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Eco-anxiety and why it matters on the farm

Working toward positive solutions is important to the future of our farms and ranches

Even small changes in production practices is doing your part toward environmental sustainability.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, Eco-anxiety (EA) is defined as a “deep fear of environmental doom and human catastrophe.” EA can bring on the same symptoms as the more familiar types of anxiety such as panic attacks, sleeplessness and depression. So how does this matter to your farm or ranch?

Firstly, you may be affected directly. This is totally an OK response and it certainly helps to talk about it and take positive action. If you think that this is all a bunch of bunk, a 2018 study conducted in the U.S. by Yale (Climate Change in the American Mind, Dec 2018) found that 73 per cent of Americans think global warming is happening and 69 per cent say they are somewhat worried about it. Around three in 10 are “very worried.” The population is split nearly 50/50 on whether they feel helpless or hopeful about it. I suspect the numbers in Canada are quite similar.

You might ask, “What does this have to do with me and my ranch?” I think that recent press and government policy provide fairly obvious evidence of why it is important. While we may agree or disagree with the direction of government policy and public opinion, we still live in the system and marketplace that it creates. We in agriculture need to be careful how we guide these policies and how we provide positive alternatives. It is difficult to take the climate-denier position as an industry and think we can make progress against the seven in 10 people in the larger population who know climate change is happening and think we need to do something about it.

To this point, it would be fair to argue that a lot of the action and policy have come from a place of helplessness and fear. These are natural and very human reactions when we are in a position of uncertainty and anxiousness, and these reactions often lead to reactionary and often angry approaches, including blaming others. The type of responses generated from this approach often result in taxation and regulatory burden. Examples of this manifesting itself in Canada and abroad include carbon and meat taxes.

We also need to appreciate that we are genuinely blessed in agriculture to be able to live and work on large swaths of the landscape. Many Canadians and beyond are extremely limited in their interactions with the natural world, often through no fault of their own. This is a real challenge, as this demographic is susceptible to a type of messaging which may or may not be flattering to agriculture, and they may have no framework to establish context around the message. This population also represents a much larger portion of voters than farmers and ranchers. It is difficult to compete with professional messaging and big budgets that may be diametrically opposed to agriculture, but it is important to keep providing the message about who we are in agriculture and what we do.

Small steps

One of the interesting coping mechanisms suggested by mental health professionals to help sufferers move from a position of hopelessness to hope is to take small concrete steps to improve the environment. This could include things as simple as recycling, picking up garbage in a city park or making specific informed purchasing decisions. This is a huge market-driver as these consumers are driving businesses, including major corporations like McDonalds to seriously invest in sustainability, carbon offsets and other environmental goods and services.

Some of the hopelessness expressed by those impacted by EA is because they are not in a position to plant a tree or have access to a landscape. I believe this represents a potentially powerful path forward in agriculture. There is a tremendous opportunity that lies with providing opportunities to shifting the mix from helpless to hopeful.

Many programs are currently engaged in providing environmental opportunities and they continue to gain traction. In the interest of full disclosure, our ranch has been involved with a program called ALUS for the last decade and are actively selling environmental goods and services (EG&S) as part of our operation. Over the last several years, we have seen this program and others grow momentum and becoming more empowered at connecting consumers and farmers. Farms are uniquely positioned to make positive environmental contributions across the landscape and connecting these contributions through information and storytelling, but funding also provides an opportunity for hope. Hope provides an opportunity for communication and leads to different outcomes than a more traditional approach. This includes funding for EG&S, recognition of the contribution of farms/ranches to the overall environmental good, and inclusion into agriculture policy.

In Canada, we are still a long way from having the environmental message of agriculture being represented fairly in the discussions, but there is a path forward. Understanding Eco-anxiety and working to provide positive solutions is very important to the future of our farms and ranches.

About the author


Sean McGrath is a rancher and consultant from Vermilion, Alta. He can be reached at [email protected] or (780) 853- 9673. For additional information visit



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