Finding Hope in a Changing Climate
Resources for Overcoming Climate Anxiety
This week I’m sharing resources on navigating climate anxiety. This was a special request topic from a subscriber and I’m sure we’ll return to it in more detail in the future, most likely in one of the podcasts, but I just wanted to give a short overview for now. If you have other topics you’d like me to write about or interview people for (it could be personal, political, serious, silly — whatever interests you!) let me know.
Climate anxiety is the feeling of worry, fear, and helplessness that arises from the threat of climate change. It’s a relatively new medical term but one which is increasingly commonplace, especially amongst younger generations. A study in the Lancet found that 84% of young adults are at least moderately worried about climate change, and 59% are very or extremely worried.
It’s hardly surprising. Stuck between the overwhelming amount of evidence about the impact of climate change, coupled with the lack of appropriate action from governments and corporations, it’s easy to feel anxious or, anxiety’s precursor, helpless. Overwhelm often does this. Your brain simply stops being able to process and taps out. In political contexts, that manifests itself through apathy. I often think how much our 24-hour news culture is to blame for all this. There is so much noise, most of it terrible, that it can make you want to disconnect — but I’ll save my thoughts on all that for another newsletter!
One of the reasons I think the climate crisis is so challenging for many to reckon with is the individualistic narrative that has been built around it over the last few decades.
This is a narrative that says climate change can be fixed if we all reduced our meat and dairy consumption, used less plastic, or took less long haul flights. The problem with this personal responsibility narrative is, when these actions don’t make a difference in the time frame needed, then many can feel like there isn’t any point doing anything. So they tap out.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think these actions don’t have an impact. Certainly our mass consumption society has to change in order for us to transition to a more sustainable economic model but, by placing so much responsibility on the individual, what gets missed is the huge systemic issues at play. Namely that just 100 companies in the world are responsible for 71% of global emissions.
One of the best writers I’ve read on climate justice is Mary Annaise Heglar and her essay, Stop obsessing over your environmental “sins.” Fight the oil and gas industry instead, is a good primer on this.
For me, my ability to stay focused and hopeful in light of the climate crisis involves seeing where the pressure points are. Regulating corporations and changing the legislators we are voting in? That’s totally within our reach. It involves work, yes — lobbying, taking direct action, holding elected officials to account, educating in our communities — but these are all very practical things that people have been doing for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Our species created this economic system, which means it’s within our power to change it. Rather than saying ‘the system is too broken to create change’ a more helpful reframing could be ‘we are the system, and we demand better.'
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If you feel you suffer from climate anxiety, the first thing I would say is that it is an entirely appropriate response to the catastrophe we are both living through and facing. Getting real about the fears you have is the first step towards shifting them. Instead of pushing down the emotion, it’s better to journal it out, list all your worries — giving them space is the first step to soothing them. Then, you might find it helpful to dig into the following suggestions for navigating climate anxiety, plus a few book and podcast resources I have found helpful.
Celebration: We don’t do enough to focus on the small victories and progress being made in any social or political campaigns. Here is an inspiring list of climate victories from 2021 and 2022.
Connection: One of the best ways to feel better about something is to connect with others who care about it. This is the antidote to the individualist narrative which makes us all feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. Collectivism can show us that there are millions of like-minded people with whom we can build a community to affect change. Joining a climate justice group, attending a climate action, following people who are sharing helpful and uplifting messages on social media — all of this helps us realize we are all in this together. The collective is how we win.
Action: One interesting aspect of political engagement is that motivation often follows action, not the other way round. The more you do, the more you see you can do, and the more you see what’s possible. Doing something — whether it’s lobbying your political representatives, taking action in your community, educating others, attending an event — ends up adding to a sense of motivation.
If you want to dig in further, these books might be for you
A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet by Sarah Jaquette Ray
We Can All Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
And if you are more of an audiophile, try the Outrage and Optimism or Hot Take podcasts, both of which share wisdom from expert guests (hello, David Attenborough!) and climate justice activists.
Lastly, if you feel like a support group would be helpful, the Good Grief Network has a flagship program, 10 Steps to Resilience & Empowerment in a Chaotic Climate, which you can join online to participate in peer-to-peer support groups. The aim of these is to help people recognize, feel, and process their heavy emotions around the climate crisis, then transform these feelings into meaningful action.
Great post and excellent advice, Yasmin! Not a solution, but it's a start...will cross-post at the weekend (have to get my own post up today!