I am terrified about our future on this planet. There are dangerous heat waves, extreme floods, and wildfires that can’t be stopped. I dread hearing the news. I am fearful for our children and what kind of a world they will have in the future. What can I do?
Two important things that may or may not comfort you: you are not crazy, and you are not alone. The American Psychiatric Association found that 67% of Americans are somewhat or extremely anxious about the effects of climate change, and 55% are worried about its impact on their mental health. In a 2021 global survey of 10,000 people ages 16 to 25, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, 56 percent said that humanity was doomed, and 45 percent said climate anxiety affected their daily lives.
The thing is, staying mired in fear doesn’t help you or anyone else. It keeps you stuck and unable to help. Despite the horrible news about floods, droughts, fires, and suffering, there is still a lot you can do. The future looks dark, but it hasn’t happened yet. Giving in to inaction insures a dark outcome.
From the New York Times, March 22, 2022, there are a group of young people who refuse to give in to “doomism,” and they have had an impact. An example is Aliana Wood, a 25 year old climate scientist from Tennessee. In the summer of 2021, Ms. Wood, (@thegarbagequeen), began creating TikTok videos in the face of climate doomism and relaying news of assorted climate wins, eg. the creation of North America’s first whale sanctuary, a planned treaty to curb plastics pollution, and the construction of a huge wind farm off the coast of the United Kingdom. Her TikTok follower count tripled from about 100,000 to close to 300,000 today. She also helped form a TikTok group of like-minded climate advocates called Eco-Tok, and said their hashtag #ecotok has more than 200 million views.
Here are some ways to get out of climate fear, if it has you stuck:
Take Care of Yourself
Hillel the Elder who was born around 110 BCE is attributed with this quote: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? I interpret that to mean that If I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be able to take care of anyone else.
All the recommendations for any other kind of anxiety management apply here: focus on the present; take deep, restoring breaths; take breaks; do things that delight you; sleep enough; and eat enough. Spend time outside. Move your body. Talk to people you love. Find something that makes you laugh your butt off.
Have all your feelings, ideally with someone who understands and supports you. Anxiety can be a complex mixture of sadness, anger, and fear. Each feeling needs to be identified and expressed. Anger is a wonderfully empowering feeling, and the result of connecting with it and expressing it are very motivating.
If you can’t sleep, have no appetite, have an underlying feeling of dread that won’t quit, talk to your doctor or a therapist.
Focus on what you can do. For example, the nonprofit Good Grief Network offers support for climate distress through a 10-step process, introduced at weekly meetings that culminate with a commitment to “reinvest in meaningful efforts.”
There is a lot of coverage on climate change effects in the news. Most of it is disturbing (the drought, hotter summer temperatures, and extended summer in Minneapolis) and tragic (Jackson MS, Florida, Puerto Rico, Pakistan). There is plenty to learn from in each situation. There is also plenty of information on what would mitigate and help prevent this kind of news in the future.
Spend equal time learning about both the effects of the climate crisis and also what would decrease it. Learn about what other people are doing to raise awareness and fight for change. Learn about environmental justice.
There are multiple sources of information on the internet. Googling “climate change information” will lead you to a variety of resources and many are curated. Here are some local resources:
Tangletown.org gives you access to our Sustainability Sam posts and video presentations on low waste lifestyle resources, textile “reduce and reuse” resources, solar energy resources, and pollinator pathways among others. This November 24, 2020 Sustainability Sam post gives book and podcast recommendations.
Here are a few local organizations and sources for information and action:
Minneapolis Climate Action
City of Minneapolis Environmental Programs
Talking through your fears and having your feelings with others who understand and care can be curative.
Britt Wray is the author of Gen Dread, a newsletter about staying sane and finding purpose in the climate crisis. As she told NPR, reach out to your friends, family, and neighbors. You might be surprised at what expressing your fears to others and thinking about solutions might bring. Move on from those who don’t think there is a problem (or are too anxious to talk about the problem). Ms. Wray also suggests joining online www.climate.cafe to find communities of other people having similar feelings.
Join a group of people who are scared but not too scared to act. Join the Tangletown Neighborhood Association Environmental Committee! It’s local, meets on the second Tuesday of each month on Zoom or in person. Group members express fears but generate ideas and action. Saturday September 24, one of the committee’s ideas culminated in an event that drew 15 neighborhoods to address the part of the climate issue: electronics waste. Seven+ trucks full (seven times what was anticipated) of refurbishable gear and core elements such as precious metals used in making laptops and cell phones, were collected.
The above is just a start in providing action ideas. They may not all fit for you. But the best way forward is to decide that you will do something. Action is a great antidote to anxiety.
Margaret Klein Salaman, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, decided to use her psychological expertise to invite people to treat climate like an emergency (New York Times Opinion, May 1, 2022). She invited hundreds of people to share their emotional reactions to the climate emergency in structured in-person conversations, and on a virtual platform. She recommends pouring our feelings of grief, terror, rage, and shock into disruptive protest and nonviolent direct action, which as history and social science demonstrate, are the fastest path to transformative change. For example, in 2019, after weeks of protests that shut down parts of London led by the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion, Britain declared a climate emergency and became the first major economy to legally commit to reaching “net zero” emissions by 2050.
She is the director of the Climate Emergency Fund that raises funds to support emerging groups to recruit, train, and prepare for mass protest. She says, “Joining a movement allows us to live for a purpose greater than ourselves, and a collective benefit of a national climate mobilization would be improved mental health. Instead of despair and alienation, we can find a sense of purpose and community in the face of the climate crisis.”
While Margaret Klein Salaman’s chosen path is to create and support activism, what you do may be on a much smaller scale, but just as meaningful. All action, big or small, has an impact.
Though you can’t control climate change, you can control what you personally do about it. Start with small actions everyday.
-Apply the principles of “reduce, recycle and reuse” to as much as you can.
-Monitor your carbon footprint, including electricity usage, vehicle usage, and waste disposal, all of which generate greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to a hotter planet.
-Join with others who are also scared and want to do something. Generate ideas, actions.
-Consider advocacy; consider boycotting companies who pollute or create unnecessary waste.
-Call leaders and legislators. Figure out together how you can have the most influence.
-Adopt a drain in your neighborhood and talk about it. You’ll help keep pollution out of our waterways and might inspire others to do the same.
-Vote. Find out which candidates, at all levels of government, are as concerned as you are about our climate future and support them.
Yours in hope,