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Opinion: ASU needs to address sustainability students' eco-anxiety

As discussions about climate change heat up in classrooms, students facing eco-anxiety need support


"The University can't just illustrate the dangers of a global issue and the substantial difficulty of solving it to students, then expect there to be no impact on their well-being."

There are several programs available at universities, including ASU, that cover areas of environmental science and sustainability in which students can learn the intricacies and threats associated with climate change.

As a student at the School of Sustainability, I've learned about the harmful impacts of climate change, but there seems to be less said about positive solutions or progress due to the lack of real global action.

For many students, this creates feelings of unease and despair, which can eventually turn into eco-anxiety – a mental health condition recognized as anxiety about environmental catastrophes related to climate change. This can manifest itself as a sense of grief, loss and fear over the future.

According to a survey done by the American Psychological Association, "nearly half of young adults aged 18 to 34 said they felt stress over climate change in their daily lives."

This concern rings especially true when considering the students that are exposed to narratives surrounding climate change on a daily basis in classrooms. Curriculums often unload the grave realities of the issue, then push responsibility onto students as the generation that will solve the crisis. 

There needs to be a more balanced approach that both informs students and supports them through the often gloomy nature of the content. 

"Eco-anxiety is all around us, particularly the way we talk about sustainability. There's lots of mention of climate change and with the way it's framed, it can be very disempowering if we accept the narrative that we're doomed,” said Scott Cloutier, an assistant professor at the School of Sustainability and senior sustainability scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation.

ASU boasts about its No. 1 in innovation ranking and highlights the recognition it gets for being an environmentally friendly campus, but this doesn't translate well into the actual course curriculums. 

As more large media sources cover worrying climate news, such as the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, students need reassurance and support in the classroom. The University can't just illustrate the dangers of a global issue and the substantial difficulty of solving it to students, then expect there to be no impact on their well-being. 

There must be more of an effort in classrooms to provide actions for students to take in their communities and more broadly in Arizona, as there's only so much you can do on a college campus.

"Educational institutions need to take the approach of educating people from the place of solution-building rather than climate doomism. Oftentimes, conversations around climate change can be end-all-be-all and make it seem as if there’s no hope,” said Saiarchana Darira, a campus ambassador for Defend Our Future ASU and a senior studying social and cultural analysis, global management and psychology. 

I've struggled with eco-anxiety that sprouted after taking courses that delved into the climate struggles that many people are currently facing, and will continue to face in the near future. Luckily, I was able to connect and work with community organizations that tackle the impacts here in the Valley, which greatly helped me cope and feel proactive, rather than helpless.

A more action-based approach to teaching about climate change could fill this gap that leaves many students facing eco-anxiety. The most beneficial and uplifting classes I've taken in the sustainability program curriculum have been those focused on imagining what solutions look like and what it will take to reach them.

While there's no clearly defined path in how to best teach students with eco-anxiety, this is an opportunity for the University to live up to its No. 1 ranking in innovation and become a stronger resource for future sustainability professionals. This process starts with providing more intentional resources to educators in order to support their students. 

Reach the columnist at and follow @brianmecinas on Twitter. 

Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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