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An Exercise in Branding: ‘Eco-Anxiety’

“That Feeling of Climate Doom? It’s Called Eco-Anxiety.” The headline over a full-page piece in the Sunday NY Times made me think maybe Jason Horowitz was going to satirize the medicalization of every problem we face. But no, it was a straight news story about a psychological condition that is “having its moment.” (Cockburn fersure would have sent “having its moment” to the guillotine long ago.)

“While it is not clinically recognized as a pathology,” Horowitz wrote, “or included in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, experts say the feeling of gloom and doom prompted by all of the inescapable images of planetary gloom and doom is becoming more widespread.”

An expert is cited: “Climate change is moving faster than psychiatry for sure and also psychology,” said Dr. Paolo Cianconi, a member of the ecology psychiatry and mental health division of the World Psychiatry Association, who is publishing a book with colleagues on the topic this month. He said that the term eco-anxiety had existed for more than a decade, but that it was “circulating very much” these days, and that the condition would only increase in the future.

By referring to our perfectly rational concern as a “condition,” the Times accepts the basic premise that the eminent psychiatrist is pushing. Horowitz quotes him: “When people start to be worried about the planet, they don’t know that they have eco-anxiety. When they see this thing has a name, then they understand what to call it.”

Being “worried about the planet” is a political position, not a medical condition.  (And Dr. Cianconi is obviously a pompous jack-ass.) 

The Times piece goes on: “Dr. Cianconi and some of his colleagues published a paper in June in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine that mentioned the terms ‘eco-PTSD,’ ‘eco-burnout,’ ‘eco-phobia’ and ‘eco-rage.’ But the focus remained on eco-anxiety, which they broadly defined as a ‘chronic fear of environmental doom’ suffered by firsthand victims of traumatic climate change events; people whose livelihoods or way of living is threatened by climate change; climate activists or people who work in the field of climate change; people fed images of climate change through the news media; and people prone to anxiety.

“Among the characteristics of eco-anxiety, they cited ‘frustration, powerlessness, feeling overwhelmed, hopelessness, helplessness.’ There could be a combination of ‘clinically relevant symptoms, such as worry, rumination, irritability, sleep disturbance, loss of appetite, panic attacks’.”

These gangster psychiatrists are very thorough. They know that a lot is riding on the name of the product. Look how much research they did before settling on “Eco-Anxiety”! Now comes the push to get it defined in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. 

The Gray Lady is in the Black

While the quality of its reporting declines and the print edition continues to lose readers and advertisers, the New York Times has become more profitable in recent years by adding digital subscribers and selling a “bundle” of products called Cooking, Games, Wirecutter (a site that recommends products) and the Athletic (which has replaced the Sunday sports section). 

As of July, according to a piece by Katie Robertson, “The Times had about 9.88 million subscribers…. 9.19 million of them digital-only.” More than half the online subscribers are buying the whole “bundle.”

The nuggets of useful reporting and analysis are few and far between these days, and major stories get buried. For example, the news about phenylephrine being deemed useless as a decongestant by an FDA advisory panel was given one column on page 21. This is a story of direct significance to millions of US consumers, including your correspondent. We spent $1.8 billion last year buying supposedly strong decongestants: Tylenol Cold & Flu Severe, Mucinex Sinus Max, Theraflu Severe Cold Relief, Sudafed Sinus Congestion, NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu, Benadryl Allergy + Sinus,” Vicks DayQuil Cold and Flu Relief and more than 200 others. (Some of these contain, in addition to the impotent phenylephrine, compounds that exert desired effects. Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine in Benadryl that makes you somewhat drowsy.) 

The Great Satan Scores Again

When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the Great Satan was determined to bring down the Libyan leader Omar Qaddafi. To recall where we were in 2011, Google “Cockburn Left Libya.” 

Last week the dams protecting Terna collapsed and 11,000 people died in the flood, thousands were washed with great force into the Mediterranean. The dams had not been maintained by whoever followed Qaddafi. According to Aaron Boxerman and James Glanz in the Times Sept. 16:

“It had been clear for years that the dams protecting Derna, on Libya’s Mediterranean coast, were in danger of giving way. Torrential rains were not new. Decade after decade, they had pounded the area, washing away the soil that helped soak up water as it ran down from the dry hills above town.

“Climate change had also changed the land, making it drier, harder and increasingly shorn of vegetation, less able to absorb the water before it pooled up dangerously behind the dams.

“Then, there were the decades of neglect by officials — who knew the dams needed repairs — in a country so torn by years of civil war that it still has two opposing governments: one in the west and another in the east, where Derna lies.”

Would Libya under Qaddafi have re-enforced the dams as the situation grew increasingly ominous?

According to the Times, “During the long, autocratic reign of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, floods came and went, but the dams stood. In 1986, a major storm convulsed the region, damaging the dams and shearing soil from the ground. The structures were damaged… but again they held.

In the late ’90s a Turkish company “was finally contracted to repair the dams… but the government dragged its feet in paying and the project got underway only in 2010. Just four months later in 2011, Libyans marched against Colonel el-Qaddafi’s 42-year grip on power, inspired by the uprisings that had toppled Arab autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt. When he threatened to annihilate the opposition, NATO intervened and bombed his forces, with the United States a backbone of the operation. Colonel el-Qaddafi was ousted from Tripoli that August.

“In the tumult, work on the dam ceased.”

In other words, A Turkish engineering firm had already begun a major reconstruction project on the dams above Derna when the Great Satan brought Qaddafi down.

One Comment

  1. izzy September 23, 2023

    “We came, we saw, he died.” ha ha ha
    One of the Great Satan’s more memorable lines, delivered gleefully by a senior acolyte.
    The rest, as they say, is history.

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