Eco-Anxiety: Another Co-Opted Struggle

Liner Notes / Tori Tsui

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the term eco-anxiety over the last few years. And there’s a part of me that has realised that the term centres the mental health of white environmentalists as opposed to our BIPOC communities. Much like the commodification of self-care in the global north, eco-anxiety has been centering the voices of the privileged few.

Our failing systems are a testament to how systems of oppression affect marginalised people in an exaggerated manner. And unsurprisingly it is these people, who have caused the least amount of harm, who will be disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.

And what springs to mind is perhaps the eurocentricity of the term eco-anxiety and how, by default, we do not acknowledge the psychological impact of the climate crisis on marginalised communities.

Eco-anxiety in the media largely focuses on cis-white and hetero people in the global north. That is not to say that the traumas and mental health of people in positions of privilege need not be addressed, but I implore us to ask how our faltering systems and environments will disproportionately affect BIPOC communities. I ask us to consider the fact that mental health struggles have been affecting frontline activists long before many people in positions of privilege. I also implore us all to think about the psychological effects of racial and social trauma, and how these traumas interlink with the ongoing fights for climate justice.

From a more personal perspective, mental and planetary health demand radical acts of self-care for POC activists. A grave symptom of our capitalistic system is burn-out. Sadly for marginalised people our systems push us to expend every ounce of energy until we are left with nothing. While I must be cognisant of my potential to galvanise change within the climate sphere, I must also realise that my self-preservation is as much an act of resistance. And as Audre Lorde describes, it is an act of “political warfare”.

I also used to think of eco-anxiety as only that which encompassed a plethora of different anthropogenic mental states; depression, anxiety, rage, dissociation. But to expand on this, I’ve realised that mental health and planetary health are one and the same. And to extrapolate, fights for intersectional climate justice must incorporate our mental wellbeing and how this is a direct reflection of our environment.

As conversations around intersectional climate justice slip into more ‘mainstream’ activism, I ask us all not to trivialise intersectionality as a buzzword and instead dig deeper in recognising our collective complicity in struggle. It is imperative that we are also mindful of the dominance of white struggle in the climate crisis, and in turn create space for our BIPOC communities to speak about their struggles. So next time you think about eco-anxiety, apply an intersectional lens and ask how these injustices disproportionately affect our BIPOC communities.

About the Author

Tori was born in New Zealand, grew up in Hong Kong and now calls Bristol, UK home. She is currently working with Unite For Climate Action, among many other climate activism pursuits. You can learn more about her work at: sailforclimateaction.com and toritsui.com.