"Education is the gift that can never be taken away."

Eco-Anxiety: What do Tijuana Students in 2024 have to say about the Environment?

 

During rainy season, trash and debris is washed away through the canyons

The antidote for anxiety is agency.

It’s not new to hear that 2024’s youth are worried about the environment – in fact, this rightful concern has stretched centuries, and has been escalating since the 60s. But, what is unique is hearing their individual thoughts about it today

In response to climate change and further eco challenges in their communities, Tijuana students verbalize their eco-anxieties and their desire to be a part of solutions across the Mexico-US Border. 

How do we define “Eco-anxiety?”

We have an idea what anxiety is – but what does that mean to the environment?

According to the American Psychological Association, eco-anxiety happens when we constantly experience or witness “new events” on the news – such as natural disasters, climate change-induced disasters, crimes of ecocide, and more. A one-time event is a shock to the system. But witnessing those shocks over and over again? The psychological effect piles up. The body remains in a state of distress, to the point of it becoming an undertone in daily life: anxiety. According to a 2022 NIH National Library of Medicine study, 84% of surveyed “children and young people” expressed “at least moderate worry” about climate change. 

For many, eco-anxiety is not just about what is happening, but the mental loops of “what can we do about it?

What are students responding to – what does climate change look like in the border region?

Climate change has a similar expression throughout the world, but its impression on the community varies greatly. In her interview with our key partner, Tijuana Estuary, upcycling product designer and teacher Adela Bonilla shares how heavy rainfall carry factory and erroneously dumped plastic waste into the region’s waterways – making its way from the streets to the Pacific Ocean. 

Students see it and feel it – and share an agreement in concern across ages. 

Stacks of used tires accumulate at Border Field State Park

What does Eco-Anxiety feel like for students in Tijuana?

On April 20th, 2024, students took matters in their own hands – literally. 36 dedicated students at Advancing Students Forward participated in a beach cleanup at the Playas de Tijuana – a beach right on the Mexico-US border between Tijuana and San Diego (see our next blog post for more on the event). In response to the day-long event, students shared their feelings toward the environment in a survey. 

“Do you feel anxious about the environment?”

“We don’t know exactly how much time we have left, everyday there is less time available for change.” – A High School Student.

“I’m curious as to why it is dirty.” – A Middle School Student.

Students need clarity in available information – both in environmental statistics and systems that pollute their communities. Plastic waste covers many streets on their commute to school – and not knowing how or why it’s there is distressing.

“I can’t do anything to change mindset and behavior.” – A High School Student.

With “mainstream” discussion repetitively discussing a “point of no return,” learned helplessness is not just a susceptibility – it’s a given. While some may interpret this response as learned helplessness, students display a deeper-rooted emotional maturity – a rumination of indoctrinated beliefs and values. 

“A little because if we keep our arms crossed, only watching, in a moment, we won’t be able to do a thing.” – A University Student. 

Students don’t want to engage in the “bystander effect” for the environment. They are concerned about behavioral patterns. 

“I don’t want to leave the earth in bad conditions” – A High School Student.

The sensitivity speaks volumes. 

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Want to Support Students? 

ASF’s solution to eco-anxiety is eco-education – an effort toward agency in students’ relationship with the environment. See our next blog post, “Eco-Education” to learn about our curriculum.

If you would like to support our efforts to better students’ social and environmental standing – or wish to sponsor a brilliant student so that circumstances don’t hold back their potential – you may by following the link.