I Have Eco-Anxiety and You Should Too
In Sydney suburbia, a friend and I stroll past a public rubbish bin. The three holes are clearly labelled for the thrower’s convenience: paper, recyclables and general waste. As she looms closer, my heartbeat starts to quicken. She throws a coke can in the general waste.
I cringe internally. This is now my life.
At work, when the lady who notoriously orders a soy, ¾ full, no-choc cappuccino asks me, “Can I have it here, but in a takeaway cup?” I begrudgingly smile and nod my head, harshly scribbling her order onto the plastic lid.
I don’t quite remember when I started to experience these ‘eco-anxieties’, or why it feels as though the Earth’s future falls solely on my shoulders, but hey, it’s happening. I am aware not everyone has the same accessibility as myself, but I do try to be as environmentally conscious as possible. Despite this, the guilt of an impromptu need for a single-use item lingers.
I often find myself taking a breath and biting my tongue, so tempted to be that annoying environmental friend who says, “Maybe you should bring your own water bottle instead of buying a plastic one every day?” But I don’t, and the next day they buy another. The cycle continues.
And sure, the responsibility shouldn’t fall on us – the consumers. But shouldn’t we all at least try and make a difference? We’ve got nothing to lose in doing so, and everything to lose if we end up destroying the earth.
Historically, environmentalism as a practice has been viewed as a joke, a weird hobby, or exclusively for harem pant-wearing hippies with dreadlocks who tie themselves to trees. In many ways, these stereotypes still exist. We are in an era of human-induced climate change, where Antarctica’s icebergs are rapidly melting, coastal island nations such as Kiribati are going underwater and natural disasters are occurring more frequently. When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we only have 12 years to keep global warming to a minimum of 1.5 Celsius, why does this stereotype still exist, and why are only some of us worried?
Someone who has experienced this stereotype first-hand is the anonymous creator of the Instagram page @zerowastememes (ZWM). With over 44,000 followers, they have created a sense of community and belonging between like-minded environmentalists, who share similar anxieties and hilarities with one another via social media.
ZWM writes, “When people say, ‘Oh, I get it…you recycle a lot,” or, ‘Oh, so you’re like, really ‘into’ the environment,’ they think it’s a hobby or interest like gaming or watching baseball. They seem to be completely detached from their own relationship to the environment and don’t take environmental issues seriously themselves. Not that I’m blaming them… we have to meet people where they are.”
When asked how to go about starting conversations surrounding environmental issues, ZWM spoke of usually avoiding bringing it up at all, as “people often get defensive or think you’re judging them, so don’t preach or ridicule.”
“If they have questions, I’m happy to share what I know… one person making small changes won’t affect much, but many people making small changes will have a huge impact,” he says.
ZWM is not alone in their ‘eco’ social media presence, as a quick search of #zerowaste, #sustainableliving or #ecolife tags leads to millions of posts, accounts and products propelling the trend of the environmentally conscious lifestyle. This groundswell of Instagram inspo is drawing users away from the well-known fitness and model influencers, instead inspiring people to incorporate environmentalism into their everyday lives by showing how simple and rewarding an experience it is.
Cat, the mastermind behind the low-waste Instagram account @simpleishliving, with a following of over 63,000 people, is aware she can’t be perfect, and that’s what makes her page so relatable.
“It is a trend, albeit a good one. It’s also one that I hope will last. When I first started out, I had people laugh at me. And as a chronically shy person, it really did make me not want to ask people if I could use my own containers. But honestly, now, I don’t think about it too much. It may have been perceived as weird by some, but it’s almost become a part of my habit,” she says.
“It’s a fine balance between preaching and having a levelled conversation. Mostly, for me, I think it’s really important to ‘do’ than to preach. I’ve found this the most effective way to get other people interested.”
Instagram is also being used as a tool in mobilising young activists, as evident with the recent school strikes for climate change that took place late last year. The platform is used by millennials habitually, making it a prime place to engage and inform young audiences, with serious potential to make progressive change.
Despite being a third-year university student, I attended the school strike for climate change in Sydney. Never in my life have I been so inspired and hopeful for the future than on that day. Yes, some students were there just to get a day off school; however, hearing thousands of kids screaming, “WHAT DO WE WANT? CLIMATE ACTION! WHEN DO WE WANT IT? NOW!” is honestly what my dreams are made of.
Regardless of the bleak state of Australia’s political stance on climate change, the power of the people is a wonderful thing. A fresh wave of environmentalism has arrived, and with it comes new discussions, new ideas and new Instagram accounts. Environmental activists in social settings, online and in the streets, are tackling climate change head on.
Starting conversations and being the ‘environmental friend’ has never been so crucial, whilst environmental issues have never been more pressing. It’s time to call people out, start awkward conversations, share knowledge with others and allow people to view you as an environmental nerd- because some may actually listen. After all, it’s everyone’s futures that are on the line.
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