How Eco-anxiety Works


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Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark

Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh; there's Chuck. This is Stuff You Should Know as you know.

Chuck Bryant

I don't think you've ever said that, the title of our podcast.

Josh Clark

I know. I'm trying out something new.

Chuck Bryant

I like that.

Josh Clark

Let the mighty eagle soar, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant

I agree.

Josh Clark

Yeah, so, have you ever heard of eugenics, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant

No, because you teased me before we went on the air and I asked you what it was so I'm [inaudible] to the conversation and you refused.

Josh Clark

I refused to tell you, didn't I?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. So, let's wing it.

Josh Clark

So, this is genuine. You really genuinely don't know. This isn't some stupid segway that you already know the answer to.

Chuck Bryant

Nope.

Josh Clark

Okay. Well, let me tell you a little bit about eugenics. Its a little history lesson! American history to be exact; early 20th Century.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

There was a movement a foot in the scientific community to basically purify the human race to make humans the best that we can possibly be but to do that, we had to get rid of humans that were deemed deficient, and for those of you listening out there, I just made very, very strong air quotes with my fingers. So, these deficient humans were anybody from the mentally infirm, epileptics, people born blind or deaf, mutes, and just basically anybody who -

Chuck Bryant

Club foot.

Josh Clark

Oh, yeah, you did not want to be club foot in 1920 in America.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

But this is a little known aspect of American history. The government got behind this, this eugenics movement, and actually I believe there's a few people alive today that were sterilized by the federal government. That's eugenics.

Chuck Bryant

Wow.

Josh Clark

It really happened.

Chuck Bryant

Well, I'm glad it didn't take.

Josh Clark

It didn't take, although, it almost did elsewhere in a little place we call Germany. Adolf Hitler actually didn't come up with this idea of the superman of the Arian race, the perfect race on his own. He got it from the eugenics movement and a guy named Henry Ford who is a huge proponent of eugenics.

Chuck Bryant

Really?

Josh Clark

Yep. Little known fact!

Chuck Bryant

Wow.

Josh Clark

Let's fast forward to the 21st Century. Right now there are at least two women walking the planet who voluntarily had themselves sterilized. Do you know why they did this?

Chuck Bryant

So they couldn't have babies.

Josh Clark

That's precisely right, Chuck. How insightful of you. The reason that they did this was because they didn't want to contribute the population and its negative effects on the environment. This was their service to the environment. They were making sure they didn't procreate ever.

Chuck Bryant

And I'm sure they probably went to the press to taut this.

Josh Clark

Most definitely.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

And, yeah, it was a big deal. There was a couple of articles I read on them and I guess what I'm trying to say is I would call that an example of eco-anxiety.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, I think that's - I would agree with you there.

Josh Clark

Do you want to define eco-anxiety?

Chuck Bryant

Sure. Eco-anxiety is - it's sort of a new affliction that they've -

Josh Clark

Yeah, it's very new.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, very new, where people have chronic fears of environmental doom in one or the other whether it's global warming, flood, famine, heat waves, extinction, that kind of thing.

Josh Clark

And I don't know exactly how widely held this diagnosis is but apparently it is real and it's somewhat like a general anxiety disorder where you have insomnia and nervousness and depression, that kind of thing except it's very specifically triggered from thinking about or being presented with evidence of the destruction of the environment.

Chuck Bryant

Right. Or even - actually, I did a little extra research for a change and a lot of these folks even - they'll see - they'll obsess over a can or a water bottle. They'll be walking down the street and they'll see a can on the road and they'll want to stop their car - well, I guess they'd be driving, the want to stop their car just to get that can.

Josh Clark

Or bike, probably bike.

Chuck Bryant

This one lady sifts - yeah, they'd be on a bike I guess. They sift through the trash sometimes looking for recyclables.

Josh Clark

I've actually done that before. I don't consider myself eco-anxious though. It's more just, like, well, this can be recycled.

Chuck Bryant

Well, I've done that. I've taken something off the top perhaps.

