Ocean diving began as a hobby for Swietenia Puspa Lestari.
- A climate activist says an increasing number of young Indonesians feel “eco-anxiety”
- “Eco-anxiety” is a source of stress caused by concern over the impacts of climate change
- Young Indonesians are taking action to tackle climate change as a way to manage this anxiety
But after a decade, she saw more rubbish than colourful fish underwater so started to feel anxious.
“I found so much plastic waste, mainly from single-use plastics such as packaging and straws,” she said.
Ms Lestari, an environmental engineer, decided to tackle the pollution problem so founded Divers Clean Action six years ago.
Now, the organisation has more than 1,000 volunteers across Indonesia.
Before the pandemic, the group dived to pick up waste from the ocean, but with more people shopping online because of COVID-19, Ms Lestari now also runs a campaign to eliminate plastic bags and packaging.
Ms Lestari, who was on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur list last year, said she was one of a growing number of young Indonesians who have felt “eco-anxiety”.
‘Eco-anxiety’ is caused by climate change
“Eco-anxiety” is very real and becoming more widespread, according to psychologist Carol Ride, founder of Psychology for a Safe Climate.
Ms Ride said it was important to talk to other people about feelings of anxiety linked to climate change because it was “good for mental health”.
Ms Lestari said many young people who have contacted her on social media displayed symptoms of “eco-anxiety”, sparked by news reports on environmental destruction.
She said they wanted to know what they could do to save the environment, or whether their efforts were enough.
“We need radical solutions and policies.”
Ms Lestari said the Indonesian government’s actions to address environmental pollution have improved over the last five years.
‘I want to create a liveable future’
Jagad Marcelleno has felt “dread” about the environment in his hometown of Jakarta since he was a child, but only realised the severity of the climate crisis when he was 24 years old.
“When I looked up at the sky, I’d think to myself, ‘Oh no, the sky is grey today, not blue, that means the pollution is high’,” he said.
“Then I started to notice trees getting cut down, I heard about the hole in the ozone layer and global warming.”
Mr Marcelleno said he had recently discovered he has been experiencing “eco-anxiety”, and decided to do something about it.
Despite working full time, Mr Marcelleno has been educating other people about the environment.
That work started in 2018, after he saw a YouTube video of a London Extinction Rebellion protest.
The video prompted him to join Extinction Rebellion Indonesia.
He was one of the groups’ first members, and it now has 25 chapters across the country that hold protests, talks, and seminars on climate change.
In his daily life, Mr Marcelleno has been striving not to produce any waste.
He does not use single-use plastic products and recycles food waste, glass, plastic, and other items at home.
“I believe that what comes from the soil must be given back to the soil. We have to change from ‘take, make, use, lose’ to ‘take, make, use, regenerate’,” he said.
‘We all live on Earth’
Monalisa Sembor, a 25-year-old activist from Papua, was shocked at the environmental damage in Papua when she returned to Wamena after studying in Yogyakarta.
“I saw huge changes. Papua looked very different, it had lost the beauty it had before,” she said.
“Wamena was lush and green, with plenty of trees, plants by the roadside, and now there is construction everywhere.”
She felt anxious about the impacts of climate change, so in 2018 Ms Sembor and a friend started Papua Trada Sampah, a community organisation that works to clean up the environment.
Members pick up plastic, glass and other waste from tourist areas, in front of schools and near main roads. They recycle as much waste as possible, but the rest goes to landfill.
Ms Sembor also educates school students about waste disposal and explains how to separate rubbish at home.
“We show them short videos that show environmental damage, global warming, man-made impacts,” she said.
Taking real action has helped Ms Sembor manage her anxiety about the climate crisis.