How facing your fears about the climate crisis is better for you and the planet

Projected increases in temperature, flooding in our region, and news about severe weather elsewhere – such as droughts and wildfires – can be difficult to address.

Add to that the terrible International Climate Reports And warnings that we only have a decade to make changes to stem the most catastrophic climate impacts, it’s no wonder so many of us have strong feelings about these issues.book cover

Some have used the term “environmental concern.” It’s not a diagnosis, but more people are looking at these feelings to help people cope – like Britt Wray, Ph.D. She is a broadcaster, author, and researcher, and her most recent book is Generation of Dread: Finding Purpose in the Age of Climate Crisis. Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsobel recently spoke with Wray about it.

Listen to the interview:


This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Kara Holsobel: What is your definition of environmental concern?

Brett Wray: I think environmental anxiety is a storm of emotions. It is not only a specific type of anxiety associated with environmental degradation, but also feelings of sadness, sadness or anger and general anxiety about what is happening with the climate and the broader environmental crisis.

These feelings can be constructive. It can be adaptable. They can point out important things to you about what’s under threat, cause change in your life, and come together with others to take action.

But due to their deep existential nature, when they make people feel really insecure in the world and fear the future in a very chronic way, they can also become disruptive to daily functioning, thus becoming a major hindrance to mental health and well-being-the universe.

Kara Holsobel: How environmental or climate anxiety manifests in people’s thinking and behaviour.

Wray: In really diverse ways. It does not appear at one severity level. There is a scale that the processor is aware of the climate Caroline Hickman I’ve found that these infographics are really based on observations with thousands of people around the world that I’ve helped as a therapist.

Let’s say on a moderate level, if someone starts to feel a whiff of environmental anxiety, they may feel uncomfortable in the grocery aisle surrounded by single-use vegetables wrapped in plastic, it becomes uncomfortable for them and they become somewhat paralyzed with how to navigate this shopping experience.

But the thing that might be more important for someone would be, “Well, I woke up a lot about the seriousness of the climate predicament. I probably don’t feel comfortable having kids anymore and my partner wants that, and we’re in a big fight about that and maybe we’re going to break up.”

These types of relationship issues can become quite obvious. If the feelings are really intense, the person may not be able to sleep anymore and won’t be able to focus, go to work, go to school and unfortunately may become suicidal and self-harm. So it really spans the whole gamut of all forms of showing distress.

Holsobel: I was interested in this idea of ​​internally confronting our fears and emotions about the environmental crisis, and then that external confrontation of the problem by taking some action in the world to try to change things. Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between the two?

Wray: We are all too used to feeling the urgency of the climate crisis. We have imprinted this truth on us over decades of environmental and political campaigning on the issue. This is true. We need outside action on our policies, technologies, innovations, and science in a dramatic way. We need to be bold.

It’s just that we don’t often realize that there are internal skills and strategies that are just as important to the environmental struggle as those external actions.

At the same time, we didn’t often realize that in order to support ourselves psychologically, mentally and emotionally, to be able to do this hard and painstaking work in the long run, basically for the rest of our lives, because this crisis would be upon us during that period of time and it would get harder – well, no We can do this from a spent internal state.

It’s alive from the exhaustion that so many activists, green politicians, climate scientists, and other people working on this problem full-time live out of mental exhaustion from knowing we have solutions, and the constant view of its importance being repudiated and denied. It is not published by leaders who would otherwise do so.

This is just a process that ostracizes people and leaves them in essence deflated and hopeless at times, making it easy for the individual to ignore them. It is very painful.

But it can be resolved if the work and attention [are] The inner emotional resilience building practices available to us are also paid for. To fill our cup just enough to be able to hold, connect, and ground in a really deep way so that when things get tough and tough, we can just stay in business.

It’s just that we don’t often realize that there are internal skills and strategies that are just as important to the environmental struggle as those external actions.

We found that 45% of these young people around the world said that their feelings about the climate crisis negatively affect their daily functioning.

