Isabel “Izzy” Coppola ’21 spent much of her senior year focused on the emerging field of eco-anxiety—the psychological effects of worry about climate change. The American Psychiatric Association describes it as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.”
Coppola knows the feeling. Her UVM resume could be a prescription for how to alleviate eco-anxiety: get busy and start local. Her research is showing that eco-anxiety is a malady that can affect anyone who cares about the health of the planet future generations will inherit.
“Young people involved in climate work experience anxiety very regularly, but there aren’t extensive studies on it,” Coppola says.
She built her senior honors thesis around the topic of eco-anxiety, interviewing fellow students who are also deeply involved in UVM environmental organizations. “The anecdotal evidence suggests that being involved in an organization really does help alleviate that anxiety—action is a good antidote.”
Coppola developed a Fulbright proposal aimed at investigating eco-anxiety in other cultures and across different age groups. If her proposal is accepted, she’ll spend ten months in Finland conducting research with Dr. Panu Pihkala, a leading scholar on eco-anxiety at the University of Helsinki. She wants to investigate how prevalent eco-anxiety is in Finland, and demonstrate how activism can be a positive way to work through the emotional angst.
Coppola has considerable experience responding to the frustrating slowness of change. Growing up in Keene, N.H., she and a friend attempted a bottled water ban in their local high school but met resistance.
She was attracted to UVM in part because of the university’s reputation for environmental sustainability, but mostly because she wanted to study history. That changed when she began taking environmental studies classes—she identifies Amy Seidel, a writer and senior lecturer in UVM’s Rubenstein School, as a particularly inspiring mentor. “She was the one who got me interested in energy policy in general, and how to get involved in change at UVM,” Coppola said.
Besides working as a teaching assistant in Seidl’s ENVS 001 class, Coppola is a senator in UVM’s Student Government Association, serving on the environmental committee. She’s proud of the work she and fellow students have done to support the university’s decision to divest from fossil fuel companies this year.
“The driving force for me in this work is the goal to hold institutions of higher education accountable to their responsibility to create change. We have the power to set an example,” she said.
Adopting twin majors in environmental studies and political science has given her the knowledge and vocabulary to be an effective environmental advocate. Last summer she completed an internship at the Conservation Law Foundation, a New England organization utilizing the law, science, and markets to deliver solutions to the threat of climate change. Last semester she was an investigative intern for the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the District of VT.
The Fulbright might delay her educational plans but she definitely sees law school—with a concentration in environmental law—in her future.