Ecological Angst and the fight of Generation Climate Change

Grief and anxiety over climate change seem like normal reactions to the horrible tragedy of environmental destruction. However, anger and angst regarding climate change are just as common, especially in younger generations who feel they have inherited a dying world that they cannot save. Ecological angst describes these intense, combative emotions that respond to one of the worst crises of our lifetime. The angst reflects distrust and anger between those who care about the environment and those who don’t. Young people often feel ecological angst as they fight for climate action and feel their concerns are ignored.

Ecological angst is a short-lived response to a new ecological fact. As an individual learns more about the ecological degradation and human suffering caused by climate change, they may feel this angst, along with despair and stress. Eco-angst is increasingly prevalent as social media and increased public consciousness mean less can go ignored.

Ecological angst can also reflect the disconnect between individual action and the responsibility of large corporations and governments. One hundred companies alone are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet these same companies tell consumers to switch to LED light bulbs and recycle water bottles. The idea that individuals can and should solve climate change absolves the major players of the responsibilities of their actions. Environmental degradation often has consequences for those who are the least responsible, only further heightening ecological angst.

It is common to find ecological angst in younger generations. The largest global demonstration occurred in 2019 when millions of individuals across the planet joined a youth-led march for climate action. Greta Thunberg’s activism is based on her frustration with global environmental politics. Younger generations have inherited climate change, while the power to change its course still lies in older generations’ hands. Young people feel ignored by the old people in power, resulting in ecological angst. Fortunately, this angst often leads to action as young people all over the globe promote climate action and justice.

Ecological angst and anger confront the same problems as ecological grief and anxiety but affect the individual differently. Those with eco-angst are more likely to turn their emotions into action rather than be numbed by despair. All are valid responses to climate change. An Australian national survey showed that individuals with eco-anger had better mental health and a greater propensity to participate in climate activism. These emotions only reflect our connection to the planet. Humans may think that we are removed from nature and that we can overrule whatever nature throws at us, but this is simply not the case.

We are deeply affected by climate change, which causes inaction in some and action in others. Working together to fight climate change can help us process our emotions while making a positive impact. Collective active conservation and ecological citizenship are growing in the wake of youth-led climate rebellion. So long as we channel our emotions into action, we can turn the course of climate change.