This post is a reaction to an article in La Presse published on August 13, 2019 entitled “Reflection on ecoanxiety: A child against the background of the end of the world. Letter to my son Leo” signed by Geneviève Dorval” (http://plus.lapresse.ca/screens/8c78fc35-b0b6-46ea-a095-72d494a08365__7C___0.html).
Below and first, I will share Ms. Dorval’s translated letter to Leo, her one-year-old son (the original French appears in the link above). Second, I will share a comment to this letter by a reader of La Presse, Mr. Patrick Friset (his original French will follow the English translation). Third and finally, I will share some personal thoughts.
1. The translated letter of Ms. Dorval:
“My love Leo, you’ll be 1 year old tomorrow. You were born during the heat wave last summer, and there was a thunderstorm in the afternoon after we came back home after your birth.
It was a powerful and unreal moment to hold you in my arms. This period is a little vague in my memory, but I clearly remember being so touched by your great vulnerability. You have been dreamed, desired and eagerly awaited, and you are loved deeply.
We decided to have a child on a background of the end of the world. It was a painful decision, not fully enlightened, and totally biased by our deep desire to have a child.
To be honest, we did not realize the seriousness of the situation when I was pregnant with you.
We were obviously aware of climate change, but it still seemed a distant reality. It might be for the next century. We would have time to change our way of life, to find solutions, to raise the next generation in a healthier world than we have been taught. I would like to say that we did not know, but in fact we were also a lot in denial.
At the edge of the disaster
Your birth coincided with the tabling of an alarming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It was then that the magnitude and imminence of the catastrophe first appeared to me. I did more research, read reports, articles. I learned that in my lifetime, half of the wildlife on Earth has been eradicated, and to date, a million species are on the verge of extinction. Eighty percent of the world’s forests have been razed. Temperature records are continually being broken around the world and unprecedented forest fires are raging. Glaciers are visibly melting, threatening to raise the level of the oceans. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise sharply.
At the dawn of your first birthday, no week goes by without ever more alarming new reports being published. All the reports basically tell us that we still have less time than we believe to avoid a point of no return and a catastrophic runaway climate.
Seventy years, then 12 years, then 18 months. Time flies. One must act. Radical actions are required immediately to give us a chance to avoid the worst. But at the time of writing, the media is talking about it as a news item, our elected officials are busy attacking ethnic and religious minorities, and everyone continues to live as if nothing had happened. Metro, work, sleep.
Of all the things difficult for children to explain, this climate crisis and widespread inaction will certainly be the worst of our time. How did we get there?
I started a few months ago to live an invasive anxiety. Insomnia, tears, emotions, skin issues, difficulty thinking of anything other than a dark future. I am sometimes unable to enjoy the moment or fully appreciate the happiness of seeing you grow up without fear at the same time. I always have that little voice, as soon as I look into the future, which adds “if we’re still here.”
My anxiety symptoms seem to me a perfectly healthy response to the impending end of the world. I still asked for psychological help, if only to be functional in society and with my family. The doctor who saw me told me that eco-anxiety is more and more widespread, especially among young people. She advised me to start psychotherapy and to act to defend the environment.
In 2019, the effects of climate warming are already affecting us in Quebec in the form of floods in certain regions in the spring, longer and more intense heat waves in the summer and gray and rainy winters. But we have been largely spared so far from the kind of disasters that are already affecting other populations around the world. Ironically, they affect the ones who have often contributed the least to the destruction of the world (I am thinking in particular of island states, vulnerable groups, indigenous nations and other species).
Leo, the future worries me and the present revolts me. But I do not regret having given birth to you. We made the bet that your life would be worth living despite everything. Plus, the world would be better with you than without you.
Your existence is the testimony of my faith in the resilience of the living and the power of social movements – great ones are coming and are already under way.
As a mother, I live a lot of guilt for not being able to guarantee you a healthy environment to grow up in and maybe have your own family someday, if you want.
What can I promise you
I do not have control over everything, but I can make you some promises. I will pursue daily choices to reduce the impact of our family, although I recognize that individual actions are not enough and have never been enough. I pledge never to hide the reality, and to give you the education and the tools necessary so that you use your privileges wisely, that you are resourceful, critical, responsible and guided by compassion.
I will resist as best I can the destruction of the world by civil disobedience. And finally, I make the promise to be for you the best possible example of courage, militancy, faith in humanity and respect for all living things.
This letter is addressed to my son, and I will give him as soon as he is old enough to understand. I chose to share it in the meantime, because at the point where I am, I need to open my heart and make my coming out of eco-friendly. In addition, making my promises public will oblige me to hold them. It’s a personal manifesto. I also hope to reach out to others, start conversations about the environment and mental health, build networks of activism and support, and make another breakthrough in collective denial, perhaps. Thank you for coming here”.
2. A comment by a certain Mr. Patrick Fiset
In each era its end of the world
“In 40 years, when your son will visit you with his own children, perhaps you will have realized how much your current state of mind is overshadowed by the hysteria (or delirium) amplified by the media and conveyed to excess by those who have an interest in doing so.
There is no better tool for manipulating the minds than building a surrealist dogma around a proven truth that no one can deny under pain of being called climate-skeptic.
The most disturbing is to see young adults consider anarchy, civil disobedience, no longer children, despair to the point of excessive punctuation rhetoric deadly speech of the end of the world.
Before the 50s, it was the fear of the priest and hell. In the sixties to eighties, it was the spectre of the post-nuclear apocalypse and the fear of communism that served as a scarecrow.
Here, it is climate change that feeds nightmares. In each era its end of the world”.
