Eco-anxiety is the concept that people, especially young people, are experiencing stress due to the climate crisis that the world is experiencing. Popularized in part by climate activist Greta Thunberg, it is basically an overwhelming sense of dread and worry that humanity is going to die along with the planet due to climate change. Eco-anxiety is not real.
Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. Certainly, our planet is changing and not for the better. With every new scientific report detailing just how screwed Earth is, it’s hard not to feel like this might be the end. It’s just that eco-anxiety as a concept undersells the problem.
Rather, eco-anxiety is a misnomer, a misplaced anger towards a bigger problem in society. Eco-anxiety is just one example of a greater cultural anxiety that young people are suffering from. We have all been raised on a series of lies that we are now being disillusioned from, and it’s a stressful, awful time.
The American Dream is dead; this has been true for a while. While we know this now, though, the rhetoric of our society has not caught up. As children, we are still fed dreams of a future that increasingly feels unattainable. We are still raised to believe we will find true love, have a couple of kids plus a dog and live the “middle class” life. Even when it is not said directly, this theme still permeates through our culture and media. It is reassured to us by our parents and teachers. It is the respectable way, the normal.
And it feels like it’s all a lie. When more and more jobs are becoming automated, there’s not enough for everyone to move into a nice desk job. When student loan debt is bearing down on young people, they can’t start a family. When Americans are guilty of so much overconsumption, we can’t keep buying into this culture of excess that is pushed upon us.
All of this disillusionment comes down at once. More and more, millenials are moving back in with their parents after college. Side gigs and second (or third) jobs are becoming more common, too. There is little time or space to settle down with a spouse amid all of this. And when all of these facts come together, the world as we know it gets shattered. Is it any surprise we are all left a bit anxious about that?
Home ownership, children and job stability increasingly feel like fairy tales. Even the idea that going to college will save us from uncertainty doesn’t really feel like it’s going to pan out, at least to me. It seems like instability is going to be the theme of our lives.
And that really sucks. Stability is all I find myself wanting. So many times, my friends and I have “joked” about dropping out of college, finding a plot of remote land and becoming a farmer or something. Sometimes, those jokes are said longingly.
I don’t feel certain about the life ahead of me. I want to believe it will all work out, but who knows? Maybe I won’t spend my time efficiently enough, and I’ll end up being denied my dream job. Maybe I’ll get into an accident and be stuck with medical debt looming over me for the rest of my life. Maybe the planet will become uninhabitable in a few decades, causing war and disaster. That’s all that’s on my mind.
So yeah, eco-anxiety may be real, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Even if we don’t manage to exterminate ourselves, we are still in a precarious spot. We’re still living at a crossroads.
If it’s any solace, we shouldn’t feel lonely about having these thoughts. Everyone is scared; everyone is anxious. And while talking about that head-on won’t necessarily lead to an easy solution, it can at least make the gravity of our situation feel a little less heavy.
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Peter Fenteany is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.