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Dealing with Eco-Anxiety: An Introduction by Dr. Nate Charach

We are excited to introduce this guest post by Dr. Charach, providing timely insight into the swirl of emotions many of us feel as we strive to gain a sense of place in the midst of our climate crisis.

Many people struggle with anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges. Culturally we are often focused on “reducing stigma” of “mental illness” and this conversation is largely disconnected from how our world causes unpleasant emotions. Psychiatry’s current paradigm of mental illness is well-intentioned and often misses the mark. The real focus on reducing stigma needs to be on reducing the stigma of our emotions rather than their resulting “symptoms”. We need to connect our emotions to the things in our world that are demanding our attention. When we do this, we recognize that it is not a coincidence that mental illness is rising while the climate crisis unfolds. “Eco-anxiety” occurs when we miss out on what our underlying emotions tell us. Never before have Vonnegut‘s words been more true: “a sane person to an insane society must appear insane”.

The most important lesson I have learned from those I have worked with in my practice is to listen to what our emotions tell us. Our emotions always have some truth to them even if we cannot see it at first. Below is an image that summarizes my understanding of how emotions work:

The states of mind on the surface are the most obvious and are the emotions that we describe as mental health problems. If we are paralyzed by our worries, we call it “anxiety”. If we flip into a rage when we stub our toe, “anger” is the problem. All of the states of mind written on the tip of the iceberg are actually secondary responses to primary emotions that are beneath the surface. Emotions that we stigmatize and, therefore, subconsciously disconnect from.

Most people call the emotions below the surface “negative”. When we are young, our father comforts us with “don’t cry, you’re ok”. As we get older, our mother says “Oh, don’t feel guilty, you are doing the best that you can”. These are meant as supportive statements, yet they tell us that our emotions are wrong.

Our emotions are an interpretation of stimuli and are wired similar to our other sensory functions. Vision uses light as its stimulus, while emotions use “pleasant or unpleasant” and “aroused or calm” internal sensations as input. Emotions compile this information from our internal environment and use memories from the past to anticipate what this means about our external environment. This gives us important information and motivates us to action. When we learn to mistrust this function, we become disconnected from it. We have a sense that something is wrong but can’t identify what.

Imagine for a moment that, since I was three, my parents told me that red is a “negative” colour. When I pointed to a tomato, I was told “oh, that’s not really red, don’t look there”. I could try to do this. I could walk around and every time I saw a firetruck or a cardinal I would turn away. I would find this very difficult. Even if I was successful at always ignoring red, I would often make wrong decisions. If I was hit by a car because I ignored a red light, I would blame the other person.

And so the same goes for emotions. “Loneliness” as an emotion tells me to connect with more people. If I notice that I feel “depressed” when the underlying emotion is “loneliness”, I need to connect with the loneliness. If I only listen to the depression, I will isolate myself from others. This will exacerbate the loneliness rather than address it.

If we avoid feeling “negative” emotions, then our bodies feel greatly distressed because they are ignoring clear input. When we successfully disconnect ourselves, we make decisions on partial information. This leads us to make decisions that are not in our best interest while also ignoring the world around us. If we instead recognize these emotions as “unpleasant” rather than “negative”, our perspective on the world changes.

If you experience “eco-anxiety” or depression based upon the numerous “depressing” things in our world, I urge you to connect with your emotions more carefully. You likely have been pushing away very unpleasant emotions, as most of us have. For a solution to our climate crisis, we must connect with our unpleasant emotions. Let them teach us and motivate us. Learning to listen is tricky. In my future posts, I will discuss ways to listen to these emotions that can keep us from feeling overwhelmed. I will also discuss my understanding of how each of these unpleasant emotions can be effectively interpreted.

This process will involve feeling pain. Rather than disconnect from that pain, we should instead experience it with others. Through connecting with ourselves and our community at large, we can address the root causes of our climate crisis. In so doing, we will feel our unpleasant emotions less frequently. They will still come at times to remind us about the work that remains to be done, because there is so much to do. If we continue to listen to our emotions, together, we can build a way of living that is in harmony with nature.

Together, let’s change our cultural myths about emotions. Let’s allow them to genuinely motivate us to be part of a change that is much bigger than ourselves.


Nate Charach is a psychiatrist who works at a community hospital and has also completed his permacultural design certificate. His emotions urge him to combine these skills to create thriving communities that are in harmony with nature. With his clients, he attempts to work in partnership to find common meaning and value from their challenges.

Low-Carbon Luxury – 5 – Be Where You Are

If you’re new to the Low Carbon Luxury Series, start here.

Would you rather be somewhere else right now?  Does simply reading that question make you enjoy being where you are a little bit less?

In a previous installment of this series, I wrote about finding the intrinsic value of experiences rather than ceaselessly comparing them to other possibilities.  But our modern economy thrives on comparison.  Deleuze and Guattari (1987) argue that the rise of money as a “general equivalent” allowed wealth and work, which once had qualitative meanings, to be tallied numerically.  The more things are on the market, the greater the field of profit.  If we find someone who will raise our children for less per hour than someone else is willing to pay us for our skills, we can increase our savings.  Quantitative comparison means that anything could just as easily become something else and this tendency pushes our society towards meaninglessness.  If we are always looking elsewhere we do not see what is right before our eyes.  That is why the final tenet of low-carbon luxury is to simply be where you are.

