. However, once we accept the existential fears of the climate crisis, we can channel this energy into taking action that has some real-world impacts.
Start by optimising your lifestyle so that you reduce as much carbon output as possible; this is called “low-hanging fruit”, and it comes in the form of reducing overseas travel, switching to a no-meat diet, and using less energy and water. You can also join a more sustainable economy.
Find Professional Help
Eco anxiety, climate anxiety, and eco distress are some of the terms used to describe a newly emerging form of mental health issue. Some conventional forms of anxiety treatment can work for eco distress, but it is a slightly more challenging condition to manage and requires an expert.
If you turn on the news or glance at your social media feed, and you are triggered into a state of distress, or you have a panic episode, you probably have eco distress. If you need support for eco-distress, visit the Climate Psychology Alliance, who may be able to help you with strategies.
Find a Community
It is easy to feel alone with your fears; in fact, most people think of their fears as subjective, which is why talking therapies can be so helpful. When it comes to climate distress, however, you can count on there being more people with a similar condition to you instead of fewer.
There’s good news; a climate community is easy to find nowadays, thanks to online platforms and an increase in climate communities. If you want to try a climate community for solidarity and support, look out for Eco-anxiety Peer Support organised and run by The Surefoot Effect.
Spend Time in Nature
One of the reasons we experience eco-distress is that we feel disconnected from the natural world and our ability to influence or manage the situation. One of the best responses is to reconnect with the thing you fear losing; it fosters strength and inspiration for the challenges.
Carbon offsetting is a controversial topic; on the one hand, it seems to offer workable solutions to the climate crisis, allowing people to use their services and reduce carbon emissions; on the other hand, it can be used as a gateway to greenwashing and false advertising. The reality lies somewhere in the middle; carbon offsetting has some merit when coupled with Net Zero efforts.
Key Takeaways: Carbon Offsetting
What is Carbon Offsetting?
Carbon offsetting is a simple concept, CO2 produced by industry, transport, and markets goes into the atmosphere and contributes to the greenhouse effect, but this carbon can be reabsorbed back into the earth with additional trees planted in forests, investments in renewable energy, and supporting people in the Global South to develop sustainable communities. It’s quite a nice idea.
The trouble is carbon offsetting is difficult to measure and often ineffective; at the same time, it makes individuals and businesses feel as though they are doing something to support Net Zero efforts when the opposite could be the case. Research by ProPublica has shown that many of the additional trees planted for carbon offsetting were planned to be planted in forests anyway.
Tree Planting is Inefficient
Many of the world's major carbon-heavy brands, such as Shell, BP, and EasyJet, passionately support carbon offsetting programs in the forests of Brazil. That’s not surprising since carbon offsetting allows them to continue their business-as-usual model sustaining profits by selling products to ethically-minded consumers. Tree planting can reduce carbon, but only a fraction.
The earth’s forests are critical to maintaining the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but planting trees to offset carbon is not the efficient machine the world needs to slash carbon emissions and reach Net Zero targets. A newly-planted tree can take up to twenty years to absorb the amount of carbon promised in the carbon offsetting programs people buy.
Issues With Climate Justice
Climate justice - or climate injustice - is the dynamic between countries with high carbon emissions and countries affected by climate change. Climate justice can take other forms, too; it’s estimated that people born today will have to emit eight times less carbon than their grandparents to stay with the 1.5-degree target. Climate justice is an important consideration.
It is easier, cheaper, and more effective for big-name brands to set up carbon-offsetting programs in the Global South, but this comes at the expense of the local communities who might use the land to serve their own needs. These carbon offsetting initiatives can compromise the rights of indigenous people and depose them of their ancestral land in the worst cases.
Carbon Offsetting and PR
Carbon offsetting is excellent PR; it allows companies to present an ethical front and continue with business as usual. At the same time, carbon offsetting gives consumers peace of mind when transacting with companies since they get a service and make a green contribution. While it’s not completely ineffective, decisive action is needed to reduce carbon emissions directly.
It is now time for companies to move on from carbon offsetting arrangements in favour of carbon-reduction trajectories. The upside is that these efforts are also good for PR in the modern world. Businesses need to define low emissions thresholds and create workable decarbonisation strategies, with continued support for reforesting and rewilding communities.
Alternatives to Carbon Offsetting
When it comes to the climate emergency, every little count, even the small efforts people make on a daily basis to reduce carbon emissions, make a difference. There’s no doubt that carbon offsetting has a part to play, but consumers need to be aware of the dangers and alternatives.
