Anxieties & Activism: Using Action To Cope

By Danielle Castillo and Jared Stilwell

While conversations concerning climate change continue to ritually concentrate on the consequences we face and the action needed in order to ensure sustainability, we often disregard the mental health effects that natural disasters and fear-dominated rhetoric pose towards individuals today. Whether it be extreme flooding in indigenous communities in South America or viewing a Facebook post detailing the overwhelming effects of oversea fishing from the comfort of your apartment in California, experiencing symptoms of anxiety and worry has become common in discussions of climate change. Unfortunately, this frames environmental efforts as hopeless and the consequences of climate change as inevitable. It is this model of hopelessness that has caused the mental health of communities around the world to suffer. It is thus more than necessary we include strategies of dealing with despair in conversations of hope towards a sustainable future.

As Maria Ojala explains, worry and anxiety can cripple potential critical actors in climate change movements. If we do not address what is directly stunting action, how can we move forward? This can be more closely observed in India where there has been documented high rates of farmer suicides as a response to crop failure due to extreme droughts (See Padhy, Sarkar, Panigrahi, & Paul, 2015). The effects of climate change extend beyond the immediate environment that surrounds us, we must therefore acknowledge how climate anxiety functions in order to find hope at all.

Ojala further outlines that climate change education has to produce a way to tackle this anxiety. By understanding, learning, and applying coping mechanisms for the preservation of people’s mental health, the hope for fighting climate change becomes viable. These methods include learning how to engage local communities through messaging—as seen with the High Water Line initiative. Even when reflecting on the emergence of young climate change activists it was found that their mental health actually improved as a result of them taking action in order to save our planet (4 Activist Girls). Interestingly enough, by understanding the social, spiritual, and the emotionality of climate change they were able to develop their own treatment to cope with their mental health issues. Emotional reckoning thus enabled activists to find hope both for themselves and for the world at large.

 Our definition of radical hope:

            In order for hope to be truly radical, we need to recognize our anxiety and actively push against its strain. We can do this by gaining an emotional understanding of where we stand in relation to hopelessness. This method of thinking forces the individual to look internally first and evaluate before addressing worldly issues, thus providing an alternative method of mobilization which can be truly radical within itself. In this case, every act you make—from classroom discussions, changing daily consumption habits, to calling representatives to push for local policy change—becomes inherently radical because taking action becomes a form of internal and external healing. Radical hope is the process of acknowledging the symptoms of anxiety and worry, processing how despair fuels you, and choosing to hope in spite of the circumstances. Hope can take many forms, but to radically hope means to believe in the preservation of your life and the life of the world.


Kamentz, Anya. “You Need To Act Now’: Meet 4 Girls Working To Save The Warming World.” NPR, January 19, 2020.

Ojala, Maria. “Facing Anxiety in Climate Change Education : From Therapeutic Practice to Hopeful Transgressive Learning.” Canadian Journal of Environmental Education 21 (2016): 41–56.

Cunsolo Willox, Ashlee, Sherilee L. Harper, James D. Ford, Victoria L. Edge, Karen Landman, Karen Houle, Sarah Blake, and Charlotte Wolfrey. “Climate Change and Mental Health: An Exploratory Case Study from Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Canada.” Climatic Change 121, no. 2 (November 1, 2013): 255–70.

Fritze, Jessica G., Grant A. Blashki, Susie Burke, and John Wiseman. “Hope, Despair and Transformation: Climate Change and the Promotion of Mental Health and Wellbeing.” International Journal of Mental Health Systems 2, no. 1 (September 17, 2008): 13.

Padhy, Susanta Kumar, Sidharth Sarkar, Mahima Panigrahi, and Surender Paul. “Mental Health Effects of Climate Change.Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 19, no. 1 (2015): 3–7.

Palinkas, Lawrence A. “Climate Coping,” from “One of the most overlooked consequences of climate change? Our mental health.” Environmental Health News, December 2, 2019.

Ro, Christine. “The Harm from Worrying about Climate Change.” BBC Future, October 10, 2019.

Mosher, Eve. HighWaterLine: Visualizing Climate Change.

