Watching a disaster unfold is stressful. For all the beauty and pleasure nature gives us, the current state of our environment can cause sadness, grief and anger as well. Environmental news can seem overwhelming at times. In fact, the American Psychological Association created a guide for mental health care providers in 2017 to help those experiencing climate anxiety.
A person doesn’t have to be directly involved in an environmental disaster — for instance, contamination from a coal ash spill, respiratory distress from air pollution or surviving a mega storm caused by climate change — to be affected. Being faced with potential environmental catastrophes can be enough and can be worsened by a feeling of powerlessness and the apparent inaction of those who have the power to act.
The APA guide offers tips to build resilience to counteract the often paralyzing effects of environmental issues. They include building belief in one’s own resilience, fostering optimism, cultivating coping strategies, boosting personal preparedness, cultivating and maintaining supportive social networks, promoting community cooperation and providing opportunities for meaningful action.
Under boosting optimism, I suggest taking time to observe the evidence that others are taking action. We don’t have to look far to find a few examples. In 2019, 16,681 volunteers for the Tennessee Tree Project planted more than 97,100 trees that, in addition to the beauty and shade they provide, have the potential to sequester more than 73,000 tons of CO2 over the next 50 years. They can produce more than 13 million pounds of oxygen a year and can help manage up to 85 million gallons of storm water runoff per year.
To date, the project has planted 637,100 trees in Tennessee, creating 2,300 acres of new tree canopy that provides designated habitats for pollinators and other wildlife, has captured 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, filtered 26 billion gallons of rainwater and produced enough oxygen for more than 2 million Tennessee residents each year, according to the project web page. The next Tree Day is set for March 21, 2020.
A different type of tree project, Ardinna Woods Arboretum, at 101 Britt Drive in Jonesborough, is home to more than 70 species of trees native to the Southern Appalachian region, plus many other native plants. The project, founded by local conservationist and environmental activist Frances Lamberts, provides a unique green space and educational opportunity within the town while preserving a variety of native trees and plants. The Jonesborough Parks and Recreation Department now oversees the project but volunteers are needed to help maintain the arboretum.
Another ray of sunshine in the often bleak environmental scene powered up in May. The Brightridge Solar Farm in Telford began generating power with zero carbon emissions and zero water consumption. According to the Brightridge website, the 40-acre farm can replace the equivalent of 3,075 tons of coal burning power production and offset the emission of CO2 for the equivalent of 6,628 acres of forest per year. It’s a step toward cleaner energy options in the Tri-Cities area.
The Jonesborough Locally Grown Farmers Market and Boone Street Market reduce the carbon footprint for produce, eggs and meat, as well as locally made, value-added products, while supporting local producers to build a stronger, more resilient local economy.
I’m not suggesting these things are enough to solve all our environmental problems or put the brakes on climate change. But each one shines like a ray of light in the darkness. It’s worth the time to do an internet search or connect with organizations working for the environment.
Looking for more ideas to implement the APA suggestions? When taking meaningful personal action, the R’s always apply. Reduce — everything, whether it’s energy consumption, water use, single-use plastics or whatever else contributes to overburdening our resources or waste disposal systems. Reuse — many single use products can be used again. Repurpose — the same goes here. Be creative and have fun with it! Rethink — just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the only or best way.
Foster community and connections by finding a group aligned with your values and what you’d like to accomplish. Not a people person? Write letters to lawmakers, create art to share your message, donate to an environmental cause or start a project of your own. The possibilities are endless. The point is to keep a positive, Earthwise focus and not let the magnitude of the problem crush the spirit and paralyze us into inaction. What we do, big or small, matters. When we look around and see what others are doing locally and across the nation and the world, we can find reason for optimism and hope.