Josh Clark

Well, yeah, yeah, I didn't get my hands really dirty.

Chuck Bryant

Right, but I don't make it a point to go around to trash cans to sift through them which I think some of these folks do.

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Josh Clark

Actually, if that is a symptom of eco-anxiety then maybe this isn't new because hobos have been doing that for years.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, maybe you're right.

Josh Clark

So, maybe these are just hobos in disguise or -

Chuck Bryant

Right, they were the first eco-anxious.

Josh Clark

Exactly. So, that's eco-anxiety. We've got that covered and it seems like people who are eco-anxious are just kind of maybe nervous nellys and this is a real outlet for them.

Chuck Bryant

I have a feeling that might be the case, general anxiety.

Josh Clark

Yeah, exactly. It seems like there's general anxiety and then emanating from that are these things that can trigger it, right. Think about it, eco-anxiety is new and it's kind of developed along with our consciousness of how badly we're treating the planet these days. But was fear of flying around before airplanes were invented.

Chuck Bryant

Exactly.

Josh Clark

Or - and there's a lot of psychologists that believe that claustrophobia didn't really generate until - or develop until the modern city and that kind of living close and all that actually lead to claustrophobia so it almost seems like this is totally meopining here but it seems like there general anxiety disorders and then it just kind of - there's triggers for it - different triggers for different folks.

Chuck Bryant

Right. Almost like you look for something to be anxious about!

Josh Clark

Exactly. Well, eco-anxiety is the new anxiety d'jour so we should probably tell everybody what they can possibly do about this kind of thing.

Chuck Bryant

Right. Well, I know that many people who suffer from eco-anxiety feel a great deal of - or a great lack of support rather from friends and family. A lot of times they're not very understanding because they think it's not exactly -

Josh Clark

Kooky.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, they think it's a little kooky or, if nothing else, unfounded, although I did notice in the article that a Gallup poll states that 36 percent of Americans say they worry a great deal about global warming.

Josh Clark

Um-hum. And that same poll found 35 percent of people think that global warming will pose a threat to their life or their life style within their lifetime.

Chuck Bryant

Right. So, I guess that's a - I mean, I kind of believe that as well. I believe in global warming and I think that it's already having some negative effects but I don't carry it around with me on a daily basis as far as worrying about it. I think that's the difference.

Josh Clark

Right. And I think my problem with the eco-anxiety diagnosis is that any gesture toward the environment, toward protecting the environment that isn't born exclusively out of a sense of responsibility qualifies as eco-anxiety which I kind of disagree with.

Chuck Bryant

I do, too.

Josh Clark

But there's a pretty good explanation for eco-anxiety that eco-psychologists have come up with and basically it's a symptom or a byproduct of our increasing disconnection from the planet. We have created technology that has effectively taken us out of any kind of need to be cared for by the planet or we've at least created that idea in our minds that we have insulated ourselves from the planet through technology. We don't need it any longer except to walk on drink the water from. And any problems we face we can basically engineer our way out of it.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

But apparently we're supposed to connect with the planet. We're supposed to feel connected with the planet so as we get less and less connected to it, we're getting more and more eco-anxious. That's the explanation as I understand it.

Chuck Bryant

Right. And on that same note, one thing that I thought was kind of funny actually, if you want me to be honest - one of the things that eco-therapists will do, at a rate of $250 an hour to help you cure this, will be to advise you to carry around a rock or a piece of bark to connect yourself with mother nature again.

Josh Clark

Yeah, the other suggestion that I read that I liked was to go outside. I would love to charge somebody $250 for 50 minutes to tell them to go outside. I mean, how do you do that, that's awesome.

Chuck Bryant

Sure. And, you know, we don't want to belittle because it is a valid - if it's a valid concern for somebody then who are we say that it's not - who are we to draw judgment on somebody who walks around in a constant state of panic when they see an idling car, let's say, or a water bottle sitting on the ground so while we might think it's a bit silly, they might think that my fear of mice is silly.

