I Can’t See the Forest: Ways to Appease Climate Anxiety
Having access to a healthy forest is a priority for social improvement and community well-being, especially in the context of climate-related changes to cities.
Reflections from our Research Intern for the Tiny Forest programme, Caroline Pilat.
What did leaders say?
In the aftermath of COP26 in Glasgow, the 26th Conference of Parties, when world leaders have gone home and climate activists pack up their heavy bags, I wondered whether I could have predicted the outcome. I've heard commentators refer to the COP26 as "too little too late", telling me that "the minister has said silly things again" and that the headlines were "frankly depressing". And yet, I know first-hand that so much work has led up to the busy weeks of conference, so why am I not surprised?
Image credit: Rohan Chakravarty / Cartoonstock
The important voices of some dignitaries and community representatives were absent from COP26, either because they declined the invitation, or because they were not invited. More strikingly, some people’s attitudes were hollow, only calling for action as long as it did not require changes to themselves or their backyard. In climate justice, all parties are responsible. Many are disgraceful, but some are better at hiding their crimes.
When speaking to the general public, it is usually important to keep it simple. But is that appropriate? Climate change is a complex issue. Therefore, simple messages will sometimes be a lie, and perfect solutions do not exist. The complexity of climate change is difficult to communicate at large, but I think that everyone can appreciate that the problems are complex, and the solutions are imperfect, but that our duty to protect one another always remains the priority.
Image credit: Vidya Priya Rao
Silence of the trees
Negative feelings about climate change can cause psychological distress known as climate anxiety. Climate anxiety is known to affect the mental health of young people. Perhaps stories of authenticity, diversity, and resilience can appease climate anxiety. Some see the tragedy of the burnt Amazon rainforest, the melted Arctic sea ice, the underwater Philippine islands. Others see the fighting spirit of indigenous people like Myrna Cunningham Kain, a Miskito feminist, and the bold faces of young activists like Greta Thunberg challenging world leaders, and the innovative force of environmental problem-solvers like Boyan Slat with The Ocean Cleanup. There in the mix, I encounter passionate voices who could not be more different from me. Then, the silence that fell on me when I read more and more complex issues peels away, slowly and then all at once. Our diversity is our saving grace, in the natural ecosystem as much as in our human communities. Like the different facets of a Picasso painting, I give permission for the apparent chaos to come together as a collection of ideas, like trees coming together as a forest.
Coming together as a forest
Forests are places of encounter. On the social side, communities finding new ways to interact, make friends, grow up together. On the environmental side, forest habitats shelter local plants and animals, forests reduce the risk of flooding or earthquake damage, forests cool down the warm urban air, and forests remove CO2 from the atmosphere. These social and environmental benefits are part of the complex system that restores local balance.
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” - Henry David Thoreau
Earthwatch Europe connects people with nature by building a network of Tiny Forests across the UK. A Tiny Forest incorporates 600 trees of 20 different species in a dense native woodland that attracts birds, bees, worms, small mammals, as well as a diverse mix of users: residents, schoolchildren, local businesses and more.
Taking real action and watching positive change unfold are ways to appease climate anxiety. Which method suits you best?
- Participate in a planting day with your local community
- Monitor the growth of a Tiny Forest by collecting simple scientific information
Look it up
- Explore the network of Tiny Forests planted across the UK
- Speak to your local Council about getting a Tiny Forest in your neighbourhood
Carry the flag
- Look after your Tiny Forest as a Tree Keeper
- Spread the word about positive environmental projects
- Support charitable work with a donation
Tiny Forests are super tiny, but super powerful. With solutions as diverse and varied as the world, there must be something that fits your lifestyle and goals. Even if it requires a leap of faith, it definitely feels good to get those boots on the ground.