Original French text:
À chaque époque sa fin du monde
“Dans 40 ans, quand votre fils ira vous visiter avec ses propres enfants, peut-être aurez-vous réalisé à quel point votre état d’esprit actuel est excessivement assombri par le délire ambiant largement amplifié par les médias et véhiculé à outrance par ceux qui ont un intérêt à le faire.
Il n’y a pas de meilleur outil de manipulation des esprits que de construire un dogme surréaliste autour d’une vérité avérée que personne ne peut nier sous peine de se faire traiter de climatosceptique.
Le plus inquiétant est de voir de jeunes adultes envisager l’anarchie, la désobéissance civile, de ne plus faire d’enfants, de désespérer au point de ponctuer à outrance le discours de rhétorique mortifère de fin du monde.
Avant les années 50, c’était la crainte du curé et de l’enfer. Dans les années 60 à 80, c’était le spectre de l’apocalypse post-nucléaire et la peur du communisme qui servait d’épouvantail.
Là, ce sont les changements climatiques qui alimentent les cauchemars. À chaque époque sa fin du monde”.
— Patrick Fiset
3. Bambi’s personal thoughts:
To begin with, I admit that it is both generous and courageous of Ms. Dorval to share a letter to her son with us all. When we publish any comment, we can expect that some readers would agree (or applaud!), yet some others would read with a grain of salt (or negatively criticize!).
First and foremost, I am usually VERY skeptical of any movement that wants to convince me that the world is going to end. I will explain in the following paragraphs.
For having grown up in a crazy civil war for 15 years where risk of death was statistically imminent every second, I think highly of parents, like mine, who knew how to protect their kids from the insanity around. Many parents learned how to conquer their own fear (sometimes with the help of anxiolytics). Why? Because remaining calm and rational during periods of heavy shelling, or rounds of violence, is crucial to keep children psychologically safe. Children learn from their parents how to react during stressful times. Plus, children need to remain children in order to grow up in a secure and confident way. Yes, our family can make the whole difference. Children can grow up feeling secure despite the craziness in the world, including their own risk of dying or seeing their loved ones killed in front of their eyes. Even during those 15 DARK years of civil war, my mom managed in protecting us from her own fear, as much as she could. As for my dad, he remained the most optimistic man I have ever known. For instance, I recall how I used to ask him about our family finances, worried to see him going to his store to sell HiFi and electrical appliances, ironically during times of constant power outages. My dad used to answer me: “Thank God, things are good”. To come back to my mom, I will never forget her silent tears after the sudden death of her sister, ironically in a shelter. This happened in heavy shelling during the (Syrian) occupation of Beirut. Yet, my mom tried her best not to transmit to us, my sisters and I, her sadness and despair.
Why am I sharing all this? Basically, I am trying to say that the world never ends, even when it ends to us for a second when we learn the death of a loved one, even when we see the bodies of neighbours killed under our balcony. We feel hopeless and angry, all at once. We feel sad. We may even feel guilty for having survived. Why us and not them? Why them and not us? This absurd and random life moves on… and, yet again, the world does not end. I have news for you: The world will not end, even with our own death! So, no, I do not buy the end of the world in 12 years. As Mr. Friset wrote “before the 50s, it was the fear of the priest and hell. In the sixties to eighties, it was the spectre of the post-nuclear apocalypse and the fear of communism that served as a scarecrow. Here, it is climate change that feeds nightmares. In each era its end of the world”. As far as I am concerned, I prefer to remain calm and carry on with my life.
Second, I am skeptical neither of climate change (both natural and men-made), nor of the critical need to protect our environment. I just question trendy psychiatric novel entities such as ecoanxiety (or solastalgia). The concept may be a sexy entity to politicians, to journalists, to radical environmentalists, to professionals benefiting from other people’s psychological misery and/or to organizations relying on government’s funding, etc. However, I question ecoanxiety as an objective and distinct clinical entity: What are its signs or symptoms? Do laboratory studies show us it is distinct from other anxieties or other syndromes? Any identified natural history or distinct family history?
Third, what worries me the most is dogmatic thinking. We can see the latter in religions or “non-religious religions”. In this case, generations of youth have been radicalized in their environmentalism, at younger ages. I am thinking of all those “youth-led” school strikes (and adults convincing themselves that kids are our world leaders). Related to this, I recall how as a teenager I once wanted to skip school because of my involvement with the Lebanese Red Cross. At the time, we had received emergency materials from Switzerland. I recall having tried to convince my parents to allow me to skip school to distribute these materials to shelters in Beirut. My parents refused. My mom, a trained nurse with the Red Cross herself, understood my passion. Yet, my parents told Bambi: “no; not during school time” (especially after having been out of school for weeks or months due to a round of heavy shelling). At first, Bambi was frustrated. She even tried to pretend she was sick (she overheated a thermometer ?). Thinking back, Bambi thanks her parents for their wisdom: Any volunteerism can wait after school hours.
Fourth and last, Ms. Dorval had a child and does not regret it (good for her!). However, I heard comments from former female graduates of Mount Allison University and other schools who are now in their mid-to-late twenties that they do not want to have children because of ecoanxiety. I urge these young women to think twice before taking drastic decisions that would mess their fertility up. As a 47-year-old woman who does not have children (after three miscarriages), I have a piece of free advice to them: Having or not having children is a PERSONAL matter. It is your OWN choice. No cause, even one that claims that the wold will end, is worth such drastic decision. Do not let anyone’s ideology, or your own related dogmatism, dictate your personal fertility journey. Remember that your ovaries will know your biological age.
Life is beautiful. Please, do not spend too much time and energy trapped in “eco-dogmatism” (or any other form of dogmatism).