If you are unsure about the green credentials of a company, you can always pursue your own offsetting agenda and source a transparent and responsible company or charity to invest in. In short, it’s always better to reduce personal carbon than to hand responsibility to the big brands.
Some Final Thoughts
Whether you are a business or an individual, you need to think about your carbon footprint and the impact your lifestyle is having. Small changes can make a big difference to your personal carbon emissions on the global journey to Net Zero in 2050. Find out more about how to make your business Net Zero by attending a Net Zero workshop or partnering with a climate mentor.
If you are worried about the climate crisis, you are in the right place. Many people have concerns about what businesses are doing to achieve Net Zero and how they can contribute with personal lifestyle changes. Equally, there is an overpowering sense of anxiety that comes from changes to the natural world. Connect with others at one of Surefoot’s free eco-anxiety workshops.
Discover New Inspiration
If you have made it along to an eco-anxiety workshop, chances are you’re feeling stressed and a little bit pessimistic. Don’t worry; not only can the climate pressures be leveraged as fuel for positive action, but you will encounter new inspiration to enhance your wellbeing and lifestyle.
As part of Surefoot’s free eco-anxiety workshops, you will have the chance to listen to daily readings from community members. They take the form of poems, short fiction, and excerpts that help to illuminate how people in the network feel about the climate crisis. New members can contribute.
Learn Resilience Strategies
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your life and the world, and you don’t have the resources to meet the challenges? You are not alone. This is a common experience for people trying to balance working life, family life, and some of the existential pressures inherent in the crisis.
Attending a free eco-anxiety workshop helps you to develop the skills and strategies needed to navigate a personal crisis, a collective crisis, or both. These strategies include mindfulness training, self-care planning, community resilience, and solidarity sharing personal experiences.
Self Care Planning
A crisis, such as a panic attack, an anxiety attack, a low mood, or something else, can strike at any minute. In relation to the climate and ecological crises, someone might simply read their social media feed and suddenly find themselves triggered into a crisis mode. That’s why self-care planning helps.
Self-care planning is all about becoming more aware of the patterns of your personal crisis and putting the pieces in place to navigate the crisis effectively. A free eco-anxiety workshop can help you to ask the right questions and build a self-care plan that has your back when needed.
Connect With a Community
One of the best parts of attending a free eco-anxiety workshop is the chance to connect with a like-minded community and enjoy a sense of solidarity and shared experiences. In the workshop, you will have a chance to talk about your experience of climate anxiety, and you are sure to recognise the experiences of others. It should leave you with a sense of optimism.
Around 61% of UK consumers consider themselves conscious consumers, who are either concerned or very concerned about their consumption choices. For this reason, many businesses are “going green”, but how accurate and responsible are the claims? Greenwashing is a problem, but conscious consumers are starting to see the reality, causing it to backfire.
Greenwashing undermines the brand
Making bold claims about green credentials, such as materials and supply chains, might shift a few units in the short term, but when the business is found out, there is a backlash that can seriously damage the brand's image affecting sales and even the future of the business overall.
There is a growing desire amongst consumers to buy sustainable products, so if someone finds out that a product has been mis-sold, they will abandon the brand; not only that, they will leave negative customer reviews online and share the negative customer experience on social media.
Conscious consumers support genuine Net Zero progress
Consumers are more and more ecologically minded, which is good news for the 2050 Net Zero targets; it’s not such good news for businesses and brands who might cringe at the expense of going greener. Still, with nine out of ten consumers on board, it could be worth the investment.
Capitalism primarily values profits which is why businesses are tempted to cut corners with sustainability in a process called greenwashing. But conscious consumers are not blind to this and will quickly abandon a business that claims to be green in the interests of greater profits.
The business spreads misinformation
The effects of greenwashing on a business go beyond the sales figures; it can also lead to legal issues when a false advert is reported to the relevant consumer protection authority. In this case, an investigation will be launched to determine whether the business advert is legitimate.
An investigation like this might lead to positive outcomes; the authority might determine that the business advert conforms to standards and accuracy claims, but that is unlikely to remain in the minds of conscious consumers who only remember the business was strung for greenwashing.
The business can struggle to find investment
When a business greenwashes, it does not only affect itself; it also affects partner businesses and investors. Businesses and investors may not wish to engage with a business that greenwashes attempting to protect its own reputation, so partners and investors can pull out.
