‘Staying cool in this hot mess: Coping with climate anxiety’

‘Staying cool in this hot mess: Coping with climate anxiety’

Namrata Kilpady

A few months ago, my cousin gifted me a bottle containing what I thought was apricot juice. The liquid inside was of a cheerful orangish-yellow hue. As I gleefully grabbed it, ready to unscrew the cap and take a swig, she squealed, “Noooo…! That’s a homemade bioenzyme for cleaning your home!” “A bio-what…,” I exclaimed, completely unsettled by this new information.

My cousin is among a growing tribe of citizens of the earth who take pride in making cleaning liquids at home (from lemon and orange peels mixed with jaggery and water, pickled with care over a month). The decoction that emerges after 30 days has a pleasant aroma and colour (remember how I nearly took a sip) and is an effective cleaning agent to keep your floors, kitchen counter and toilet bowls clean. The best part is that it is safe for the planet. This homemade solution is a handy alternative to disinfectants made from harmful chemicals and sold by FMCG giants. My sister made a huge batch of this liquid, a portion of which she poured into an empty upcycled plastic bottle and tied a bow on for me. This isn’t merely a hobby for her and others. It is one of many small but deliberate steps leading up to a lifestyle change that many people are making to lessen their carbon footprint and cope with climate anxiety.

Climate anxiety refers to the sense of distress gripping many of us as we worry about how climate change is going to affect our health, our families, loved ones, homes and everything we hold dear. It is rooted in uncertainty and is often accompanied by other emotions including anger and guilt. While climate anxiety isn’t a mental illness, it nevertheless affects the way we feel, think and act.

While sudden rains in the middle of a blazing, stupor-inducing north Indian summer do bring respite to most people, other ‘freak’ weather events don’t. Recall the grim scenes we saw unfolding in and around Manali in Himachal Pradesh last June as flash floods and landslides ripped apart homes, hotels and roads, leaving death and devastation in their wake. My family and I had been about to set out on our road trip to a village near Manali when timely news flashes alerted us. I called the homestay we had booked to convey our change in plans. The property owner dismissed my fears of travelling to the region. “There is no need to cancel your plans. ‘Yeh sab mamooli hai’ (These floods are routine).The roads will be cleared up and safe for tourists by tomorrow.” There was nothing routine about those floods. And they didn’t heed his words for the next several weeks. We stayed put in Delhi.

Climate change raining on your summer holiday parade is one thing, watching the rapidly worsening air quality play havoc with the lungs of your child or your ageing parent is quite another. One can choose to stop reading about worsening AQI, heatwaves and water scarcity but that doesn’t stop climate anxiety from creeping in.

It is true that tackling climate change at scale requires monumental actions aimed at mitigation and adaptation by governments and businesses around the world. Some efforts can be made at the individual level too. This includes eliminating single-use plastics in all forms, and replacing them with biodegradable options for everything from toothbrushes and menstrual hygiene products to garbage bags; being more judicious with resources like water and electricity; opting for organic food, minimising food wastage; composting at home; driving EVs instead of petrol, diesel-guzzling cars or ditching your car for mass public transport and so on. While all these steps are a practical way to be a part of the solution, taking action also helps cope with climate anxiety and feel some sense of control when it feels like the world is spinning out of control.

Apart from making conscious lifestyle changes that align with one’s values, it is also advisable to share your worries with people you trust, speak to a therapist, find a support group or start one, and sign up for a healing forest walk if your city offers these in its shrinking green spaces. Or, simply start by saving those orange peels to create a homemade bioenzyme-fuelled cleaning liquid for your home and give some to your cousin.

(Views are personal.)