Josh Clark

I think your fear of mice is really silly.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Yeah, but I can understand what you're saying and I think that's a legitimate thing to point out because however it manifests itself, it's still a form of anxiety but this is perhaps maybe the most productive form of anxiety there is. I mean, you don't want to just curl up in the corner with your knees drawn up to your chest rocking back and forth. You want to go pick recyclables out of the trash and do something. Maybe go fight off Japanese whalers in the arctic, something like that.

Chuck Bryant

Right, join Green Peace.

Josh Clark

Something. I mean, at least it motivates you to do something that has a happy end - a happy ending.

Chuck Bryant

Or just carry around a piece of bark in your pocket.

Josh Clark

Which is really the least you can do.

Chuck Bryant

There's also that. That's not very good advice if you ask me. I think they can inspire somebody to actually make a change instead of just carrying a rock.

Josh Clark

Carrying - yeah, or bark. So, there was one other aspect that I found kind of interesting about eco-anxiety was that it was largely driven by the media. I completely agree with that. I think -

Chuck Bryant

Right, and our friend Al Gore I know has -

Josh Clark

Leo DiCaprio.

Chuck Bryant

- inspired with his film An Inconvenient Truth which was kind of frightening.

Josh Clark

Yeah, as with any kind of public policy push or campaign, it has to be - the problem has to be identified and the public has to be altered to it but we generally, especially in America, are fairly lazy and like to have things spoon-fed to us so the best way to get us to get off of the Lazyboy and drop our Budweiser and maybe get out there and do something is to scare the hell out of us. And it's a legitimate marketing tactic.

There's this acronym called FUD, fear, uncertainty and dread, and these are actually three marketing ploys to get people to do something so whether it's saving the polar bears or getting you to go to the midnight sale, it's the same tactics and I can see how, especially, missing the midnight sale, that's pretty bad but eventually you're going to get over it. You're, like, that sucks, I missed out on those savings but I'll live.

Chuck Bryant

It's FUD.

Josh Clark

With the environment, the stakes are so much higher that I think if you

're going to try to get people to act, you have to be slightly more delicate maybe because you have the eco-anxious out there. You've got to be careful with these folks.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, my wife - I wouldn't call her eco-anxious but she does worry about the polar bears. Stuff like that.

Josh Clark

Yeah, so, I guess my advice to our readers would be, and I think I speak for Chuck as well, the next time you see a well-dressed liberal rooting through the trash and pulling cans out, be extra nice to them because they may be among the eco-anxious.

Chuck Bryant

Right, or taught yourself an eco-therapist and take money from them.

Josh Clark

Yeah, keep loads of bark handy like pharmaceutical samples.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Well, don't go anywhere. We want you to stick around to find out which article Chuck and I think has the most useful useless information we've heard in quite some time. Chuck, do you want to be the big boy who tells them which article we think has the most useful useless information in it?

Chuck Bryant

Yes, I will be the big boy.

Josh Clark

Do it.

Chuck Bryant

Why is it a bad idea to scare a vulture written by our colleague Kristin Conger.

Josh Clark

Yes. And do you want to tell everybody why it's a bad idea?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, because apparently if a vulture gets scared it will vomit on queue.

Josh Clark

And this vomit is not ordinary vomit. Apparently -

Chuck Bryant

Vulture vomit.

Josh Clark

- it smells like dead things appropriately enough but it also burns. It's very acidic.

Chuck Bryant

Right, like the acid.

Josh Clark

So, you should probably just steer clear of vultures anyway.

Chuck Bryant

Right. I would say - we say useless useful - or useful useless depending on where you're coming from because it sounds silly but if you ever scared a vulture and it puked on you then you'd -

Josh Clark

You'd find out it's not so silly after all.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, exactly.

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Josh Clark

Well, you can arm yourself against this eventuality; learn some vulture psychology how to keep away from that kind of thing. Type in, "Why is it a bad idea to scare a vulture," into our handy dandy search bar. You can learn more about eco-anxiety by typing in, "How eco-anxiety works." Both of those articles will be found in only one place that is howstuffworks.com.

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