Not only can a business lose investment thanks to greenwashing, but it can also struggle to find new partners. Investors and businesses are affected by brand affiliation - in the same way as conscious consumers - meaning a damaged business can find it hard to rebuild its reputation.
Greenwashing isn’t needed - find out why!
The capitalistic mindset values profit over people, but making a business more sustainable is now in the best interests of a business. Due to greenwashing, truly sustainable brands are enjoying better growth making it more sensible to transform business protocol. Find out more about making your business more sustainable, profitable, and protecting it for years to come.
Thinking about growing your own this year? Here's some inspiration.
We all need food. Preferably food which is healthy for both people and the planet. However, lots of our food goes through a long process chain from sprout to packaged product and transport, before reaching the dinner plate. This chain often has a detrimental impact on the planet and the produce. Since not everyone has the space, time and capacity to grow one’s own fruit and vegetables, getting together in locally accessible gardens can lead to eco-friendly crops - and new friendships as a byproduct.
Daily activities and obligations consume a great deal of many people’s lives. Finding space, time and resources to grow fruit and vegetables is not always an (easy) option. But when involved in local gardens with appropriate pace and energy, it is possible to grow green fingers and food with a low carbon footprint.
A local, environmentally friendly approach to production, processing, packaging and transport of food reduces carbon emissions. Furthermore, experiences from John Miller at Braehead Community Garden, and Muriel Whitfield and Chris Steedman at Stirling Allotment Association, also show us that communal benefits and social connections can grow out of sharing the garden work and pleasure.
Braehead Community Garden is a two-acre facility located central in Stirling. The place was established with funding from the Big Lottery Fund. The community garden was established in 2015 and gives local residents an opportunity to rent a ‘micro plot’ for growing fruit and vegetables. There are 88 outdoor beds and 48 indoor ones. Of the outdoor ones, 73 are generally for members, 12 for market garden and 3 given free for community use. With community spirit and social connections at its heart, the community garden also engages people in polytunnels, an apiary, hens, a wetland, workshops, clubhouse and events. The social beds allow local school classes to join the gardening.
John Miller, trustee and treasurer at the community garden, explains the different kind of memberships, “The growing members have access to their own raised bed, and social members can attend garden events. Both groups can join activities at the shared market gardens.”
John adds that the gate is also regularly open for the wider public. For example, there’s an open stall, volunteer days and most Tuesday and Saturday mornings, when there will be someone in the garden to greet visitors who are interested in knowing more about the place.
Social aspects are at play via organised workshops, for example when there have been events about how to prune trees and maintenance of gardening tools, as well as when working together. “Recently, we have gotten a new hen roof for our 15-16 hens. The material was covered via the garden’s fund, but all the work was executed by volunteers,” says John.
Challenges are also faced together. If the collected rain water runs out in the driest of months, John and others bring water to the place. There’s a high demand for water, among other things to prevent tomato and chili plants drying out in the polytunnels.
John explains that community gardens differ from allotments by offering smaller beds for individuals, and have social arrangements and shared spaces at its core. The community garden’s individual plots require less time to maintain but are known for being more expensive in rent than allotments. The raised beds in the community garden come with access to gardening tools and a clubhouse where people meet up to chat and share tips and ideas on gardening. A community garden aims to provide planting areas to people living nearby, without a long waiting list.
John has been involved in the community garden since it opened seven years ago. It is notable that societal changes which were unknown when it was established, may affect access to the spaces. He reflects on their prices for renting individuals plots in the light of the energy crises and concludes, “It’s worrying if the fee puts people off from getting involved. We aim to be as inclusive as possible.”
Even though the garden is able to cover its basic costs from membership and sales of produce, any new developments and maintenance of the infrastructure require funding. For example, solar panels have been installed with grant funding.
As a new initiative, the community garden has engaged a development officer who is reaching out to people. In that way eight people from The Thistles Shopping Centre in Stirling got engaged in the garden over four days. Other groups are involved in regular activities, for example apprentices from Stirling Council spend a few hours per week at the place.
With working groups on different topics there are plenty of opportunities to get involved and learn skills at the community garden, whether it’s tree nursing, taking care of the chickens or take part in the bee hive group. Compost is also a topic and is one of John’s favorites. What got him started was his gardening passion and skills. The development of many friendships was a highly appreciated surprise.
If you are interested in knowing more about Braehead Community Garden check out their Facebook site.
