View all posts

2021 podcast series: Eco Anxiety

Climate activist and mental health advocate Tori Tsui, joins Hemlata Pant, founder of the Newtown Nature Club in Bristol, to talk to us about climate anxiety.

FlightFree UK
17 Nov 2021 8 min read

This is episode 11 of our 2021 podcast series. Listen to the episode here and find other episodes and previous series here.

Image shows Hemlata Pant, a young woman with Nepalese heritage standing on a beach wearing a dark blue rain coat, and Tori Tsui, a young woman with Chinese/New Zealand heritage standing under a tree

This month’s episode is about climate anxiety. Our guests are climate activist and mental health advocate Tori Tsui, and Hemlata Pant, a young climate campaigner who has overcome her own climate anxiety by starting the Newtown Nature Club in Bristol.

What is climate anxiety?

‘Climate’ or ‘eco-anxiety’ is described by the American Psychological Association as ‘a chronic fear of environmental doom’ and as ‘a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of people who worry about the climate crisis.’

Flight Free Fact

60% of young people feel very worried or extremely worried about climate change, and 45% of people say their feelings about climate change impact their daily lives.

People often take the flight free pledge as a way of dealing with their own eco-anxiety. Our team member Tamsin says,

"Eco-anxiety seems to be something that more and more of us are battling with, myself included. It is easy to become bogged down in doom and gloom when it comes to climate change, especially when there seems to be increasing amounts of devastating climate disasters happening all across the globe.

"Eco-anxiety seems to be something that more and more of us are battling with, myself included. This is why I have decided to sign the flight free pledge."

"This is why I have decided to sign the flight free pledge. By making an individual stance alongside thousands of like-minded people who are also worried about the effects of climate change, signing the pledge feels like a step towards hope and a better future for our planet."

Our first guest on the podcast is Tori Tsui, the co-founder of The Bad Activist Collective and author of It’s Not Just You, which explores the relationship between mental health and the climate crisis.

Tori, could you introduce yourself and tell us about the work that you do?

Tori

I’m a climate justice organiser. I mobilise people, work in community spaces, work with different change makers, and build coalitions. I talk a lot about mental health specifically with regards to the climate crisis. I know that eco anxiety is a really big buzzword that gets thrown around, but I try to unpack what that means, and dismantle some of the misconceptions that are associated with mental health and the climate crisis.

"Eco anxiety is a really big buzzword that gets thrown around, but I try to unpack what that means."

A lot of people fixate on fear of the future, but actually a lot of people are fearful now, and have been fearful for a very long time. So it’s about understanding the timescales that it incorporates and understanding that we have very personal and individual experiences.

Flight Free UK

When did you first become aware of the term ‘climate anxiety’?

Tori

It first became mainstream in the media with the rise of Extinction Rebellion. That was when we saw accounts from people all around the world but specifically in the global north talking about how the climate crisis was making them anxious. I was very quick to adopt it as something that related to how I was feeling.

It’s only really in the last few years that I’ve unpacked what that actually means. It goes so much deeper than the physical manifestations of a dying planet: we’re talking about a system that has prioritised profits over people’s wellbeing. So I try and think about it more holistically. I’ve adopted my own term for it, which is [environ]mental health.

For activists, there’s a need to work as hard as they can, to go as fast as they can. Sustainability to me is a mindset. It’s not just about greening your life, it’s about finding ways to make this work long term.

"Sustainability is not just about greening your life, it’s about finding ways to make this work long term."

Flight Free UK

What ways have you found to cope with your own anxiety?

Tori

There are long term and short term ways of dealing with these emotions. In the long run I’m thinking about dismantling the systems of harm that lead me to be a certain way, and for me that’s activism.

In the short term, things like going on nature walks, and tapping into that fascination with the natural world, and really appreciating what we do have, is something that is so grounding for me, and I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that.

Flight Free UK

How can we as a society tackle climate anxiety, as well as on an individual level?

Tori

We need communities to come together and take care of each other. In the global north we have lost a lot of that. It’s important to stick with people who understand why you are doing this work, because it’s laborious, and it’s brutal sometimes.

Flight Free UK

Do you find that talking about your anxiety helps?

Tori

Yes, definitely. Talking about it is a form of therapy. When you talk about these things you give people permission and the courage to admit that they are also struggling. A lot of people struggle in silence.

I’ve always been very vocal about my mental health struggles, from quite a young age. Every time I spoke about these things, people would say, ‘Thank you so much for speaking out, because I just didn’t have the courage or I didn't think I could find the words to describe what I was going through.’

Flight Free UK

Why did you feel it was important to write a book on the topic of climate anxiety?

Tori

I saw it routinely misrepresented in the media, and the conversations that were being had centred on people in the global north. I didn’t feel that the discourse around eco anxiety was reflective of some of the nuances involved.

One of my friends from Colombia, where it is the most dangerous place to be an environmental defender, said, ‘We don’t really have a term for eco anxiety. We don’t really talk about that because our most proximal fear is actually being killed by police, and being branded terrorists and enemies of the state.’

