Climate Anxiety Is an Overwhelmingly White Phenomenon
Is it really just code for white people wishing to hold onto their way of life or to get «back to normal?»
The climate movement is ascendant, and it has become common to see climate change as a social justice issue. surveys show that these are the communities most concerned about climate change. One year ago, I published a book called A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety. Since its publication, I have been struck by the fact that those responding to the concept of climate anxiety are overwhelmingly white.
Indeed, these climate anxiety circles are even whiter than the environmental circles I’ve been in for decades. Capitol, I am deeply concerned about the racial implications of climate anxiety. The white response to climate change is literally suffocating to people of color. Climate anxiety can operate like white fragility, sucking up all the oxygen in the room and devoting resources toward appeasing the dominant group.
My book has connected me to a growing community focused on the emotional dimensions of climate change. As writer Britt Wray puts it, emotions like mourning, anger, dread and anxiety are «merely a sign of our attachment to the world.» Paradoxically, though, anxiety about environmental crisis can create apathy, inaction and burnout. Anxiety may be a rational response to the world that climate models predict, but it is unsustainable. And climate panic can be as dangerous as it is galvanizing.
Dealing with feelings of climate anxiety will require the existential tools I provided in A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety, but it will also require careful attention to extremism and climate zealotry. We can’t fight climate change with more racism. The prospect of an unlivable future has always shaped the emotional terrain for Black and brown people, whether that terrain is racism or climate change. Climate change compounds existing structures of injustice, and those structures exacerbate climate change.
What is unique is that people who had been insulated from oppression are now waking up to the prospect of their own unlivable future. It is a surprisingly short step from «chronic fear of environmental doom,» as the American Psychological Association defines ecoanxiety, to xenophobia and fascism. Today’s progressives espouse climate change as the «greatest existential threat of our time,» a claim that ignores people who have been experiencing existential threats for much longer. I recently gave a college lecture about climate anxiety.
One of the students e-mailed me to say she was so distressed that she’d be willing to submit to a green dictator if they would address climate change. It would be tragic and dangerous if this generation of climate advocates becomes willing to sacrifice democracy and human rights in the name of climate change. Instead of asking «What can I do to stop feeling so anxious?», «What can I do to save the planet?» and «What hope is there?», people with privilege can be asking «Who am I?» and «How am I connected to all of this?» The answers reveal that we are deeply interconnected with the well-being of others on this planet, and that there are traditions of environmental stewardship that can be guides for where we need to go from here.
Source: Sarah Jaquette Ray | Scientific American