From the Stirling Allotment Association there is a view of the Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle. The more than 70 allotments on the banks of the River Forth are located quietly beside the railway and the river. In a poly tunnel sheltered from torrential rain, Muriel Whitfield and Chris Steedman shared their experience on working together on her allotment.
When asked what Muriel likes about having an allotment garden, she answers, “Everything! It can be as simple or as challenging as you want. It was a major lifeline for me during the pandemic. I could come down for the day, bringing a flask and a sandwich and spend time safely outside, still meeting distanced, like-minded people/friends. It is such a healthy hobby both mentally and physically. As everyone knows – fresh air and physical exercise are good for you but also the surrounding countryside, hills and open green spaces lift your mood and improve your mental health. There is such satisfaction in developing and caring for “your space”, deciding which type of plants to grow, watching the growth and - if not very successful, as can happen - researching how to improve year on year. The level of input is your choice.”
Some challenges Muriel identifies in the allotments are – keeping the allotment rabbit free, spells of extreme weather and doing some maintenance jobs on her own. To get around the latter issue, Chris helps out occasionally in Muriel’s plot.
Chris Steedman and Muriel Whitfield in her allotment in the summer time.
The two of them met at the Transition Stirling Tool Library where Chris volunteers and Muriel borrowed tools with Chris’ helpful guidance. Chris has an interest in growing fruit and vegetables but doesn’t have a garden. He heard about a charity-run garden, but it was next to a petrol station and they needed more time than he was able to give. Then Muriel suggested he could come and help in her allotment, when his time allowed, and he could benefit by having a share of the produce in return.
“It actually transpired that Muriel did the growing and I did the woodwork and repairs around the plot. We also worked on some big and unwieldy jobs which would be difficult and frustrating for one person. This is an arrangement which benefits both of us,” Chris clarifies.
This arrangement started in the beginning of 2022, and Chris aims to be going at least every two weeks. After a couple of years on the waiting list in the same association, he recently got a starter plot, but still wishes to help and work with Muriel.
The best outcome of this arrangement, although not surprising - Muriel underlines - is their genuine friendship. Chris applauds, and also mentions the enjoyment of learning about gardening and growing. When walking around the site he chats with people and gets a look into how different people go about maintaining their plots. Tenants often help each other in various ways and share skills, ideas, surplus produce or materials. You get to know people of all ages and backgrounds in your community and are sure to learn something and to find like-minded people.
If interested, contact the allotment committee through www.stirlingallotmentassociation.org. The Allotment Association is a self-governing constituted association and run on a day-to-day basis by an elected voluntary committee. Rentals are paid on an annual basis and depend on the size of the plot.
Allotments have become very popular in recent times but any access to a garden or to some land for ‘growing your own’ is a great idea and as they say, “Local food always tastes better.”
Do you have any stories to share about local or community food growing? Please send an email to email@example.com
Text by Gazelle Buchholtz, Surefoot associate.
Eco-Anxious? Join us for a series of free online workshops to learn and share resilience strategies.
Do you worry about Planet Earth, biodiversity loss and global warming? Are you struggling to take action, or campaign, to mitigate the nature and climate emergency?
Most people who are gripped by fear, sadness, anger, confusion, powerlessness and other strong emotions are vulnerable to episodes of burnout or hopelessness. Strong emotions drive change, and Earth and society are undoubtedly made better by compassionate people doing what they can to act on these issues. But constructive progress can often seem out of reach. At times like these, self care, and connecting with resilient peers, is an effective way to re-empower yourself to continue striving for the just and enlightened society you aim to help bring about.
Meet others who share your concerns to discuss personal resilience and empowerment strategies to help. Simply sign up for one or more of the free group workshops we’ve scheduled between now and 30 March 2022.
Dates for your diary
Monday 16 January 2023
Tuesday 31 January
Thursday 16 February
Tuesday 28 February
Monday 13 March
Thursday 30 March
All workshops are at 7pm - 8.15pm on Zoom. You are very welcome to join us at all, or some, of the sessions listed below. We only ask that you help us to reach out to others if you know anyone who could benefit.
PLEASE BOOK YOUR PLACE VIA OUR EVENTBRITE LINK >>
Some feedback from our 2022 workshops:
“Great to connect with some people who love Earth”
“The planning tool was a useful prompt, even just as a guide to help discussions with other people, or make connections to things I am already doing.”
“The self care planning tool feels like a great way to spark a conversation or share with someone who is struggling.”
