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Is Climate Anxiety Worth the Hassle?

Summertime is announcing its early arrival with warmer weather than ever before. With summer internships, vacations, and pool parties filling up schedules, one of the last things on our minds is climate change. 

Many people avoid talking about environmental issues because it may cause unnecessary despair, commonly referred to as “climate anxiety.” With enough stress from one’s personal life, there does not seem to be enough time or energy to worry about the planet. It could be exhausting to feel immense guilt every time we drive a car, use a plastic straw, or shop at a fast-fashion company. It could be too large of an issue to carry alone on one’s shoulders, to face alone when worldwide multi-billionaire companies and governments choose to turn a blind eye. Ultimately, it could be a concern left for future generations to deal with. Should we have to subject ourselves to looming guilt and despair that the world around us is dying? The answer is a gentle no. The easier option is to ignore the severity of the issues and continue our ways of living. 

Now, easier is not always better. Ignoring the issues will not make them disappear and without substantial changes, the severity level will only increase, which will heighten levels of climate anxiety. Similar to other forms of anxiety, a good approach is to break the situation into steps: (1) addressing what is happening through causes and effects, and (2) figuring out solutions to help. 

In the past decade, the science of climate change has progressed rapidly, showing evidence that human activities are certainly altering the climate. According to National Geographic, human activities that contribute to environmental issues include overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation. Pollution is the introduction of harmful materials (known as pollutants) into the environment. Pollutants can damage the quality of air, water, and land. 

Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gasses are burned to create electricity and power vehicles. Through the process, harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide are released into the air. When those chemicals react with sunlight, it can cause smog to blanket the area. The smog prevents sunlight from reaching the crop fields, leading to reduced crop production. That would then bring about malnutrition and rising food prices. The smog can also make breathing difficult, especially for children and elders. According to an article published in Global Health on January 21, 2020, worsening air pollution increases the risk of lung development and contributes to reduced lung function, more severe asthma, and an elevated risk of cardiovascular events later in life.

Greenhouse gasses carry a huge effect on the environment. Initially, the gasses are necessary because they absorb sunlight, trap heat in the atmosphere, and keep the Earth warm enough to sustain life. This process is called the greenhouse effect. Consequently, with the increase in fossil fuel burning and forest destruction, the greenhouse effect also increases. Those causes result in higher average temperatures, known as global warming. 

In a world that is warmer than the preindustrial average, many life-altering events could result in far-reaching health repercussions. High temperatures can act as a catalyst for the spread of infectious diseases. Sea levels are rising by an estimated amount of 0.09 inches each year, which causes flooding in many low-lying coastal regions. In addition to more floods, global warming also predicts more droughts and severe storms. Ocean acidification is another result of global warming. The ocean waters are absorbing more carbon dioxide, which makes the oceans warmer and less salty–creating an insufficient habitat for much aquatic life. With corals and fishes dying, the entire food web is threatened. 

Excessive amounts of garbage and sewage pollute land and water. With land, heavy rain on landfills can cause dangerous trash landslides. With water, people can become directly sick through drinking contaminated water or indirectly sick through eating fish that have consumed chemicals. Humans are not the only ones suffering, because millions of ocean creatures have died from mistaking garbage for food. 

The use of pesticides and fertilizers may be great for killing pests and speeding up the growth of plants, but it also has long-term effects. Rainwater can wash fertilizer into streams and lakes, contributing to water pollution. Pesticides exist in fruits and vegetables, which can cause cancer and other diseases. 

These issues are occurring right under our noses. Even if certain issues are not yet occurring or severe in some countries, they cannot be ignored as “not our problem” because we are connected. Air and water currents can carry pollutants from one area to another. For example, according to National Geographic, the Big Bend National Park in Texas, United States used to have a clear landscape view of 180 miles. Now, with the coal-burning power plants in Texas and the additional air pollution from the neighboring state of Chihuahua, Mexico, visitors to Big Bend can sometimes see only 30 miles. 

I believe environmental issues are one of the areas that test humanity's ability to care for the unknown future of the world. When former President Barack Obama announced his Climate Action Plan in 2013, he left us with these thoughts, “Someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye, and they’ll ask us, ‘Did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world?’”

However, there are many eco-friendly, hassle-free ways to alleviate climate anxiety such as cutting down waste, conserving water, and shopping wisely. Recycling is a more common alternative because many useful materials such as glass can be reused, instead of contributing to landfills and waterways. Climate scientists and environmentalists have written books and spoken at rallies to inform the public about ways to reduce emissions. Citizens can reach out and advocate for lawmakers and politicians to make these environmental issues a priority. Governments can pass laws that limit the amount and types of chemicals businesses are allowed to use. They can also implement regulations that fine people and businesses that illegally dump pollutants. 

Climate anxiety–this ability to feel nervous, anxious, and scared–does not have to be unnecessary despair. These feelings display the ability to care. If we come together and contribute our efforts for a cleaner, safer, and more eco-friendly lifestyle, we can save this planet–our home. Author Nicola Davies said, “...you can only do what you can do, and you need to feel that you can do something.” It is a global responsibility to consider the importance of these situations and acknowledge their existence. We should care because that is what makes us human and as humans, we all deserve to be here.

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