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Le vote stratégique:

et si nous votions avec notre coeur?

By William Gagnon

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


or the quest to align

one's life with climate action

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.

Il est important de noter que le choix n’est pas binaire, et que 6 partis sont réellement dans la course électorale.

Le pétrole comme argument de vente

L’affaire avec le pétrole, c'est que ce n’est pas propre. Même le pétrole le plus propre, comme certain prétendent des sables bitumineux canadiens, c’est que ça demeure polluant, très polluant. Qu’est-ce qui est plus propre entre deux choses polluantes? Ni l’une ni l’autre! 


Investir dans l'or noir, ça ralentit les objectifs d’atteindre l’accord de Paris signé par le Canada en 2015, conseillé par le GIEC (Groupe d'experts intergouvernemental sur l'évolution du climat). Choisir de ne pas croire les économistes et la science, c’est refuser les seules données empiriques existantes.

Le Canada occupe le troisième rang mondial des pays contribuant le plus au réchauffement climatique par habitant, révèle une étude menée par des chercheurs de l’Université Concordia.

Ecoanxiety: an evolved version of the fight or flight

Ecoanxiety and ecological grief are new concepts for the conventional medical community.  There is a lack of research in this area, but this is a common sense approach. Some actors in the field are working to increase the number of research projects, such as Dr. Courtney Howard. 


"If you are concerned about climate change, and many people are, I don't think your doctor should give you psychotropic drugs. Instead, you should spend half an hour of your time each week doing something about it. If it is really an "EDC", an Unpleasant and Constructive Emotion, we want to listen to it and work to change the circumstances." 


- Dr. Greg Dubord, Ultra-brief CBT for Worries and Fears, Family Med Forum, Wed Nov 15, 2018





Physicians prescribing climate measures


A few months ago, I intervened in a dog fight and ended up in the emergency room, covered in blood trying to separate the two animals.  Nothing serious! Just a few chews on my hands (I later discovered that the best way to break a dog fight is to put your finger in their buttocks, but that's another story).


When I get to the hospital, my friend Courtney screams my name all over the department.  She is one of the most inspiring climate activists I know, and she is president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.  She also works in the ER in Yellowknife. I put her in my category of friends who are "too stimulated".


So I sit there, covered in blood, talking to Courtney about climate change while she takes care of my thumb. 


It's getting better and better: Courtney is one of the first doctors to wake up to climate change.  She is responsible for some of the work on the "Lancet Countdown", and essentially involves the medical community in climate change. Recently, Lancet Magazine, the world's leading medical journal, recognized climate change as the greatest health opportunity of the 21st century. 


Courtney prescribed climate measures for her patients suffering from solastalgia, the experience of a change perceived negatively in the family environment. It appears that the action reduces anxiety; the climatic action reduces ecoanxiety. Courtney's schedule is full; this says a lot about her eco-anxiety.


And Courtney is not alone. 

Photo de sables bitumineux tiré de Environmental Defence

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. 

Where to start


In the last few months, I felt that a lot of my experiences were pointing out the link between ecoanxiety and climate action. I started being very intrigued by this ecoanxiety business — what if it was the starting point for our climate crisis.  


So I started digging more :


(okay, lies, I was watching TED talks on the couch).

Per Espen Stoknes is a Norwegian economist and psychologist.  His book What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming depicts the 5 psychological barriers to climate action, and relevant tools to break them. The five barriers are distance, doom, dissonance, denial and identity. 

In my work in recent months I have been trying to reframe the conversation around these 5 barriers, and I feel that there has been a shift in how people respond to my interventions. Living in the Canadian Arctic has certainly opened my eyes to global warming like never before, because we can see it everyday.  It is also reflect in the recent climate change report in Canada: the North warms up much more quickly.

Photo d'éoliennes en Norvège tiré de Statkraft

Aligning career and climate action into one


If you don't believe you can bring change to an organization or project, chances are you won't. But if you share your concerns with the team with confidence and clarity, they will be well received - in most cases, in my experience, these concerns are shared by others. However, it takes a lot of courage to share them. 


