Essay by Eric Worrall
Generation Z eco-worriers have broken the climate anxiety activist pipeline, by embracing the concept of “internal activism” – believing in climate activism without actually doing anything.
How to Embrace Despair in the Age of Climate Change
It’s tempting to think that activism is the cure for eco-anxiety. But it’s no substitute for emotional resilience and community.
This story is adapted from Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis, by Britt Wray.
Charlie had always loved camphor trees, and on that day’s reflective wander, a remarkably large and friendly-looking one, rooted at a corner on Edenhurst Avenue, beckoned him over to it. He walked under its arms as they rustled in the breeze, and the shade the tree cast over him conjured a sudden intuition that made his blood run cold. “I just had this instantaneous feeling like, oh, the rest of my life is going to be this series of increasingly dire crises,” he told me.
AS ECO-ANXIETY AND eco-grief have taken hold of society in new ways over the past few years, the tendency to prescribe action as a tool to beat back the feelings has grown. And it’s true that when we act on our values, we put our core beliefs about how we ought to be in the world into practice, which can bring relief. Narrowing that gap through activism is an effective way to feel more at ease.
But climate-aware psychotherapist Caroline Hickman argues there’s a danger lurking in that sentiment. It’s a shortcut—a too-quick move from pain to action—and it threatens to leave people far less resilient and capable of facing the ecological crisis than they ought to be. It also supports the disenfranchisement of grief and mutes expressions of pain in favor of forward momentum.
We all need to process some of the anxiety, grief, and depression that come with this entirely threatening situation, and learn how to fold them into our lives. This is what Hickman calls internal activism, and it is just as important as external activism—the more conventional kind. The trick is not to get lost in the dark places that internal activism brings us to—to keep moving—and to welcome the idea that we’ll cycle through the trenches again, because the climate and biodiversity crisis isn’t going anywhere for a long, long time.
Don’t get me wrong—external action is absolutely vital. Society needs a lot more of it, and contributing to that momentum can bring some genuine calm because it means you’re addressing the thing that is stressing you. But bromides like “action is the antidote to despair” can oversimplify a complicated experience and indicate a society that is averse to difficult emotions.
…Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/generation-dread-britt-wray-climate-change/
Not every Gen-Z kid is lazy. But we all have friends whose depressingly woke climate worrier kids are permanently glued to their game consoles.
These kids might be true believers, but actually attending a climate protest requires leaving their parent’s house, and the physical effort of standing outside in the weather, getting rained on, sunburned, shivering cold, shouting a lot, maybe getting a sore arm holding up a protest banner.
“Internal Activism” is the perfect solution for kids who don’t want to leave their mum’s basement, but still want to feel involved. They get to experience eco-anxiety, but make themselves feel better by thinking about all the things they felt like doing.