Investors don’t want us to stay put.  They want a “flexible” labour market.  They want to trade one thing for another as smoothly as possible.  Economic geographers (E.g. Coe, Kelly & Young, 2013) write about the ‘friction of distance’ impeding this ideal of instant exchange.  They highlight the difference between absolute distance and relative distance in cost and time.  Air travel reduces relative distance.  Computer technologies reduce relative distance.  They work to make everywhere the same place at the same time.  Capital strives to conquer time and space in order to make ‘frictionless’ exchanges — but time and space are where we live. 

Living means being where you are.  The ‘friction of distance’ is actually the specificity in which meaning is forged.  Being where you are means appreciating your neighbourhood, your city and your local environment.  It means delighting in seasonality.  It means never pretending that the world and the weather do not exist.

Shipping things across the world over night; building highways to rush us through a once-great city in a matter of minutes; designing franchises that can be replicated anywhere; flattening hills for residential developments; flying to the tropics in the winter — these all reduce ‘friction,’ but they also obliterate reality.

Think for a moment about the joy of a snow day — a very particular day, encapsulated in cold.  Why do we invest so much money and fuel into clearing our roads as fast as possible?  Why can’t we just stay home once or twice a year?  Especially when so many of us dread the repetitiveness of our careers, the endless sameness that swallows up years of our life and leaves nothing but an RRSP in exchange.  Working less and living more is also a climate solution, because a slower economy burns less energy.  And if we measure value in terms of meaningful moments, a slower economy will also likely produce more value as well.  So let’s take a snow day when nature asks us too.  Make hot chocolate.  Read a book.  You can go to work again on Wednesday.

Insisting on travelling the same route at the same time of day in the same vehicle for an entire year is crazy.  Think of all the time and effort and municipal taxes we pour into clearing snow for our cars.  Indigenous people just put on snowshoes and walked on top of it.

Being where you are means delighting in the seasons instead of denying them.  In general, this will also save us energy.  In the summer – make a salad with local tomatoes for dinner and give your oven a rest.  In the winter, bake root vegetables, knowing that your oven is doing double-duty and taking a little strain of your gas furnace.  Respecting seasonality also means you will pass on the flavourless imported tomatoes that clutter up our grocery stores all winter – saving yourself for the rare joy of a local heirloom tomato.  Respecting the seasonality of the harvest intensifies the pleasure of eating because waiting an entire year for certain delicacies makes them that much more glorious when they finally arrive.

Perhaps the most insidious and absurd denial of seasonality is our contemporary insistence that indoor temperatures should be 22 degrees all year round – such that many people are too hot indoors in the winter and bring sweaters to the movies in the summer.  Use your furnace, use your air conditioner – but let the temperatures fluctuate with the seasons.  Enjoy the coziness of sweaters in the winter.  Wipe your brow with a damp cloth in the summer.  This will also allow your body to actually get used to the season and make going outside less startling in both summer and winter.

Being where you are will also strengthen your connection to your neighbourhood.  Walking will let you see all the little gardens and shops and unusual trees just around the corner.  If you go for regular strolls, your relationships with the people in your neighbourhood will evolve from glances to nods to waves to full blown conversations and maybe even friendships.  Cultivating things takes time and cultivating the place where you live is no different.  If you drive off in the morning and roll into the garage each night you will have a home, but not a neighbourhood.

If you’re not in a hurry, take a moment to appreciate this dance performance by BBOY CLOUD, a businessman misses his bus – and realizes how much beauty he was rushing past.

 

 

Driving in and out of your neighbourhood for every single errand can also impact other people’s friendships.  Take a look at this fascinating chart of friendship between neighbours compared to volume of vehicles.  If you feel like you never have time to go visit friends – perhaps it is because they are all so far away.

socialinteractionsbytrafficvolume
Donald, A., Gerson, M. S., & Lintell, M. (1981). Livable streets. Berkely/Los Angeles/London.

Donald, A., Gerson, M. S., & Lintell, M. (1981). Livable streets. Berkely/Los Angeles/London.

BEING WHERE YOU ARE draws together many of the other tenets of low-carbon luxury.  Certainly, working less and living more is a good way to give yourself time to get to know your neighbourhood.  Being mindful helps you to appreciate the little things.  And simply appreciating what your neighbourhood has to offer instead of comparing it to Vienna or Tokyo will help you develop your attachment – and all the interwoven layers of meaning that grow out of nurturing a sense of place.

Staycations can help you to love where you live.  Last winter, my wife and I spend a few days downtown at the Royal York; we ate out and pampered ourselves and swam in their pool and forgot it was winter.  And now, whenever I’m at Union Station, I see the hotel and recall that vacation fondly, those memories are nestled into downtown Toronto in a way that a tropical vacation never could be.  Even a space as dull and utilitarian as the PATH now has a certain luxurious resonance that it didn’t have before.

