A few months ago, a publicist pitched me a story on a brand’s philanthropic mission to clean up the litter on Mount Everest. It’s a fantastic initiative and I wrote the feature, but at the same time I wanted to scream: “How is there LITTER ON EVEREST?!” Must we pollute every peak, beach, waterway and forest, every corner of the globe?
Perhaps you’ve been here, too; on the brink of tears about the environmental catastrophes unfolding around us. You know the feeling — that it’s beyond your control. Eco-anxiety is increasingly stressing us out, and Instagram can make it worse. My feed is full of turtles with straws wedged up their noses, and plastic tides lapping remote shores. And, oh god, global warming.
A friend recently sent me a link for an article containing the necessary tools to help “visualise the horror of rising sea levels”. Information is Beautiful, a data visualisation company, used data from NASA, Sea Level Explorer and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to create an infographic called When Sea Levels Attack (How Long Have We Got?), showing which cities will sink within 200 years. Visit Venice while you can — only don’t fly there. Flygskam, the Swedish term for flight shame, is a growing movement and activist Greta Thunberg is on board. (Not literally; she only travels by boat and train.)
A barrage of bad news
Fashion has been reluctant to examine its air-travel footprint, although British designer Katharine Hamnett raised the subject at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May 2019. “We shouldn’t be here, these conferences should be happening as webinars,” she said, sending yet more climate panic my way. “We should all be ashamed of our carbon footprint.” I’d jetted in from Australia.
My anxiety recently deepened as the Amazon burned. Rainforests are — as Leonardo DiCaprio reiterated on his Instagram — “the lungs of the Earth”. They’re burning closer to home for me now. As I write, 53 fires are raging in drought-stricken New South Wales, and 57 in Queensland. I can’t stop thinking about a Facebook post that shows a koala and her joey marooned by scorched earth. The pair was rescued, but what about the rest?
As a Brit who moved to Sydney in my twenties, I’ve grown familiar with the bush fires that are a part of Australian life, but these feel different. They took us by surprise coming so early in spring. I’m frightened, to be honest: by the fires, by the hurricanes in the Bahamas and by the funeral for a melted glacier held by activists in Iceland last month. I’m frightened by the first page of the new Extinction Rebellion handbook that begins: “This is our darkest hour.” It feels good to admit that.
Fear, frustration, anger and sadness are all rational responses to seeing nature under threat, and I find it helps to acknowledge them.
Coping with the climate crisis
The trick is to resist the urge to wallow. Try to find a balance between staying informed and switching off. Be kind to yourself, but also commit to making the effort to act. Find your tribe. You can’t do it alone. I’m part of a community of sustainable fashion change-makers and they inspire me every day. Sometimes I cry about the koalas. Mostly, though, I’m too busy doing to allow the existential crisis to take hold.
When DiCaprio was interviewed about the Amazon fires, he said his first reaction was to feel depressed. His second? “I wanted to take action.” On 25 August, Earth Alliance, the NGO that DiCaprio cofounded, committed $5 million to fighting the fires in partnership with local indigenous and conservation groups.
I don’t have that kind of money, but I have other resources. I have my platform as a podcaster and writer. And I have you. If there’s one thing that can turn this story around, it’s a community. As the model and activist Cameron Russell told me, “Power is not just the guy at the top.” Together, we wield collective power.
Fuel your activism
We can all take steps to fight climate change, and cumulatively, these do make a difference. We can give our votes to politicians who prioritise climate action, lobby governments and local councils, or stand for office ourselves. We can switch to a green energy supplier, divest our funds from fossil fuel companies and pressure institutions to do the same.
If we’re in business, we can steer those businesses towards positive purpose. If we’re employed by others, we encourage them in that direction, too. Over at the other Amazon (the one we shop from), 1,000 employees pledged to join the global climate walkout on 20 September.
We can join existing environmental groups, or start our own. We can become more conscious consumers. We can cycle more, walk more, take public transport. We can teach our kids to compost and say no to single-use plastic. We can turn off the lights, fly less, buy less, shop locally and seasonally, and make noise about these things until they become the norm. We can be the change, starting now.
I watched the livestream of Greta Thunberg’s conversation with Naomi Klein at the Right to the Future forum in New York. “I can’t understand people who say they know climate change is important but don’t do anything about it,” says Thunberg. “You have a responsibility.” I say: use that to fuel your activism. One day, if we act decisively now, we may look back and say, “Remember when eco-anxiety was a thing?”
Clare Press is Vogue Australia’s sustainability editor and the author of Rise & Resist: How to Change the World. She presents a podcast about sustainable fashion called Wardrobe Crisis.
Original article published by @VogueAustralia >