Environmental Anxiety: A cow wading through flood waters

Environmental Anxiety — Feeling an Ocean of Change

Posted on January 19, 2023 by Rachel Ploss, TPF Fellow 2022/23
“It’s too big. We can't do anything about it.”
“How can we reverse something that seems like it has an irreversible impact?”
“I’m just one person. I can’t make a difference.”

These statements are symptoms of environmental anxiety – the fear of doom when people experience natural disasters or observe the effects of climate change. As part of Generation Z, I have undoubtedly experienced environmental anxiety. Living in the Suncoast region, it was hard not to when we recently were hit by the deadliest hurricane to strike the state of Florida since 1935. Previously living in Indiana, hurricanes are my new environmental anxiety trigger. Experiencing the cumbersome size of Ian was frightening. Making it through unscathed was a relief, but in the back of my mind, I am always asking, “How can we move things forward in a positive direction if we are stuck in a state of eco-anxiety?”

An approach is to focus on one component of climate change. For example, the Higher Waters: Suncoast Quality of Life team concentrates on sea-level rise and inland flooding. With Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties full of bays, rivers, lakes, inland water, and coastal waters, focusing on sea level rise makes the most sense for us. People in our region have a common interest in identifying the threats from rising seas and the opportunities for ensuring that shorelines and inland areas are resilient now and in the future.

One such opportunity is The Bay. This multi-year journey to transform 53 acres of the city’s most precious land on Sarasota’s bayfront into a public park that is free, open, and welcoming to our diverse region is also environmentally conscious. The park was built with accessibility in mind resulting in soft eco-friendly walkways that can withstand flooding. The landscaping is filled with Florida-friendly native plants that can also withstand flooding and improve water quality.

Of course, the Suncoast region is facing other effects of climate change, but sea level rise is arguably the biggest concern. Our water levels have risen at an increasing rate over the past few decades. This affects Florida’s coastal and inland waters through storm surge and flooding. With this magnitude of impact, Higher Waters is a large enough topic.

You may wonder how to rid yourself of environmental anxiety, even when focusing on just one component. The key is sharing your knowledge with others who care and have a shared aspiration to identify the threats we’re facing and the possibilities for resiliency. We can only move forward if we’re talking about it. When we connect with who else cares, we open a wealth of possibilities for the future.

Beyond connecting with people, connecting with the environment can take away some anxiety. It’s okay to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. In fact, let it serve as a reminder that we are the solution.

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