Eco-Anxiety and the Unlivable Future

If you’re anything like me, you’re worried about climate change.

But if you’re a lot like me (or David Wallace-Wells), you’re scared to death of the impending eco-apocalypse.

Sometimes that fear manifests as an abstract doom, more of an ennui related to a future without penguins or glaciers. Sometimes that fear manifests as a specific, stinging pain, reading about communities who will soon lack easy access to clean water. But sometimes, that fear becomes a self-consuming void of hopelessness, where this epic ecological catastrophe filters visions of the future through the sieve of despondency.

So what to do when the dread of a ruined planetary future clouds your mind? How do we break that cycle of eco-anxiety and push onwards in our sunny, warmer-than-average days?

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Well lately, I’ve been dreaming of gardening. I’ve had a strong urge, more resounding than ever before, to dig my hands into dirt and cultivate. I want to plant watermelons and tomatoes, care for trees and shrubs and water wildflowers and herbs. I want to put on a big hat and get out there.

My problem? I don’t have any land. I live in Washington D.C., in a house with four roommates and no backyard. One day, I will till my compost on a couple of acres and quench this thirst for real. But for now, I’ll have to rely on Michael Pollan’s Second Nature.

Pollan chronicles a year in the life of his garden and the gifts, troubles, joys and puzzles it offers him. He struggles with the boundary between humanity and nature and admits defeat as often as he celebrates a harvest or a well-placed bloom. And as he gardens, I garden.

The New York Times is publishing a guide to “Be a Better Reader” this week. In the first installment, they cite a study showing that reading about an activity will stimulate neurons related to said activity. So by reading Michael Pollan describe smelling dirt, I could actually, neurologically (and I swear it’s true) smell a little dirt. It smelled of warm chocolate cake and cast iron.

To combat the dread of an indescribable future, I will describe an alternate future. One of these days, when I am less perturbed with our planetary trajectory, I will write about what we’re fighting to build.

It’s a future of justice, ecology, and composure. The world is still — not from death, but from equanimous life, ecosystems in a calm dynamic equilibrium, fluctuating energy seamlessly between beings like the bird songs now again resonant in the trees.

When that place is beyond the realm of possibility, I will have a way to think past that impenetrable wall of hopelessness. I will read what inspires me on the best days. And for a moment, I can garden in that future Eden.

The quote of the week:

Evidently, democracy just ain’t democracy without ecology.

Conservationist, storyteller, semi-professional Ira Glass impressionist.