Trendy Environmentalism

By Cameron Ayles, Ajah Davis, Sarah Roytek, and Taryn Shanes

Trendy environmentalism complicates the environmental narrative. Sustainable products have come onto the scene in recent years as ‘green’ and ‘ethical’ alternatives to the products all around us. Companies large and small promote their environmental image as a way to attract customers. The drive to adopt sustainable trends is thus, at least in part, rooted in a deeper interest in expanding the consumer base—a potentially troubling development for the environment at large.

On the one hand, the products consumers prefer to buy and the enhanced reputation of brands and businesses as “good” and “ethical” can further humanity’s sustainability goals. Even the most incremental steps and small habits – foregoing the plastic packaging on produce, opting for biodegradable bamboo silverware, reducing your animal product consumption, or bringing along your reusable grocery bags – can serve as a gateway into more drastic action. Such value-signaling may serve as an indicator to businesses and policymakers that climate change and sustainability play a critical role in spending habits and decisions.

Yet, while this has its benefits, the promotion of sustainable trends can also be deeply detrimental. Trendy environmentalism opens the door for individuals and corporations to write off more structural change or abandon positive progress altogether. For instance, the building industry has seen a surge in sustainable building techniques. From the use of certain building materials to the building’s design, consumers place a great deal of value on sustainability. Over the years, sustainable design and building trends have proven to generate higher returns for real estate investors and building professionals. Thus, in the building industry, as is the case with many corporations, sustainability has at times become a marketing ploy to generate greater profit.

In order to truly induce tangible change, there must be a collective effort on the part of our designers, producers, investors, consumers, and politicians to stay true to environmental trends. From the straws through which we sip to the buildings we build, it is important for a product to respond to contemporary and future environmental and social needs, not just to private capital.

Our definition of radical hope:

Radical hope can be found in the motives and results of trendy environmentalism. If trendy environmentalism results in a greater understanding of the overall problem, then perhaps it will lead to a value shift and long-term change. For example, a teenager who experiences the trendiness of ditching plastic straws might be compelled to understand more about the impact of her choices.

On the other hand, trendy environmentalism can be discouraging at times. For example, when small changes in individual habits (the use of plastic bags, for example) allow an individual to write off greater action—hope isn’t renewed or spurred forward. If a corporation is monitoring their carbon footprint to simply keep up with the competition or win consumer approval, there isn’t much hope in true transformation of values and understanding. In our eyes, hope has the possibility of being lost in both the reasoning behind and the effects of such trends.

Radical hope is made manifest when social and environmental capital take precedence over, or at least align with, profits. Our hope is that future environmental trends, whether that be in relation to the products we use or the places we inhabit, will not be exploited merely for the sake of capital gains, but instead be used to further humanity’s pursuit of progress.


1. An Introduction to Trendy Environmentalism

“The Evolution of the Sustainability Mindset.” Nielsen, November 09, 2018

Truelove, Heather Barnes et al. “Positive and negative spillover of pro-environmental behavior: An integrative review and theoretical framework.” Global Environmental Change, vol. 29, 2014, pp. 127-138. Science Direct.

Myers, Todd. “Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism Is Harming the Environment.” Seattle, Washington Policy Center, 2011.

2. Trendy Environmentalism and the Consumer

Toussaint, Kristin. “Metal straws, mason jars, bamboo forks: do you have to buy more stuff to go zero waste?Vox, May 14, 2019.

Goldstein, Eric. “Will Shifting to Reusable Straws Really Make a Difference?NRDC, August 01, 2018.

3. Trendy Environmentalism in the Corporate Realm

Horovitz, Bruce. “From the Rooftops, Big Box Stores Are Embracing Solar.” New York Times, October 7, 2019.

Anderson, Ray. “The Business Logic of Sustainability.” TED2009, February 2009.

4. Trendy Environmentalism, Greenwashing in the Building Industry, and a Call to Action

McGarry, Miriam. “Architects Declare a Climate Emergency But Can They Avoid Real Estate’s Greenwashing Tendencies?Future Failure, February 13, 2020. Failed Architecture.

Waldman, Katy. “In Elvia Wilk’s “Oval,” Earth, Capitalism, and the Human Species Sink Toward Doom.” The New Yorker, May 21, 2019. (Oval is well worth the read)

T-A-L Statement on the Green New Deal.” The Architecture Lobby, 2019.

