We Didn’t Start the Fire: World Issue Anxiety and How to Deal With It

by The Cowl Editor on August 29, 2019


Using reusable sandwich and snack bags is one way to eliminate single-use plastics, a small
change that is environmentally friendly and can help alleviate stress. Nicholas Crenshaw ’20 / The Cowl.

by Elizabeth McGinn ’21

Opinion Staff

Turning on the news at any time of day can unleash a barrage of terrifying reports: another mass shooting, new statistics on climate change, political battles, etc. How can anyone not feel concerned?

World issue anxiety is the feeling that can occur when one becomes overwhelmed with global issues that are largely out of the hands of an individual. Since most wide-reaching problems can only be solved by systematic efforts, it can often feel hopeless to make a difference on a small scale.

Climate change is a global phenomenon that rests at the epicenter of world anxiety. In October 2018, the United Nations reported a temperature rise of 1.5 °C worldwide. Although this statistic may appear insignificant, it triggers catastrophic consequences in all ecosystems, including the melting of polar glaciers and the increasing prevalence of forest fires.

In recent weeks, reports that the Amazon rainforest has caught fire at an unprecedented rate unleashed public outcry worldwide. CNN and other news sources shared that the Amazon produces around 20 percent of earth’s oxygen, a fact which illuminates the devastating impact such a fire can inflict upon the world’s population.

Concerned citizens of the world flocked to social media sites, especially Twitter and Instagram, to encourage action. To raise awareness about the gravity of the situation, many users posted links to studies and articles detailing the importance of the Amazon. Others included options for donations to end the fire.

A similar social media campaign against the use of plastic straws has yielded tangible results. In response to the public outcry, Starbucks decided to eliminate their use of plastic straws completely by 2020.

An actual end to the issues caused by plastic straws or forest fires can only be completely solved by globally cooperative efforts, which requires enormous amounts of coordination on an international scale. This may be politically impossible at the moment, especially considering President Trump’s refusal to attend the G7 Summit.

David Argento ’21 said,“I try to recycle and whatnot but these efforts are a drop in the bucket to what can actually make a change if government initiatives are taken and industry sees incentives to help the world. No one will care about the environment if they can’t put food on their tables.”

World governments and industries must play an active role in fighting climate change and other environmental issues. However, if some are less interested, or see incentives in pursuing environmentally detrimental practices, individual efforts will be futile.

Thus, world issue anxiety arises. If governments and industries are not doing anything, how can a single person?

The social media campaigns revolving around the Amazon and plastic straws are one possible route. Social media is an effective tool for sharing concerning information with a large audience. Chances are, others are also worried about similar problems.

Joining clubs or organizations that make hands-on changes in local communities are another excellent avenue. ECO-PC raises awareness about environmental problems and aims to implement real solutions on this campus.

Even without participating in a group, making small changes in everyday life can help, such as switching from plastic to reusable straws, limiting single-use plastic, and buying local groceries. These adjustments only require minimal effort, but can also inspire others to follow, which can begin a community chain of positive choices.

Anxiety about politics can also be alleviated by such strategies. Voting and staying informed about current affairs makes the best use of civil rights. Joining PC Democrats or PC Republicans can also be an avenue to participate in state and local politics. Calling representatives and senators, contributing to campaigns, or even running for office can produce change in society.

Although solutions can only be created by a global effort, small changes can make a powerful impact. Social media can provide access to people all across the world and demonstrate public opinion, which influences the actions of governments and industries. Even if small lifestyle changes are made, it can be a step toward becoming a part of a larger movement.