UBC Graduate Research

Reconciling Relationships : Critical Perspectives on Eco-Anxiety, Human-Nature Dichotomies, and Urban Gardening Hamdon, Carly; Huynh, Justin; Marinna-Grant, Atlanta; Mussett, Kate


With climate change having become a mainstay in political discourse and debate, people are becoming increasingly aware of the looming threat of ecological crises. In this report, we address the increasingly popular topic of eco-anxiety, a phenomenon awakened due to this increased awareness, taking a critical approach to the term and its surrounding research and conversations. We begin by discussing eco-anxiety as it is defined in Western psychological and psychiatric literature. Here, we identify that “eco-anxiety,” as it is popularly known, is most often felt by those in privileged positions who are least likely to feel the direct impacts of ecological crises such as those associated with climate change in their lifetime. From the lens of the privileged person, who has access to wealth and institutional power, eco-anxiety is a call to action. From the lens of the marginalized person, who lacks these, eco-anxiety is a reminder of their precarious circumstances and lack of agency. And for the Indigenous person whose land has been stolen and whose ways of knowing have been culturally lost and institutionally unrecognized, eco-anxiety is a colonial term which does not capture the feelings of losing relatives, deteriorating livelihoods, and experiencing the transformation of human-nature relations from one of reciprocity to one of dominance and exploitation. Acknowledging these varied experiences and perspectives, we aim to pay particular attention to the most marginalized in discussing eco-anxiety by viewing it from several different lenses rather than singularly as a pathologizing, medical diagnosis In addition to our critical perspectives, we also aimed to offer constructive ideas in the forms of urban gardening, radical community organizing, and Indigenous ways of knowing and engaging with the environment. Through review of existing literature and some theorizing of our own, we argue that eco-anxiety and environmental degradation must be treated as a product of our social and political economic structures rather than as a result of individual actions. This means that a radical approach to environmental organizing which seeks to fundamentally change social relations is necessary for the environmental movement to succeed. We also argue that this work can be difficult and that urban gardens, if created with attention to power relations, can serve as both a space for radical education and improving mental health and well-being, particularly for the most marginalized participants. Additionally, these spaces can encourage those with access to power and authority to re-work their worldview around structural and political change. Acknowledging that even radical movements led by marginalized people who are non-Indigenous can adopt harmful settler mentalities, we also offer ideas which shift away from the topics of gardening and eco-anxiety. Encouraging a meaningful societal shift toward acknowledging and taking seriously the Indigenous ideas of relationality we can begin engaging in sacred reciprocity, and the gift economy. We argue that humans have lost our connection to the land through colonial histories and capitalist modes of production that have stripped the heart and relation out of who we are with the land. If our aim is to truly address the mental distress associated with environmental degradation, then we must take Indigenous understandings and practices seriously when interacting with our environment. Rather than momentarily acknowledging that a different way of knowing from the dominant settler ideology could exist, we argue that there must be a structural and political shift which integrates Indigenous practice into environmental decision-making while properly acknowledging the people who have provided this knowledge and making meaningful steps toward reconciliation. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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