“I enjoyed the breakout room as we had a bit longer to talk together. I would be interested in an ongoing group if that becomes possible. I enjoyed reading the readings. The self care planning tool helped me …..”
“Very useful to be exploring this, I feel a bit lighter already.”
“Meaningful connections made through discussing our emotions through the use of creative writings.”
More about Eco Anxious Peer Support
In the meantime, please find out more about Eco Anxious Resilient Peer Support. Read our first 'daily readings' and check out a self care planning tool which are core parts of the project.
Find out more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Inspired by the spirit of Glasgow’s 2021 Climate Justice protest and with a £10k grant from The National Lottery Community Fund Scotland - Together for Our Planet programme, EAR Peer Support is funded until March 2023.
The climate crisis is here to stay; it’s the greatest challenge of the 21st Century, and everyone has a part to play, even individuals with climate worries and no climate support. The good news is there are plenty of practical ways to respond to climate concerns. Making small changes in our lives is not only beneficial to our emotional wellbeing and the planet; it can inspire change.
Petition Local Political Leaders
The climate crisis can leave us with a feeling of paralysis, especially when we hear about some countries at the UN Climate Talks stating that the 1.5C target is unrealistic and should be increased - needless to say, low-lying countries like the Maldives disagree. It is not time to abandon these ambitious targets; it is time to step up and make an effort to achieve them.
If this kind of news leaves your stomach feeling knotted, you might be experiencing eco-anxiety. Eco-anxiety is unpleasant, but it’s also an indication of where your passions lay and can be used as a source of motivation. In Scotland, you can attend political party workshops to express opinions or create a petition to be debated in the Scottish Parliament with enough signatures. Joining a local community group is a good way to start.
Attend Eco Anxiety Workshops
Eco-anxiety can be defined as extreme worry about the present and future harm to the environment caused by human activity during the industrial age; it is a kind of extreme fear that is existential in nature and needs to be taken seriously. The good news is that eco-anxiety - sometimes called climate anxiety - can be treated in ways that are empowering and productive.
There is no need to start a course of medication for your climate fear; instead, attend an eco-anxiety workshop, and connect with like-minded people. Eco-anxiety workshops create a space for individuals to explore fears, worries, and grief about the loss of habitats and species; they are also a chance to meet a community of activists and become another agent of change.
Change Energy Consumption Habits
There’s no doubt about it the dangerous levels of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere generated by various industries. In fact, the vast majority of energy use comes from heavy industries, transport, and energy use in buildings, so while individuals are not to blame for the crises directly, we can have a significant influence in the economy by changing our habits.
The economy operates on a system of supply and demand, with capitalistic marketing efforts creating demand where none existed before; however, the economy will adapt to a change in supply, meaning that consumers have agency and power within the system. This is worth keeping in mind when we make everyday choices about how we use energy and transport.
Change your Commuting Patterns
Each year the UK government must report the country’s carbon emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), outlining the Co2 emissions from transport. In recent years there have been promising signs, with estimates suggesting that emissions from 2020 are 22% lower than figures from 1990. But there is room for improvement.
If you are feeling eco-anxious and you want to empower yourself to make a difference, changing your commuting habits is a simple and effective strategy. Although private vehicles are more eco-efficient these days, it helps to reduce carbon in the atmosphere if you use public transport or car share. All of these eco-choices take pressure off the system and help to reduce carbon.
Switch to a Vegan Diet and Lifestyle
Nowadays, it’s generally accepted that a plant-based diet has fewer carbon emissions than one that contains beef and other meats. It’s not hard to see where this idea comes from since raising cattle requires huge amounts of carbon and releases methane into the atmosphere. That said, a vegan diet will still produce carbon emissions but not on the same scale as an omnivorous one.
At one time, a vegan or plant-based diet was a novelty, and those who followed one needed to be deeply connected to their ethics to make it work, but that is no longer the case. Again, the economy has changed to accommodate the demands of consumers; as more people made plant-based choices, more companies started to produce plant-based products reducing carbon.
Some Final Thoughts
Eco-anxiety can make us feel guilty, regretful, and powerless, or it can make us feel empowered and optimistic; either way, it’s important to take action to resolve the inner crises we experience and make a positive contribution to the world. Every practical step you take towards making your life greener helps dissolve the tension of climate fear and inspires the people around you.
Here’s a collection of some of our articles which have been in our newsletters or published elsewhere.