"The world doesn't need another million words. It needs the action of one, times a million."
That's Clover Hogan, a 21-year-old Australian climate activist, on the power of encouraging the world's younger generations to step up, rather than shut down, against the climate crisis.
An eco-anxiety researcher and the founder of youth-led organisation Force of Nature, Hogan has dedicated over half her life to saving the environment — launching podcasts, servings on climate advisory boards, guiding Fortune 500 companies and working alongside the world’s top environmental leaders.
The Queenslander, who now resides in London, told Global Citizen exactly what eco-anxiety is and why, to solve it, we must shift away from token actions and lean into our fears and frustrations — and then use those emotions to create lasting change.
Global Citizen: What is eco-anxiety?
Clover Hogan: Eco-anxiety relates to feelings of grief, overwhelm and frustration in the face of the climate crisis and ecological breakdown. Eco-anxiety has been on the rise in the past few years. In 2019, research from Friends of the Earth showed that over 70% of 18 to 24 years old experienced eco-anxiety. A separate study from the UK shows 50% of child psychiatrists said their patients were experiencing eco-anxiety.
It's a symptom of being raised to love nature, while also becoming complicit in its destruction. That's one of the most crippling aspects of the climate crisis: the fact that by the nature of how our lives have been designed in the 21st century, we are all in some way contributing to it.
We're told by climate scientists we have less than 10 years to avoid runaway #climatechange. We will not deliver climate solutions w/o creating a fair, equitable society. There is no healthy society when we exploit nature, & we can't protect nature when people aren't cared for. pic.twitter.com/6TYrPXZyk7— Clover Hogan 🌎 (@cloverhogan) October 2, 2020
How do we solve it?
Eco-anxiety is a normal response, not a clinical condition, and we shouldn't pathologise it, because it's a sign of empathy. The problem isn't eco-anxiety, it’s what happens if we don't channel those feelings into constructive activism.
When we don't know what we can do as individuals, that's when eco-anxiety can tip into ecophobia or a feeling of powerlessness. That's when we shift from caring about the issue to thinking the system is too broken, or that you’re just one in billions, or that it's too late. So how we can begin to manage our eco-anxiety is by creating space for it, normalising the conversation around these feelings and clarifying how these feelings can be our superpower to channel into action.
What are the key initiatives and programs of Force of Nature?
We exist to take on this feeling of powerlessness in the face of climate change. We serve as a launchpad for people from all corners of the world to step up rather than shut down. We work with young people through online classrooms that are freely available and that have been designed to cultivate mindsets of agency, determination and resilience.
On the other side, we do a lot of work with business leaders and policymakers on creating forums for intergenerational exchange, where we can bring together the energy of the youth with the wisdom of experience. We're trying to mobilise mindsets and create spaces where young people feel empowered to create change and are invited into the decision-making process.
What would you say to young people concerned about the planet's future and want to help improve environmental outcomes, but are unsure where to start?
The best place to start is honing in on those feelings and treating them as a conjunctive for activism. We can do that by being honest with ourselves about how we feel about these issues. There is no wrong way to feel. We're going to feel more overwhelmed when we try to plug those feelings or bottle them up. Understand how you feel, and allow yourself to be drawn to the issues that most agitate you and ignite that fire underneath your skin.
Any changemaker in history would tell us that to have impact, we must have focus. We have to shift away from spreading ourselves thin across all of the different issues and token actions, like buying reusable coffee cups or making monthly donations. Find a problem and take ownership of it.
Our emotions are often the best window to understanding what that problem is. When we connect to a problem at that heart level, at that gut level, that's when we can create real impact and sustain our activism long term. Because we know precisely why it is that we want to make the change. Start by clarifying the problem for you, whether that's fast fashion, food waste, prison reform, gender inequality or any social and environmental issue that fits into this umbrella of climate change and broken systems.
Think critically about how you can show up to solve it, according to your unique skills and talents. One time I thought that to be an environmentalist, I'd have to chain myself to a tree or ride a zodiac into the path of a whaling ship. I quickly realised that I should follow my strengths and passions: communicating, influencing and community building.
What are the main environmental issues faced by oceans, particularly the Great Barrier Reef? How do we stop these from happening and getting worse?
Some of the major threats to our oceans today include overfishing, coastal pollution, habitat destruction and warming acidification. Acidification is a process caused by carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas, which makes our oceans more acidic — a particular threat to the Great Barrier Reef, where I grew up. We are now seeing widespread coral bleaching as oceans warm. Another significant issue is plastic pollution. There is a garage truck full of plastic going into our oceans every minute.
On an individual level, we can begin to take on some of these problems by swapping out meat for plants. When we move toward plant-based diets, there is a positive knock-on effect across the environment and our oceans. Animal agriculture is one of the leading drivers of ocean dead zones and ocean pollution. Many of the pesticides and nutrients used for animal agriculture end up in coastal waters.
Be conscious of only buying plastic products that you know are recyclable, and try to reduce that plastic consumption as much as possible. Become conscious of the clothes you buy, because the fashion industry is hugely polluting. Think about charity shops or clothes swap programs. Of course, greener, cleaner energy options, cycling, reducing time in a car and taking public transport — there are many great general carbon solutions available to us today.
But, the most important thing you can do as an individual is move beyond these token actions.
Take ownership of a problem and join others to solve it. Some of the changes we need to implement for oceans is establishing marine parks to protect biodiversity, ending destructive fishing practises like trawling and pushing for a real climate agenda. If oceans are something you're passionate about, I encourage you to dive deep into some of the most significant issues threatening the ocean and then get clear on how that relates to your own life.