inducing eco-anxiety as a call to climate action
How might we activate urgent demand for climate action?
Skills and Tools:
Products of Design, SVA, 2016-17
Conventional wisdom tells us that eco-anxiety—an indirect mental health impact of climate change—is preventing us from effectively responding to the threat of climate change. This form of anxiety is also marked by an existential worry about the future for oneself, children, and later generations. I challenge this idea through my thesis, Good Grief: Inducing Eco-Anxiety as a Call to Climate Action—by developing products and services that humanize the narrative around climate change, and intentionally create opportunities for experiencing the depression and anxiety caused by the effects of climate change and environmental degradation. In doing do, I hope to instigate an urgent demand for climate action.
In my research, I came across two ideas that heavily influenced my work. The first, from Per Espen Stoknes’ What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming, suggests that these “negative” feelings can be useful. He writes, “The paradox is behind all that despair... we may find a renewed way of caring for the land, air, ourselves, and others. We may shift gradually from helpless depression to a heartfelt appreciation and re-engagement.” This is in line with the findings of researchers Paul W. Andrews & J. Anderson Thomson Jr, who stated that depression is not a malfunction, but a beneficial mental adaptation that allows the mind to ruminate, or concentrate on complex emotional problems. In light of these insights, I posit the idea that maybe we are feeling anxious and depressed about climate change because it’s actually really scary and sad. Why shouldn’t we allow ourselves to feel something real about our impending doom?
“Maybe we are feeling anxious and depressed about climate change because it’s actually really scary and sad. Why shouldn’t we allow ourselves to feel something real about our impending doom?”
Good Grief is about intentionally provoking eco-anxiety in order to force people out of their apathy, thus making them more likely to take action on climate change. This is the first step of six in my theory of change towards climate change mitigation.
The main challenge I faced was designing work around a topic that most people have developed cognitive barriers to avoid. My strategy materialized through interviews with over twenty activists and experts who noted the importance of storytelling in catching and keeping people’s attention focused on a social cause. To reach the audience, the work would need to reframe the narrative around climate change by centering people and their personal relationship to climate change.