It’s hard to pry apart these emotions: feeling anxious about the future, feeling anxious about the climate crisis, and not thinking about how the systems of oppression that exist come into play.

Another thing that I found was that people would say things like, ‘the climate crisis is finally here.’ To which I think, well actually it’s been here for a long time, we’ve just had the luxury of not having it on our doorstep. So I really wanted to create space for that discourse and to see mental health as an integral part of the climate justice narrative.

Flight Free UK

Our second guest is Hemlata Pant, a teenager from Bristol who started the Newtown Nature Club to combat her own eco anxiety. Hemlata, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, and the inspiration behind the Newtown Nature Club?

Hemlata

As a teenager, you feel your emotions really strongly. At the beginning of the pandemic, because I was so isolated, what I really wanted was a connection with my community. I felt like the Newtown Nature club was the best way to start. I had spent the first summer of lockdown doing gardening myself, with my family, in our new garden. I felt that doing gardening with others, with kids, would be the natural next step.

Flight Free UK

How important was it that you and your neighbours were meeting up outside?

Hemlata

I can’t imagine what it would have been like for me if I hadn’t been allowed to go outside and meet people. I don’t like saying that when we go outside we’re near nature, because I think that humans are part of nature – it’s not right to make them two distinct entities.

Eco anxiety is linked to your physical health, and you get more oxygen when you are outside, so it just feels so much better.

"Eco anxiety is linked to your physical health, and you get more oxygen when you are outside, so it just feels so much better."

Flight Free UK

So when did you first come across the term eco anxiety? What does it mean to you?

Hemlata

Two summers ago, I did not know that much about the environment, and I was attending webinars with Action for Conservation. They introduced me to this concept. As a young person, when you feel emotions so strongly, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and feel really distressed.

Flight Free UK

Some people think it’s irresponsible of climate activists to confront young people with extremist imagery. How do you feel about it? Do you think it’s overcooked?

Hemlata

It is true that these sort of sensationalised images are what gets the clicks. But I think for me, those images are what inspire me, and while I do feel anxiety, I try to channel that into something more positive. So instead of turning that inside and not letting it out, if you are able to channel that into positivity then that’s the best way to go.

Flight Free UK

You’ve said that you find all the negativity around the climate upsetting. What role does optimism have in combating the climate crisis?

Hemlata

Optimism is the only way, I think. As a young person I get called naive. Honestly, it’s so easy to say, ‘the world’s going to end; we can’t do anything about it.’ But being an optimist, that’s what’s difficult.

Being a climate optimist means that we need to be creative enough to imagine a world that’s more compatible with what is sustainable. The world that I imagine and want to live in is full of nature clubs like what we did! I always tell everyone, ‘Be a climate optimist,’ because that is the best action you can take.

"Being a climate optimist means that we need to be creative enough to imagine a world that’s more compatible with what is sustainable."

Flight Free UK

And the Newtown Nature Club brought you together with your neighbours. What was that like?

Hemlata

When I walk down to the shops and see a parent of someone who attended the club, or a child who attended, I get that feeling of, ‘I belong in this community,’ which then extends to ‘I belong in this world,’ which extends to, ‘I should take care of it.’ It’s very natural and very organic. So I do think that everyone should try and have that aspect of community in their climate action.

Flight Free UK

It sounds like you had people of all ages participating in the club. Did you find that different age groups responded differently?

Hemlata

There were toddlers and also thirteen year olds. I realised very quickly that because we were next to a park, kids want to play. And I let them, because how can I say that playing is not part of the nature club? They paint their pots first, and while they wait for them to dry, they go and play in the park. Play is a part of life.

Flight Free UK

Where did you learn your gardening skills?

Hemlata

My parents. My family is from Nepal. Before we moved into this house, our garden wasn’t as big. We had one tomato plant in a pot on a balcony – I remember the smell of it so strongly. I think the caring and nurturing of it is what stuck with me. It is the biggest healer of my eco anxiety, watching something grow and nurturing it. If anyone is feeling eco anxious, try and do that.

"It is the biggest healer of my eco anxiety, watching something grow and nurturing it. If anyone is feeling eco anxious, try and do that."

Flight Free UK

It was really interesting how both Tori and Hemlata spoke about community as a way to deal with eco anxiety, and both talked about doing something. For Tori, it’s activism against the system she has identified as the root cause of her anxiety. For Hemlata it’s getting that simple joy from being outside and part of your community. Thank you to both Hemlata and Tori for contributing to our podcast this month.

Destination of the Month

This month we choose places where you can find peace and quiet and headspace, in the middle of a busy city.

Bertie chooses Pen Ponds in Richmond Park in South West London. Maggie chooses the Water of Leith in Edinburgh.

Thanks to our guests Tori Tsui and Hemlata Pant. You can find out more about Tori at her website, and you can see more from Hemlata on Instagram.

Join us next month for the final podcast in our 2021 series where we will be looking back over the year.

You can listen to the full episode here and find other episodes and previous series here.

Voiceover: L. Sophie Helbig. Soundtrack: Chasing Balloons by Yeti Music.

Other posts

Take the flight free pledge today!