Staycations save money and reduce our carbon footprint, but they also colour our understanding of our hometown or province.  They help us to be where we are.  If you discover a perfect new restaurant during your staycation – you can go back again in a couple of weeks for a Friday night excursion that carries you a million miles away.

And as more of us choose to turn inwards for inspiration, instead of always looking abroad, the more residents of our city will get a chance to shine.  Think for a moment about what would happen if we spent as much energy and money supporting local sports as international leagues.  Imagine, instead of the Raptors, we had ten teams from different neighbourhods competing throughout the year.  Instead of supporting a couple hundred millionaires across North American – professional sports could pay a couple hundred people a generous, but not outrageous, salary in every single city.  Ten times as many athletes could live the dream of going pro – and we would see these men and women in our local coffee shops and restaurants or taking their family to the park.  And the cross-town rivalries would be even more delicious than national rivalries.  This same increase in equity could be achieved in the arts and other fields – instead of creating global superstars, we could nourish a deep field of local heroes.

Instead of Drake’s scorching sun circling the CN tower, blotting out all the other stars, a hundred local rappers would also get their time to shine.

 

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We Did it!!

Thanks to your ridiculously generous support, we’ve signed a contract with Pattison Media and we will have one 100 climate crisis posters on the TTC! When we launched, raising $10,000 in 17 days seemed absurdly ambitious — but we’re in the ‘try everything’ camp when it comes to climate action, so we tried.

AND YOU RESPONDED!  Keep an eye out for your ads starting on AUGUST 5th.

You can read more about the thinking behind the ads here: https://climatepledgecollective.org/climate-crisis-ads/

Help us put Climate Crisis ads on the subway!

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We have a plan to put ads on the TTC that tell the truth about our climate crisis.

We have a graphic designer willing to do the design for free!

We have a loose concept — simply sharing hard-hitting climate facts that are being under-reported, such as the water crisis in Chennai.

We have consulted with lawyers to make sure we won’t get caught up in election finance laws.

We have consulted with Pattison Media about pricing.

We just need you to kick in a few bucks or share it with your friends.

So please donate now!

We are aiming for $10,000, which will get us one ad on almost every train for a month. At $5000 we could run the campaign, but with considerably fewer ads. It seems like a lot, but we already raised over $2000 almost without trying — because everyone seems to love the idea and people have been very generous!

Two New Toronto Climate Websites and One New Climate Action Group

There is a lot of organizing energy in Toronto these days.  Climate Justice Toronto — which is partly an offshoot of the Powershift conference and the Our Time movement — recently named itself and their meetings are humming.

Canadian Climate Challenge launched a new home base for Canadian Climate Action news with an excellent events calendar.

Extinction Rebellion Toronto is also growing rapidly and has its own website now.

Check them all out!

Two Climate Picnics in Two Cities

We’re hosting another Climate Picnic in Walter Saunders Memorial Park (near Eglinton West Station) on June 8 at 11 am!  Most details are TBA but you can follow along on the Facebook Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1293781314107063/.

Insta post scaled
https://www.facebook.com/events/1293781314107063/

There will also be a Climate Picnic in Ottawa on June 1!  FB page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1166284583533705/

ottawa picnic

Climate Picnic Thank Yous!

Our Climate Picnic last week has filled us with hope and soaked our nervous bones in lovely sounds and sunshine.   And it wouldn’t have happened without the help of so many people.  We had some great organizers and volunteers including Sue, Ira, Clarence and Brianne.  Sue was especially generous in lining up the circus performers and helping with promotion.  Thank you!

We want to especially thank Stefan Hegerat and Cassie Norton for both playing music and organizing the music.  Other musicians who played just for the good of our planet included Raging Grannies TorontoLaura Tremblay, Liam Smith, Jess Stuart, Arnd Jurgensen, Tristan Murphy, Lea Kirsten and Reenie Perovic (Citizen Jane) and a couple people I don’t have names for – super sorry, that’s the downside of running things in a free-wheeling, low bureaucracy way.

 

 

We also had a number of wonderful groups in attendance including:

Canadian Climate Challenge

Carbon Conversations Toronto

ClimateFast

Drawdown Toronto

Extinction Rebellion Toronto

Fridays for Future Toronto

MobilizeTO

Parents for Future Toronto

Toronto350

Toronto Environmental Alliance

Youth Challenge International

Thank you so much for coming out and sharing what you do!  There may also have been some other groups that I didn’t have a chance to speak to, or even possibly did speak to and forgot about, like many climate people, I’m not exactly a social butterfly graced with a good memory.  But double thank you if you came out and I forgot you — email me if you want to be added to the list.

We would also like to thank Porcupine Warriors for all their organizing work in the past, even though I’m not sure they were able to make it out.

And finally mega Thanks to Yana Sery for her many photos and this stunning video:

If you missed it on Tuesday, please check out our climate picnic how-to and start your own picnic: https://climatepledgecollective.org/2019/05/07/climate-picnic-how-to/