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Is Eco-Anxiety Part of Modern Existence?

I recently gave a talk and participated in a roundtable discussion on eco-anxiety at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina. I explained my research and also connected with college students about their experience. They all were experiencing anxiety about the future -- especially as it relates to the environment -- and shared their intense feelings.

I talked about starting my new nonprofit organization in November 2020 OneGreenThing, and my plans to launch it around Earth Day 2021. As Prof. John Wear asked me questions about eco-anxiety, I underscored the importance of small, daily actions to overcome climate crisis anxiety and overwhelm and create culture change.

One of the panelists posited an important question. Is this all talk about individual action rainbows and unicorns? How can get people to take climate action when they are literally still dealing with a global pandemic, struggling with hunger and where their next paycheck is coming from, dealing with systemic racism, and just trying to survive? Also, is caring about clean air and clean water or worrying about climate change a luxury?

Flyer for 2021 Talk on Eco-Anxiety at Catawba College.

Individual action does matter, but not in the way most people think. It's not the quantifiable amount of carbon reduced from atmosphere, which, let's face it, is small. If you ride your bike for the rest of your life and go vegan, you won't solve the climate emergency. But, individual action can create cultural momentum for big climate solutions in policy and in the markets.

The answer to whether "eco-anxiety" is privilege is that it's all related - economic inequality, systemic racism, and mental health. Environmental organizations need to better reflect the populations they serve. Polls show that the BIPOC community is more concerned about climate change and disproportionately impacted by environmental harms. Nonprofit NGOs must reflect diversity in their leadership, messaging, and program design and delivery. We've seen a lot progress in the last year, but we've got a long way to go.

More and more people -- especially folks from the BIPOC community -- understand that the environment is connected to health, welfare, and justice and that climate change threatens are very existence.

February 2021 Conversation with Catawba College about Eco-Anxiety. You can view the full talk here.

This is why we must -- all of us -- but especially those with privilege -- must fight for climate solutions and recognize the intersectionality of our work. And it starts with us, one small action, one day at a time. By building community and creating a daily pratice of #onegreenthing, we can create a real movement for climate solutions.

You can view the full talk with Gen Z here.

Heather White is the President & CEO of Heather White Strategies and founder of the new nonprofit organization, OneGreenThing.


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