Climate Change: Eco Anxiety Disorder

by Peter Whitfield, Tilhill Forestry Business Development Director

I am a forester, and what is more, I am a vegetarian forester! All positive towards my net contribution to climate change then where more trees and a significant shift towards eating less meat are being cited as moves to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

In my career I have managed the planting of more than 100 million trees and that will have included the planting of some 7,000 ha of new forest creation both in the UK and Africa and I have been a vegetarian for almost 60 years! Accordingly, I should feel as if I have done my bit on the positive side of climate change, but I don’t. Why? Well, on the negative side I will undoubtedly have flown and driven far too many miles and not always considered the implications of my actions on the planet.

There is now a newly named condition called ‘climate change anxiety disorder’ also known as ‘eco anxiety disorder’. I don’t think I’m quite there yet, but I do have serious worries about the impact we are having on the planet and how we will manage to urgently change the course of events that are leading to the increasingly extreme weather and climate change we see across the globe.

I was fortunate to have attended two events at the weekend at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Two very different authors: Tim Winton and Prue Leith.  Both in their own ways and in different contexts touched on the impact we have on climate change and what we could be doing to mitigate it. Tim Winton is an Australian novelist and feels and writes passionately about landscape and the environment. During his talk he posed the question: “How good an ancestor am I going to be?” That is a question we can all ask ourselves when we think about the legacy we will leave our children and grandchildren. Prue Leith is, of course, the famous cookery writer, TV personality and restauranteur. She also touched on issues around climate change; of diet and the impact on the planet and of food waste which is currently estimated to be accountable for up to 10% of emissions responsible for global warming. She reflected how, in her early career, science was seen as the big white hope and that science was always the answer. The question now though is this: Has science been a bigger contributor to the problem state we are currently in than a mitigator?

All this got me thinking. What can we do? It can be overwhelming and it is easy to revert to a position where you think: ’Well, I can’t change things and I don’t want to sacrifice my lifestyle so I’ll just carry on’, or alternatively, you begin to suffer from climate change anxiety disorder. But the reality is if we do nothing then we will be bad ancestors.

We all have to do what we can at a local level and these actions are well documented – from moving away from single use plastics and considering our choice of how we travel to eating less meat and, where it is possible, contribute to actions at a higher or national level where we have the ability to do so.

The epilogue in Tim Winton’s book The Shepherd’s Hut carries a quote from Liam Rector. It says: “Change is slow and hope is violent”. Let us hope we still have enough time to make the changes required and we all have enough hope in order that we can carry it through.