Listening to my eco-anxiety
A testimonial by Charlotte Eulry, environmental activist and member of the Listening Inspires team.
The last few months have been intense in terms of climate news, both in France (1) and internationally. I haven't missed a beat: the Antarctic melt alert in March, the release of the IPCC's 6th synthesis report, the mega-basins affair in the Deux-Sèvres region and the government's attempt to dissolve the "Les Soulèvements de la Terre" (Earth Uprising) movement (2), devastating fires in Canada, historic heatwaves, devastating tropical typhoons in Asia, etc. Add to this a particularly tense political atmosphere, with months of public protests in France against the pension reform. Against this backdrop, I read, I heard, I listened, I spoke, I mobilized myself, I invested in trying to understand, to put myself in the place of the various stakeholders. To nuance, to commit, to try to have an impact. Trying to be one with this powerless majority that we are, to raise our voices and weigh in on policy decisions, together.
I tried to absorb it all. I held on tight. I prayed for a mild, rainy summer, as I so love summer sunshine. I said to myself, "During my vacations, I'm going to turn off the phone for a while". My vacations were coming up, and I was due to go on vacation to the Greek island of Rhodes with my family. I procrastinated for months before booking my plane ticket, wondering if "I was entitled to it". I was also frightened: a terrible fire destroyed the south of the island, 30,000 tourists evacuated, locals devastated, biodiversity burnt to a crisp, airlines oblivious to the fact that they were continuing to bring tourists so as not to lose money... By the time we flew, the situation had calmed down, so we were able to leave. On arrival, I was looking out of the window and saw a long line of grey clouds to the south of the island, reminding me that just a few days before, the flames were spreading.
The first two days I didn't feel much. No excitement, no sadness either. No enthusiasm or passion. No relief or satisfaction at being on vacation. I didn't care. On the other hand, I had managed to do what I'd promised myself: I stopped watching the news on my phone.
On the third evening, I decided to go swimming with my mother in front of our apartment. There's a bit of a current, but nothing to panic about, and yet at that moment I start to get very scared of the water, and I shout at my mother not to go too far away. As someone who loves the sea, I suddenly felt that it was my enemy. Then we go back up to the apartment, my heart pounding and the anxiety in my chest finally showing, after months of hide-and-seek. My family sits down on the terrace to eat olives and watch the sunset, and I sit down next to them to watch the sun too. On the left, we can make out a streak of smoke. One wonders if it's a fire that's started again, it certainly looked like it. So I start talking about the fire, listening to everyone, and the words come out, little by little. I start talking about the indifference I feel, which was shaken when I bathed. The smoke is in front of me, I'm facing the fire, I can no longer ignore its impact. I speak and the tears flow. I cry with empathy for all living beings who suffer. For all those who burned alive, who drowned, who asphyxiated because of Humanity. I weep with helplessness, but above all, for the first time in my life, I burst with despair. For myself, for my loved ones, for the people of the future, for the animals.
That evening, I also realized that I'd been running away from my anguish for several months, which I'd never been able to let go of, until that moment on that terrace, watching the sun set over the water. That precise moment when everything overwhelmed me. I had a little taste of salted olives in my mouth, salted by the sea, then salted by my tears.
Anger and a sense of injustice had stagnated this anguish in my body, making it swell and numbing all my sensations. Joy included. Yet I had made an inner promise to myself to always remain on the side of joyful strength, to fight in love, understanding and light. Without realizing it, I slowly slipped into deep sorrow.
Some of my friends from Listening Inspires had already told me about similar experiences. I also know that most people my age can relate to my story, without being able to make positive sense of it all. Without being able to turn it into a strength. We talk about "eco-anxiety", but we don't necessarily have the cards in our hands to try and find a way to calm ourselves down.
Finding myself in Greece, just after one of the worst fires in its history, meant that I couldn't turn my head any longer to this state of eco-anxiety.
Maybe what I write will resonate with you. I invite you not too wait until you have a similar episode to listen to yourself. I made the mistake of thinking that being strong meant not cracking, not flinching. To have a heart as hard as concrete. Listen to yourself, cry when you feel like it. Take the time to hear when your heart races when you read tragic news, or when it becomes enraged. Welcome these feelings of anger, sadness and despair. Don't wait for them to take shape, because they'll take your body and mind hostage. This can sometimes last for years: bitterness and hatred eat away at you. It makes you sick, both physically and psychologically.
We're often asked to measure our impact - our carbon footprint, our impact on biodiversity. Some people even have apps where they enter all their activities to see the carbon impact they have. When they have a low impact, they can then allow themselves to get on a plane once in a while. I would ask you to measure the impact the global situation has on you. To know how much you can take in. To set limits for yourself, for your own well-being. I also invite you to take action at your own level. By this I mean two fundamental actions:
1) Take action.
2) Do it on YOUR scale. Not on a scale too big for you.
I invite you to accept the fact that we are but a speck of dust in this infernal planetary matrix. You will never be able to encompass, integrate, internalize the problems of the whole World. Make room for other, brighter things to enter your life. In inviting you to do so, I make a promise to myself as well.
Take care of yourself, take time to contemplate nature, which isn't just a postcard setting where you settle in for the weekend. Take the time to be grateful for the wonderful chance that is life, which means that you are here today, with the ability to apprehend the World, to see its horrors but its wonders just as much. Take a moment to listen to Nature, to immerse yourself in it for as long as possible, because it's through this that you'll be able to connect fully to something planetary.
(1) At the start of 2023, France saw a wave of protests (demonstrations, strikes) lasting several weeks and involving several million people, against a new law on pension reform, which nevertheless came into force in September 2023.
(2) A mega-basin is an artificial, plastic-coated, impermeable water reservoir that can extend over several hectares. These installations enable farmers to water their crops during the summer, even in times of drought. The citizens' movement Soulèvements de la Terre has organized popular rallies to protest the site in the commune of Sainte-Soline.