Did the Chennai Water Crisis Make You Uneasy? You Might Be Afflicted with Eco-Anxiety

Earth

Did the Chennai Water Crisis Make You Uneasy? You Might Be Afflicted with Eco-Anxiety

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I

n this season of Big Little Lies, Renata’s (Laura Dern) daughter passes out in a classroom full of kids after a loaded discussion on climate change. A parent-teacher meeting exposes how like the adults, children now are equally worried about “the end of the world”. BLL might be fiction but it might just be representing a key current dread: eco-anxiety. 

Miley Cyrus has sworn not to have kids until we treat our planet better. Some would say we have come a long way from Michael Jackson’s “Earth” song to Lil Dicky’s one with the same name. But unfortunately, the distance is covered in not achievements of a healthy planet but in counting the number of plastic bags choking our lands and oceans.

I have always been a worried person when it comes to the future of our planet. But when I received a goody bag of reused paper notebook and stationery, an eco-friendly dress and shampoo from my sister this birthday, I knew things had gotten serious. The last few weeks saw a 360-degree turn of events on my Instagram feed: Until now, I had idle poets, three-line movie critics, and millennials hating on their nine-to-five jobs while being stuck in traffic. The same people have now moved to posting bite-sized tutorials – how a neat bamboo stick that can be your next toothbrush, eco-friendly sanitary napkins that don’t clog the earth, and shopping bags made of recycled materials that can be reused. Further, a fashion influencer I follow online started a campaign that demands you don’t buy a single piece of clothing in the next year and seasoned travel bloggers are using Instagram to put up photos showcasing the trash bag they carry with them while trekking in an attempt “to leave the place the way they found it”. After all, the destruction of Ladakh is not just a myth anymore.

Looks like even our PM got the memo, last month he tweeted about the need for water conservation.

But I suppose the news about Chennai drying up has been the wake-up call for most Indians. We Indians who lived comfortably somewhere between “sab chalta hai” and “jugaad” are now a seriously conflicted lot; half-scared and half-hopeful that this too shall pass. Looks like even our PM got the memo, last month he tweeted about the need for water conservation. N H Ravindranath, the Indian scientist who is set to prepare the first national study on the impacts of climate change calls India “unprepared” to deal with what’s about to come. In a study headed by him that analysed climate change in India’s Himalayan Region (IHR), it was found that all the 12 Indian states including Assam and Jammu and Kashmir are “highly vulnerable” with little capacity to cope. Last year, Ravindranath, along with other researchers was also involved in helping Meghalaya assess the damage to its forests. Nearly half of its forests had experienced an “increase in disturbance”. Yet very little precaution seems to be been taken.

 But I like to believe that what figures could not do, images of women standing in long lines with empty buckets of water in Chennai might have achieved. Take my beloved aunt for instance. All her life, she has never believed in taking the middle path – she would buy us dozen things for Durga Pujo and make eight different kinds of fish in a single meal. But last month she called me, all worried. “What does Chennai mean for Kolkata?” she said, essentially asking the expiry date of her city.

 Eco anxiety – a chronic fear of environmental doom – has gone from being just a term in theory to a legitimate chronic fear, especially when reports suggest that there might potentially be an environmental catastrophe as soon as 2040. Naturally, people are dealing with it in their own way: A therapist friend says she gets three to four patients, whose eco-stress levels have spiked. Several among us want to stop procreating to ease the strain on Earth’s resources. The ones who already have kids are in despair mode. Recently, a woman I met dominated the dinner-table conversation pondering how old her children would be in 2040. “My 40-year-old son might be a father to a one-year-old. How will they survive the inevitable eco-crisis” she fretted and gulped the rest of her drink. 

It’s why I sometimes think, eco-anxiety might just be a good thing. Maybe it is the wake- up call we didn’t deserve but needed.

 In an article published in Independent, science journalist Phoebe Weston calls “eco anxiety” a bereavement – a calamity we engineered without knowing. She gives the grim example of Professor Camille Parmesan, responsible for producing scientific papers on the impacts of climate change, who became “professionally depressed” after witnessing government apathy. Parmesan even considered abandoning her climate research entirely. If a scientist of her calibre can feel defeated by the situation, what chance do us ordinary citizens – replacing sanitary pads with menstrual cups, cutting out straws and plastic in our lives – have? 

Our planet, as we know it, is no mood to compromise: snow caps are melting, wildfires are raging, and species are going extinct around the world at an alarming rate. Closer home, the unbreathable air of Delhi, the depleting groundwater reserves in Mumbai, and pollution of lakes in Bangalore have all happened in our lifetime. Yet we did nothing to stop it. 

It’s why I sometimes think, eco-anxiety might just be a good thing. Maybe it is the wake- up call we didn’t deserve but needed. Look at how it has spurred at least some of us into action; to take stock of how we live and how little we can actually live with. You see, we can’t depend on our government alone. It’s only when we realise how to give up toxic lifestyles to safeguard what it precious to us, can we stir a demand for policy changes. As marine biologist Tim Gordon says, “It’s in our power to protect what’s left and make a meaningful difference. And that’s why we do this.”

Let’s start by turning off the tap while we brush our teeth.

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