Small actions and big support can temper eco-anxiety
How climate change affects our mental health depends on how society responds to it. Buy-in from business is critical
The wildfires were raging in Fort McMurray, Alta., demolishing thousands of homes and chasing people from their communities. That’s when I first experienced it; the chest-tightening, thought-consuming symptoms of eco-anxiety.
What was new then has become more familiar – and, at least anecdotally, more widespread among friends and colleagues.
One of my colleagues said she becomes anxious if she needs to buy a lunch; she sees cheese and crackers wrapped in plastic, soup in a Styrofoam bowl with a plastic cover, salads served with plastic cups of dressing and plastic cutlery wrapped in plastic, and she freezes.
“So much plastic and garbage,” she told me. “I actually become overwhelmed and usually walk out without buying anything.”
The effects climate change can have on mental health is gaining more attention in the scientific community, while the physical health effects become more established.
In 2009, the respected medical journal The Lancet published a paper declaring, “Effects of climate change on health will affect most populations in the next decades and put the lives and wellbeing of billions of people at increased risk.”
Later, scientists also started researching the consequences of climate change on mental health. Last year, the authors of a paper published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) concluded, “Sound mental health – a critical facet of human well-being – has the potential to be undermined by climate change.”
In this case, researchers pointed to evidence of short-term exposure to extreme weather, multi-year warming and tropical cyclone each contributing to worsened mental health. Eco-anxiety is a little different, because it doesn’t require direct contact with the effects of climate change.
The American Psychological Association published a report in 2017 entitled, “Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts Implications and Guidance.” In it, the researchers defined eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom,” in which an individual may worry about the future of the planet as it pertains to themselves and future generations.
“We can say that 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,” Susan Clayton, one of the report’s authors, said in an October 2018 interview with Vogue.
“How it will affect people’s mental health in the long run depends on how society responds to it.”
Dr. Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria in British Columbia told the CBC last year that the ongoing loss of species worldwide and hearing about the billions of pounds of plastic garbage in our oceans, for example, can make the climate problem seem overwhelming and impossible to beat.
But we can beat it, he says. We just need to take a step back and look at how we as individuals can modify, adapt and improve our behaviours. For example, have cutlery and reusable containers on hand if you need to buy a lunch; take part in a neighbourhood clean-up activity; plant a tree or bee-attracting flowers in your garden; instead of driving to work, try the bus or biking; and support businesses committed to low- or zero-footprint models.
Not all the onus is on individuals, of course, but the idea is that taking small steps can help us feel at least a bit more empowered. But buy-in from bigger businesses is critical, as is supporting the entrepreneurs who are trying to make a difference.
At Export Development Canada, we made the decision last year to look at the environmental impacts of our business portfolio. In January this year, we released a new climate-change policy committing us to provide no new funding for thermal coal mines and to measure, monitor and disclose climate-related risks and opportunities.
But a key part of our contribution to transitioning to a lower-carbon, sustainable economy is supporting the great Canadian cleantech entrepreneurs developing solutions to the problems.
Take Pyrowave, for example. This Montreal-based company developed an advanced recycling technology for plastics that are mostly not currently recycled, resulting in an increased range of recyclable material from and a reduction in costs of recycling, all while producing higher-value end products.
Our relationship with Pyrowave started in 2017 with a guaranteed line of credit that helped the company land its first sale with a major U.S. petrochemical producer. More recently, we made a $1 million strategic co-investment in the company.
Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies, one of EDC’s Vancouver-based customers, carved a niche out of harvesting phosphorous from sewage treatment processes. This technology continues to help protect precious water resources worldwide, enabling communities to keep their water clean and create a marketable byproduct used to enhance agricultural yields.
In Blainville, Que., our support for Xebec Adsorption has helped the company develop a global footprint, providing their carbon-reducing technologies to customers around the world. Their state-of-the-art, low-cost gas generation, purification and filtration solutions captures 99% of digester and landfill gas to produce renewable natural gas, which can then, in turn, be used as a carbon neutral, cellulosic biofuel.
Keeping in mind these companies and the hundreds like them can help, not only calm the symptoms of eco-anxiety, but the symptoms of climate change. Beyond the small – but important – actions we can take in our personal life, it is important to keep supporting the cleantech companies trying to affect positive change in the climate and environment in any ways we can.
This article was submitted by Lynn Côté, Cleantech Lead, Export Development Canada.
EDC is a financial Crown corporation dedicated to helping Canadian companies of all sizes succeed on the world stage. As international risk experts, we equip Canadian companies with the tools they need – the trade knowledge, financing solutions, equity, insurance, and connections – to take on the world with confidence. Underlying all our support is a commitment to sustainable and responsible business.