Hannah Dahl, Fall 2021
I cry every time I watch a documentary about the climate crisis. Even a two-minute documentary trailer makes me cry. All I need are scenes of polar ice caps melting, California wildfires blazing, reporters declaring this summer the hottest on record, and some grim narrator telling me over dramatic orchestral music that time is quickly running out for our planet and the species that depend on it—all because of humans. I cry because I know that humans are constantly pushing the Earth past its limits and because I know that our time to fix these issues is almost out. The tears flow every time.
In the article “Ecological anxiety disorder: diagnosing the politics of the Anthropocene,” Robbins and Moore present ecological anxiety disorder, more commonly referred to as eco-anxiety, as having two roots: anthrophobia and autophobia, which the authors define respectively as fear in response to “the negative normative influence of humans on the earth” and fear in response to “the inherent influence of normative human values within one’s own science” (Moore and Robbins, 4).
For many, including myself, anthrophobia is the bigger concern. Anthrophobes feel paralyzed because of their inability as individuals to make any dent in global issues like climate change or species loss because they know that mankind has “[transformed the] earth to a point of irreversibility” (Moore and Robbins, 5, 8). They know there is no returning to a pre-Anthropocenic era, and they are forced to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions of the environment. Anthrophobia then thrusts us into a cycle where those with eco-anxiety find it exhausting to adapt, which generally “[relates to] lower wellbeing” and possibly even more anxiety (Stanley, 1). It takes a toll on a person to accept the climate crisis at all when that means “accepting a potentially annihilating threat [and then] accepting that there must be vast changes in the lives of individuals and communities” (Panu, 7). Faced with such high stakes of annihilation, no wonder myself and many others are so fearful of how humans continue to damage the environment without a second thought.
To anthrophobes, I pose these questions for reflection: Does your fear rest on the ideal of some untainted, pre-Columbian, pre-Anthropocenic world? In your fear, are you taking responsibility for your own actions as well as recognizing the negative impacts of others? Are you willing to let go of your fear and take ownership of the work it will require to minimize our negative impact on the earth instead of sitting in a paralyzed state?
Starting here, we may address the foundations of our eco-anxiety and anthrophobia, learn how to use our fear instead of succumbing to it, and perhaps cry less when watching documentaries about climate change.
Moore, Sarah A., and Paul Robbins. “Ecological Anxiety Disorder: Diagnosing the Politics of the Anthropocene – Paul Robbins, Sarah A. Moore, 2013.” Cultural Geographies 2013, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1474474012469887.
Panu, Pihkala. “Anxiety and the Ecological Crisis: An Analysis of Eco-Anxiety and Climate Anxiety.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 23 Sept. 2020, https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/19/7836.
Stanley, Samantha K., et al. “From Anger to Action: Differential Impacts of Eco-Anxiety, Eco-Depression, and Eco-Anger on Climate Action and Wellbeing.” The Journal of Climate Change and Health, Elsevier, 19 Mar. 2021, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2667278221000018.