In the third episode of the second season of HBO’s hit suburban drama “Big Little Lies,” a second grade teacher is shown giving facts to his students about climate change. “How many gallons of water does it take to make a single sausage?” he asks. His obedient congregation responds: “A thousand.” “That’s right,” he continues, “and how many showers does that add up to?” Again, the children respond: “Fifty.” Following this chorus, a young girl is shown fainting, her frilled shoes flying up into the air.
For those who watch the show, you will recognize this as the moment Amabella (Ivy George, “Girl Meets World”), the daughter of the vivacious, headstrong Renata (Laura Dern, “F is for Family”) passes out from a panic attack — a panic attack induced by her teacher’s lessons on climate change. Renata, of course, is never one to take things lightly, and goes strutting down to the principal’s office with an aura of royalty only a blazer-clad Laura Dern can convey. After unloading on the forlorn principal, she leaves us with pure poetry: “I will be rich again. I will rise up. I will buy a … polar bear for every kid in this school. Then I’ll squish you like the bug you are.” Besides this being an excellent representation of the wealthy’s response to the threat of climate change, this scene also opened up discussion for a topic that is becoming more and more relevant: climate anxiety.
As the peril to our world at the hands of our changing climate increases and our government officials look the other way, anxiety about the end of the world is rampant. It’s gotten so bad that the American Psychological Association released a 69-page guide for mental health care providers on how to help patients cope with “eco-anxiety.” There are support networks dedicated to helping people deal with their climate anxiety, and many people have sworn off having children due to concern for how life will be for coming generations.
And why shouldn’t people be worried? Every day the new headlines pop up: “Air pollution is linked to miscarriages,” “250,000 deaths from climate change is a ‘conservative estimate,’” “Trump Administration weakens Endangered Species Act.” The future of our world is getting bleaker and bleaker, and anxiety isn’t just coming from this fact. The changing climate is leading to wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes and other repeated natural disasters that threaten the lives and stability of people across the globe. If the afflicted individuals weren’t already suffering from some sort of climate-induced anxiety, the trauma and loss they endure as a result of climate change may lead to PTSD, depression and anxiety about an impending natural disaster.
Yeah, this is all really depressing. If I was a second grader learning about this I probably would have fainted, too. Because truly, what can we do? Speaking as someone who struggles with anxiety, I understand that this distress stems from a lack of control. The climate is changing — and? Even with all of the recycling, veganism and plastic bans in the world, nothing will truly be done about climate change until the government and corporations change the way they fundamentally run. We have less than 50 years until our world is sure to become inhabitable, and our elected officials are spending their time making fun of a 16-year-old girl doing her best to save the planet.
The sad truth about climate change is that it’s here and it's getting worse. No matter how many painted signs or sustainable t-shirts you wear, nothing will stop it except systemic change. Not even Laura Dern, with all of her power, might and enormous wealth can stop it. The only thing we can do is take all of the anger and anxiety and channel it into something productive. Call your representatives, show up to the polls, boycott polluting companies, try to cut down on meat consumption, stop buying single-use plastics. If the older generations won’t care for a world they won’t be around for, shut them down and vote them out. And in 20 or 30 years — polar bears for everyone.