Friday, April 18, 2008

Eco-Anxiety: Fox News Stirs Hornet's Nest

Setting the Record Straight

Earlier this month I was contacted by someone representing herself as a reporter for Fox News seeking information about eco-anxiety. The resulting article stirred up a hot bed of outrage, anger, and hatred after it was picked up on Rush Limbaugh and blogs of similar ilk. Here's what I actually told Fox News and what came out instead.

I reviewed the basic concepts of I’ve presented here on this blog, focusing on the point that eco-anxiety is a misnomer because our concerns about environmental changes and their effect upon our US economy and daily lives are neither vague nor irrational, thus not a form of mental illness

I also described the two levels of eco-concern are people feeling. The first being concerns about the loss of natural habitats or species they value, such as disappearing wetlands or prairies. The second being when people realize that environmental changes are affecting our daily lives in terms of rising costs of basics we depend on for our way of life. Afterwards the reporter wrote me to ask how my eco-concerns were affecting my life, which included describing the time, effort, and stress involved in retrofitting an older energy-inefficient home, reducing our $850/month propane bill, and building up the strenght to lug 40 lb bags of pellets up and down stairs.

Unfortunately the ensuing article indicated that I’m suffering from a new disorder called eco-anxiety and that I am worrying myself sick about paper towels and plastic bottles. It also suggested that ecopsychologists are recommending, hugging a tree as the cure for this new disorder. Although the reporter expressed to me her own environmental concerns, obviously this was to be yet another of the mocking tongue-in-cheek articles I’ve been concerned about seeing in previous coverage on this topic.

Her take in the article hit the Rush Limbaugh show shortly after it was out and this blog has been deluged with outraged and outrageous comments. There are many useful illustrations of The Waking-Up Syndrome within these comments, so I am collecting them and will summarize them in a future blog. Meanwhile, for those visiting here as a result of this hornet’s nest, I would like to clarify several things.

First, I am not suffering. I am taking action on both a personal and community level as I’ve describe in the blog on Intelligent Response. Second, I am not worrying about either paper towels or plastic bottles, though I realize some people might. Instead of being overly concerned about things we can’t or are not ready to change, it is my experience that the best way to handle our concerns is get busy, taking action to make the changes we can and are ready to make to protect our selves and the environment. Third, I do not believe, or at certainly least hope, that no reputable ecotherapist would recommend hugging a tree as the way to resolve the eco-nomic concerns so many of us have.

Ecopsychology, by the way, is a educational or therapeutic tool that helpful in understanding how we can live in harmony with ourselves and the environment around us. It can help us understand why we’re experiencing environmental challenges and what we need to do personally and collectively to take better care of ourselves and the environment, thus reducing our stress.

As I pointed out to the reporter during our interview, making changes in the way we live can be stressful. It may challenge our definitions of who we are, how we thought the world is supposes to work, and our ideas of what’s possible in the future. Stress can cause physical symptoms, or aggravate pre-existing physical vulnerabilities, but stress is an integral part of living in changing times. Understanding what’s happening, knowing about we can do, and joining with others in our community to respond intelligently will reduce both our stress and our concerns.


  1. Hi Sarah, Your thoughts are well constructed. Yes we are all very concerned at the state of the planet. The real problem I see is the state of the global population's mental health at this time. There appears to be two camps. The ostriches and the chickens. Those who hide from the problem and those who are in a state of panic (anxiety). Both conditions are not favourable for positive actions in solving problems. I think the main problem we have as individuals is that we feel powerless to change things and I appreciate people like yourself who are proactive in helping to show ways we 'little people' are able to personally do something. All the best to you.

  2. Thank you for your comment Peter. I like your metaphor of those who will not see and those who see but then fly into a panic. Neither are helpful reactions. In fact too often the former ultimately leads to the latter. The sooner we understand what's happening to the environment and the consequences for our economy, the less likely we'll need to panic because we can start taking practical steps to safeguard our own well-being. Fortunately the things we need to do to safeguard our personal futures will also reduce pressures on the environment.