I believe we need to de-stigmatize mental health before we can deal with climate change. I believe that this is why we should consider climate change as a multifaceted issue, and be careful to consider only one measure (greenhouse gas emissions, for example). 


Regardless of the area in which you spend most of your time, there is a way to find an alignment between work, play and climate action. I hope these resources will give you some inspiration.

Create your New Story — and don’t let anyone crush it

In a job interview for a private engineering firm, I ask what kind of projects I would spend my time on. Big firm, big bucks: my salary was going to double. The office associate tells me that they have “lots of projects” in the oil and gas sector, but that they were also “trying” to promote renewable energy. 


Uneasy, uncomfortable, I reiterate that I am not interested in work with anything that is even just remotely connected to the oil and gas sector.  

The HR manager then jumps in and she asked if I had ever worked on something that did not perfectly matched my values. 


“Yes.”, I replied.  


“So what did you do?”.  


“I quit!”


It’s important to create a new story for ourselves, and not live in the past.  The Great Transition is now. The Green New Deal is now. Renewable energy is now. Reversing climate change is now.  Don’t waste your time and career on something that is not worth it. What kind of future do you want? Write it down, and enact it. 


I turned down the job offer (and left before the end of the interview) with a strong sense of empowerment.  My mind was set on not letting myself be tempted by the financial gain, and I was really proud to leave this place feeling 100% aligned on my values.


Create your New Story, and don’t let anyone crush it.

Photo aérienne de la marche climatique à Montréal, tirée de The new climate

Nos convictions

Imaginez si chacun votait selon leurs convictions… On aurait un gouvernement plutôt représentatif de la volonté des gens et non pas basé sur la peur, la peur du changement ou la peur de la nouveauté. Encore une fois, 6 partis sont en course.

Et tous peuvent être représentés à l’Assemblée nationale, de plusieurs façons.

Le choix n’est pas binaire.


Lisez les programmes électoraux. Allez au fond des choses, informez-vous sur les faits. Basez votre vote sur votre vision de ce qu’est le Canada en 2019, et non par peur de voir un autre gouvernement prendre le pouvoir. N’oubliez pas, plusieurs partis peuvent être représentés à l’Assemblée nationale, chose plutôt saine dans une société hétérogène!


C’est un privilège d’être canadien et de pouvoir bénéficier de la démocratie. C’est un devoir de citoyen d’aller voter, mais surtout un devoir envers soi-même. 


Je vous souhaite de prendre la bonne décision pour vous, pour ce que vous jugez de bien, et ce qui est juste pour nos enfants. J’ai voté avec mes convictions par anticipation, mais j’ai surtout voté avec mon coeur. Il s’agissait pour moi de la meilleure stratégie.


Lundi prochain, laissez la peur de côté et allez vous aussi voter vous aussi avec votre coeur. 


Bonnes réflexions et bonnes élections.


Learn more


  1. Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). "Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance." Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica.

  2. Doherty, T. J., & Clayton, S. (2011). "The psychological impacts of global climate change". American Psychologist, 66(4). Retrieved from

  3. Edwards, S. A. (2010, February 21). "Once awake: The waking up syndrome two years later". Retrieved from

  4. Edwards, S. A., & Buzzell, L. (2008)." The waking up syndrome". Retrieved from

  5. Glaser, G. (2008, February 16). "Anxious about Earth’s troubles? There’s treatment". The New York Times. Retrieved from

AMA - Terre-Neuve_edited.jpg

Jean-Sébastien Létourneau & Anne-Marie Asselin

Green Building engineer, Environmentalist

William is experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis in his community of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, in the Canadian subarctic region. As an engineer, he leads the work for the Northern Centre for Sustainability, a space designed to support emerging entrepreneurs in achieving sustainable development objectives. The building aims to become the most sustainable building in the circumpolar North and the first building in Canada with negative carbon emissions. 

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