Accessibility and Inclusivity: How Radical Hope Requires Radical Acceptance, Accommodation, and Understanding

By Jared Stilwell

Many activists are deeply engaged in creating movements and spaces that are more diverse and inclusive. Most still come up short as it is incredibly difficult to draw in every voice and make sure each is heard. Nevertheless, the barriers to inclusivity should not mean we put any less effort into creating a truly accessible and inclusive space.

The articles and pieces assembled for this unit aim to address some of the ways in which the environmental movement continues to struggle with issues of accessibility and inclusivity. They also highlight some of the ways the movement has endeavored to address these issues. They each examine a different issue when it comes to the idea of accessibility or exclusion. Gibson-Wood and Wakefield discuss the idea of accessibility as it plays out in a case study on the Hispanic Community in Toronto. They tackle the economic accessibility of the environmental movement, as well as the idea of what it means to be ‘green’. An accessible or inclusive definition of how environmentalists—including, more importantly, people who do not self-identify as an activist or environmentalist—should act cannot be monolithic. The idea that people have their own strengths to bring to environmentalism is universal, so too should be the idea that people cannot and should not participate in saving and protecting the environment in an identical manner.

Other sources delve into the questions and purpose of the theory of environmental criticism within the movement to preserve the world as it can certainly box people out or ‘other’ them due to the inaccessibility of an education on such matters. Activism and environmentalism should not require hours of theory and graduate courses, although these of course have their place. It is vital to include those who have not had the opportunity to engage with the theory and provide spaces and movements where activists or environmentalists can work regardless of their backgrounds. Werner strives to resolve the purpose of ecocriticism and eco-speak, as well as discuss the importance of pragmaticism and acting alongside theory. Theorists and movement leaders can certainly learn a lot from those that cannot join organizations or attend rallies due to the economics of their lives but embody clean and environmental living, those who need not be lectured on the footprint of driving to work every day as public transport has always been a necessity. Solnit also speaks on the not uncommon matter of looking down and excluding those who place themselves against environmental movements and discusses the importance of not counting people out due to their current circumstances or beliefs. The experiences that made environmentalism accessible to activists are not universal and the exclusion of those in the mythic south, or who simply don’t have the education available, is counterproductive to a movement of radical hope. 

Finally, I have included Eve Mosher’s High Water Line as an art piece designed to craft and spread an incredibly accessible message—an often elusive quality in environmental art. This project has even gone on to live through other artists, each performing in a new place in need of the message. Environmentalism and environmental education are increasingly conceived with accessibility and inclusion in mind, but there are still leagues to go. The question of how to better include all voices and actors will remain an important issue as more people take up the torch of environmental activism.

My definition of radical hope:

Perhaps it goes without saying, but exclusion is thoroughly not radical. Radical Hope as an idea is one that should involve a radical willingness to not only fight for the world but to also fight to include those whose voices are often unheard or ignored. Hopeful movements should be galvanized by the idea that there are people not being informed, included, or respected. They should, in turn, demand that there be true representation in the fight for the environment.


Gibson-Wood, Hilary, and Sarah Wakefield. ““Participation”, White Privilege and Environmental Justice: Understanding Environmentalism Among Hispanics in Toronto.Antipode 45, no. 3 (2012): 641-62.

Werner, Brett Alan. “Pragmatic Ecocriticism and Equipments for Living.” PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 2010, pp 1-51.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie., and Jacqueline S. Palmer. Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics in America. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.

Solnit, Rebecca. “One Nation Under Elvis: An Environmentalism For Us All.” Orion Magazine, March 1, 2008.

Caulfield, Sean. The Flood. Art Installation (2016) and accompanying video:

Mosher, Eve. HighWaterLine: Visualizing Climate Change.

Credit: HighWaterLine NYC

The Work of Restoration

In the book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Potawatomi author and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer reflects on the relationship between Indigenous knowledge and science. In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, she told the reporter: “At a time of climate change…I can’t help but cling to the notion that it’s not the land that’s broken, it is our relationship to land that’s broken.” She understands the “deep ecological grief” many feel. ‘Grief is a measure of how much we love. And so I honor that grief,’ Kimmerer added. “But then you roll up your sleeves. Out of the love that you have for the world — that’s expressed in that grief — then you get to work, the work of restoration.” This idea could be a core value of Radical Hope. There’s no need to reject the grief — instead, we can use despair to motivate us in the work of restoration.