How Force of Nature are turning eco-anxiety into eco-action
Eleanor Murray, Policy Analyst at Public Policy Projects (PPP), and Sacha Wright, Research and Curriculum Coordinator at Force of Nature, discuss the relationship between environment and health, psychological responses to the climate crisis and solution-based interventions.
A recent report, entitled Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon, detailed survey results from 10,000 young people (aged 16-25) across 10 countries. The survey found that 84 per cent of respondents were moderately worried and 59 per cent extremely worried about climate change.
Force of Nature is a youth not-for-profit organisation mobilising mindsets for climate action. Through virtual programmes, they empower young people across 50+ countries to cultivate mindsets of agency, purpose and resilience; and work with decision-makers across business, policy and civil society to drive intergenerational solutions.
As an organisation, Force of Nature subscribes to an ‘anxiety to action’ theory of change, whereby young people are encouraged to shift their anger, anxiety, frustration and despair towards feelings of agency, determination, community and vision. This is done by addressing eco-anxiety at scale.
What is eco-anxiety?
For Sacha, eco-anxiety is an umbrella term that describes “our range of psychological responses to the climate crisis”. These responses exist on a spectrum ranging from persistent anxious thoughts and trouble sleeping to grief, denial, apathy and even suicidal ideation. It is important to note that while we may be in the same storm, we are not in the same boat. Therefore, responses to the climate crisis depend on a variety of factors such as a person’s gender, socio-economic status, and geographical location.
"What a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists get wrong about treating people with eco-anxiety is that they want to address it as a pathology that needs to be solved. But eco-anxiety is, in all honestly, a very normal response,” says Sacha.
Instead of trying to squash this response, Sacha believes that we should be interrogating those feelings and asking ourselves how they can be better used to motivate climate activism, to shift from eco-anxiety to eco-action.
Step one: tapping into your resilience
Sacha suggests that the issue we, the global community, face that is even more problematic than the climate crisis itself is “the fact that people feel completely powerless to tackle it”.
To illustrate how to counter-act feelings of powerlessness and tap into societal resilience, Sacha provided a personal example of being vegetarian. While recognising that her choice to not eat meat will not transform food supply network, she explains, “I’m partially doing it because it motivates my sense of activism and allows me to feel agency over my actions. ”
This feeds into the concept of internal sustainability, which is outlined in Force of Nature’s 2021 report ‘The Rise of Eco-anxiety. ’ Internal sustainability is defined as “forms of activism that are nourishing and resilience-based, rather than damage and sacrifice-oriented". This differs from external sustainability which is defined as the promotion of “a positive relationship between humans and the planet”.
Step two: building a community
External sustainability is a collective action, and it is vital that those experiencing eco-anxiety realise they are not alone.
At the time of writing, Force of Nature have connected with over 500 young people across 52 countries through group discussions and workshops. During these sessions, young people are invited to think about what keeps them feeling powerless and to tap into their resilience, remembering times when they felt the ability to make a difference. For Sacha this approach of addressing trauma through resilience and community helps move away from damage-centred interventions towards solution-based ones.
What happens in a Force of Nature workshop?
The most popular workshop is Anxiety to Agency, this is an introductory workshop. During these sessions attendees map their emotional landscape and then decipher their barriers to taking action through a series of written reflections, group discussions and visualisations. Hopefully, by the end of the workshop, attendees experience a decrease in their feelings of powerlessness.
Following the anxiety to agency workshop, the next step is the Catalyst workshop. These sessions are designed to help attendees use their eco-anxiety as a catalyst to transform that energy into effective change. The workshop focuses on identifying spheres of influence, capability to make effective change and tools they can use as change makers.
Survey results presented in the 2021 report reveal that participants experienced an overall 26 per cent decreased score when asked how strongly they identified with the statement “I experience a feeling of hopelessness when I think about climate change”. Participants expressed a 19 per cent decreased score when asked how strongly they agreed with the statement “I feel that fear of climate change negatively contributes to my mental health. ”
What’s next for the Force of Nature movement?
In order to engage with more young people, Force of Nature builds partnerships and networks with educators, non-governmental organisations and the private sector. Forming partnerships and receiving funding from corporate actors has enabled Force of Nature to run free classrooms for cohorts of young people.
In recognising the role of lived experience and local contexts, Force of Nature have introduced a ‘train the trainer’ model. In collaboration with Greenpeace South Africa, this model was piloted with 40 volunteers in South Africa and Kenya during a 10-week training programme. Sacha hopes that this model will help build an expanding network so that young people can become experts and transmitters of the Force of Nature theory of change.
Sacha emphasises that, “We need more activists, scientists and policymakers but we also just need more regular people. We need people who don’t make this their entire lives, who don’t sacrifice everything for this but rather see it as an effective and nourishing way to work towards a better future. ”
Find out more
If you would like to learn more about this topic, sign up to attend PPP’s webinar – Eco-anxiety: How climate change is placing a huge burden on millions of people’s mental health as part of the Environment and Health Series on October 7th. Sacha will be speaking on the panel alongside Dr Emma Lawrence, Mental Health Innovation Fellow at Imperial College London, and Caroline Hickman, Climate Psychology Therapist, Research at University of Bath and member of the Executive Committee of the Climate Psychology Alliance.
To learn more about the Environment and Health Series, please contact email@example.com
To learn more about Force of Nature and join the movement, visit their website.
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