By Shikha Sharma
Growing up as an adult in a world facing an environmental crisis has to be terrifying. After all, it’s tough to be hopeful as you watch the world fold in on itself, one climatic disaster at a time.
By now, we all know the details. The snowcaps are melting, cities are flooding, and entire species are going extinct. We have 12 years to save ourselves from impending doom, but corporate greed and political inaction are keeping world systems from making the necessary changes.
It’s almost like staring at the end of a loaded gun. How does one come to terms with all the doom?
Krittika is 19-years-old and from Assam. Every year, she watches helplessly as Assam gets ravaged by floods, and the government and media do nothing. She rightfully feels angry, and helpless. Away from home, and unable to help out in any way, sometimes, the 19-year-old feels a sense of despondency and dread.
“In India, adults don’t even want to talk about climate justice. When you talk to them about climate, they shrug it off. I get it. We are the generation that’s going to suffer, so why should they care? Assam will drown every year, but no one will take responsibility. It’s all so fucked up. But you know, here’s the thing. When the world ends, it will end for all of us. Thoughts like these, sometimes, keep me up at night,” she told YKA.
I met Krittika at a climate strike event in Delhi last month. She is one of a growing tribe of Indian millennials, who I met in the last few days, who are experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety, anger, and helplessness over the environmental destruction happening around them.
When you hear about climate change, mental health may not be the first thing that comes to mind. The link between the two is largely understudied, with the first full report only being published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2017. In India, we haven’t even begun scratching the surface of the issue.
But the APA report is telling, and many parts of it reflect what many Indian millennials are experiencing right now. For example, a part of the report looks into Solastalgia, or that sense of distress we experience when we lose something that’s important to us to the climate crisis. Also referred to as ‘eco-anxiety’, this heightened anxiety has only one point of worry—environmental destruction—a feeling many young Indians in India can relate to today.
It is also understandable. More than 22 million Indians were affected by extreme weather events in 2017, making India one of the most vulnerable countries to the climate crisis. That may just be a statistic (a startling one at that!) but, closer home, we all know someone or have experienced first-hand the physical, emotional, and psychological effects of breathing in the toxic Delhi air, water pollution in Bangalore, or the floods in Bihar, Assam, or Kerala. Groundwater in Chennai, Mumbai, and Delhi are likely going to run out in our lifetimes, so the situation undoubtedly is alarming.
Shirish is from Mumbai and has lived there his whole life. “It rains every year in Mumbai, but this time, the rains came and decided not to leave. We didn’t see the sun for more than a week. The streets were jammed and waterlogged, and people in the city had nowhere to go. One day, I was stuck in an eight-hour traffic jam. It felt like the city was part of a dystopian movie plot. If this is going to be the future, I dread living in it,” he said.
Mansi Thakker, a psychologist at M-Power, Bombay told YKA that she has seen a definite increase in the number of people experiencing stress and anxiety over the potential impact of climate change in the last few years.
According to Thakker, young people may be more vulnerable to eco-anxiety since they are more likely to interpret climate change as a “threatening phenomenon”. “A threat to the planet directly means a threat to their own survival. Evolutionarily, we work on the survival principle and our survival is only possible if the Earth can support us,” Thakker said. She, however, added that the condition is not disabling, and may actually even impel people to adopt a greener lifestyle.
“It’s important to reduce catastrophic thinking and look at things in a more realistic way. A popular belief going around is that the world is coming to an end. Realistically though, we know that while the world may be at risk, things are still in our control and measures can be taken to bring about significant changes,” she said.
Manya Nandi is 15 and attends Shri Ram School, Aravali. She is part of the group that is fighting to prevent deforestation in the Aravali, and was a vocal participant at the climate strikes in Delhi. She believes in raising her voice for the environment, instead of uselessly wondering what to do.
“Striking makes a difference,” she told me at the climate strike. “Sure, it will not solve our environmental problems suddenly, but it will get the attention of the people in power, the people who can make these policies, who can help us curb these issues. It will tell them that we will not sit quietly, while the big corporations put profit over people.”
There are other ways to channel negative emotions in positive ways. For example, paying closer attention to your carbon front, connecting with individuals and organisations working towards the cause, and adopting a greener lifestyle.
“I think there is an urgent need to talk about personal responsibility when we discuss the climate crisis. After all, it is human action and human greed that’s driving emissions, and causing this unprecedented crisis,” Garv, a student at South Delhi Public School, told me.
The bottom-line: It’s not over until it’s really over. And that’s the hope we all need to live by.