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Intérieur nuit

Carnet de bord de l'Expédition Bleue

By William Gagnon

Building engineer LEED AP BD+C, LEED AP ND, LFA, ECO Canada EPt

By William Gagnon

Building engineer LEED AP BD+C, LEED AP ND, LFA, ECO Canada EPt

Environment | Society | Case file

Ecoanxiety and the ecological grief, the new state of mind

Imagine you are walking through a forest by yourself in the woods, with your earphones on, lost into some deep thoughts.  Suddenly, a bear appears a few metres ahead and it’s running towards you. Your body gears into a reaction, survival mode that we call fight or flight.   This is how various animals fled from predators, and survived.  This fight or flight mode is a constructive unpleasant emotion : it’s allowed us to evolve and survive up to this day.


Now you’re on the bus home reading the news.  Melting glacier. Rising sea levels. Increasing carbon dioxide levels, and politicians stalling more than ever.  You’re getting this very uncomfortable feeling. Depressed, anxious, sad, outraged : Ecoanxiety is also a Constructive Unpleasant Emotion; but you need to know what to do with it. However uncomfortable it might make us feel, however annoying it might be (we have a strong tendency to avoid thinking about it), we as a species need to figure out ways to react to it.  It might just save our existence on this planet. 


Watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations, may be an additional source of stress (Searle & Gow, 2010). Albrecht (2011) and others have termed this anxiety ecoanxiety. Qualitative research provides evidence that some people are deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness, and frustration due to their inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change (Moser, 2013).

Now humans are faced with the threat of extinction -- yet we are slow at running away from the danger.  We are bombarded with negative news on a daily basis and this is causing a lot of anxiety. We are slowly building a set of emotions that is helping us as a species survive this existential threat, and ecoanxiety is one of them: it’s a constructive unpleasant emotion, if you know how to channel it. 


Some of us have an easier time expressing it, like Greta Thunberg; she is very open about her Asperger’s syndrome that allows her to see only black and white. In her TED talk, she explains that it is one of the reasons why she is speaking up about climate change.


Au petit matin, l’émotion du large, les premières observations, un vol de nageoires dorsales de marsouins à la surface des eaux noires de l’estuaire. L’Ecomaris déclare ses observations de cétacés et mammifères marins au GREMM.


Comme la chimiste plonge ses instruments dans l’eau glaciale de la Baie de Sept-Îles, on ne sait pas encore ce qu’on va rencontrer en écrivant. Par moments, l’émerveillement éblouit comme un soleil à harnacher. Il faut laisser se déposer les images, les instants. Dans l’obscur, les mots pourront remonter à la surface comme le feront les planctons bioluminescents au contact du navire. Il faut être là pour traquer les apparitions. Établir un protocole, un processus, un modus operandi.


Not alone 

In a meeting in Toronto with Innovation Norway, Alana Prashad shares with me her experience of dealing with two chronic immune diseases.   Her body gets triggered when she is exposed to high levels of stress — climate change news, populist politics, and other bad news. 


Our conversation drifted away from green, clean business in the Norwegian trade context to a discussion about ecoanxiety, and turning it into something meaningful: 


Alana tells me that she had to find ways to uses her anxiety about the state of the planet, and turn it into something good; she tells me that she tries and sees beauty in desolated landscapes: plastic floating in oceans, rising sea levels; she finds in these bleak images the elements that are worth fighting for — the beauty, the little bits of light in the darkness, the “okay, what do we have”.  


Again — action alleviates anxiety.


In Alana’s case, she had to quickly get adapted because she was becoming very ill.  


Now Alana is aligning her work on fighting climate change through Innovation Norway’s business development agenda.  I thought this was very inspiring — turning ecoanxiety into climate action. I was stunned. I left our meeting empowered, and convinced that we’d change the world together, somehow. 


On découvre le mal de terre. La version à durée indéfinie de l’inadaptation à la mer après la mer. Et ça dure combien de temps ? Je connais une fille, ça lui a pris autant de temps que son séjour en mer. Deux semaines.



De retour sur l’Ecomaris, on reprend le travail, on veut écrire, forcer l’éclosion. Quand soudain, ça émerge malgré la fatigue. Pourquoi pas un carnet collectif unifié par une écriture au on, au nous. On va effacer les individualités, les sujets, les je. On jette nos hantises de départ les unes contre les autres, on commence à écrire vraiment ensemble. On se lit nos trucs, quand en nous toutes, brassées par le roulis, monte le mal de mer. On pâlit. Migraine. Nausées. Vertiges. L’une après l’autre, on sent qu’il faut quitter le fond du navire. On sort écrire dehors, au grand soleil, sur le pont de bois. On se lit des recueils de poésie de Marie-Andrée Gill, de Kristina Gauthier-Landry. On pense à Noémie Pomerleau-Cloutier qu’on a lue, bouleversée, sur Instagram ce matin. Gravol. Craquelins. Horizon. L’équipage nous aide à traverser cette mauvaise passe. Petit-à-petit, le malaise s’estompe. Intérieur nuit, après le souper.


À plusieurs, on insère nos pièces les unes dans les autres.


On lit et relit à voix haute. Ça marche. C’est vivant. On tient notre erre d’aller. Un ton. Des marqueurs. Une fissure d’encre et de caractères contre la page blanche. Un exosquelette pour toutes nos voix, toutes nos couleurs.

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