But of course, many social justice activists knew this about the legacy of colonialism, slavery, and systemic racism. We can look at the many different movements people of color often improve their situation and understand that you need to be able to restore yourself internally to be able to stand up to the injustice outside of you.

And while climate scientists aren’t trained to think about it, it matters here, too. These are the kinds of arguments the book makes regarding turning inward to do whatever you need to do to usefully incorporate the anxiety, anger, and sadness that comes with facing this crisis and witnessing to more loss, and then existence. The ability to reinforce externally and in relationship with others to put pressure on the levers we have to prevent further damage and save what we can.

Holsopple: I wanted to ask where the franchise in this comes from. Is environmental anxiety a manifestation of white middle-class fears, when many people already face other existential threats, such as systemic racism or other systems of oppression?

Wray: The data tells us no, it’s actually more pronounced for communities of color and often poorer communities. even in One study my colleagues and I didWe studied 10,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25 in ten countries around the world. We’ve been trying to understand the scope and burden of their climate concern in places like India, the Philippines and Nigeria, but also in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and some other countries.

We found that 45% of these young people around the world said their feelings about the climate crisis negatively affect their daily functioning — eating, sleeping, working, concentrating, playing, enjoying, those kinds of things.

But in Nigeria, India and the Philippines, for example, it was more pronounced than the world average. It was about 67%, which indicates that those low- and middle-income countries that are most exposed to climate hazards are already more disruptive in terms of simply passing normal tasks.

In the United States, we have data from the Yale Climate Communication Program that shows us that black and Latino communities are likely to be more alarmed about the climate crisis than their white counterparts, and also personally more willing to move to a position of agency and power and take some action on the subject because of their disproportionate exposure to harm. .

10,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25… 75% said the future is scary, 39% said the climate crisis is making them reluctant to have their children, and 56% said humanity is doomed.”

So it is really just an additional burden on marginalized communities. Why do we tend to get this reaction that we think may just be a distinct preoccupation – it’s only the first time that some privileged people have felt so unsettled in the world for their own safety. So it’s the best way to describe their plight, but it’s not the best way to describe the distress of other communities where there may be more immediate threats.

Holsobel: Perhaps not surprisingly, you write that climate anxiety affects children the most. What can parents, teachers, or adults in their lives do to help them cope?

Wray: It definitely affects younger people in a very massive way. And the one thing that makes this difficult is, going back to that study we mentioned of 10,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25, we found that not only was there a disturbance in daily functioning, but 75% said the future was scary, 39% said That the climate crisis is making them reluctant to have children, and 56% said humanity is doomed.

Young people feel abandoned, belittled and rejected because of their plight by older generations who do not come forward to help them at this time.

Importantly, all of these feelings were closely related to feelings of betrayal by governments and lies by leaders, introducing this important concept of institutional betrayal and the psychological damage that can occur when less powerful people need responses from more powerful people. In order to protect and maintain their safety.

But when those with more power tend not to take on this responsibility and do it right, this can create all kinds of negative emotional and mental effects on those who depend on them.

This is the intergenerational problem we’re dealing with with the climate crisis. Young people feel neglected, belittled and rejected by their plight by older generations who don’t come forward to help them at this time, and instead say things like, well, you know, when it gets really bad, you won’t be around.

This may try to use some gallows humor, but in fact it ends up making the distress even more intense for the youngsters because it is the outright abandonment of something overwhelming, which they unfairly inherited along with the duty to clean it up.

They were told this before they could even vote and have any agency to act to change the structures that put pressure on them. It is just an injustice along the way, which means that a serious reform site will advance towards solidarity, it will show young people that you get it if we are older, that we are there for them, that we are not simply going to sit on our couches and hope for a better future or rather empty our hope in young people who will save the day. But actually, line up the guns with them, roll up, roll up our sleeves and take advantage of this amazing opportunity that we have in this brutal time we live in to step into some purpose and support them.

IIf this institutional betrayal could be minimized by watching people in and out of institutions gather around the issue, even as the world burns, young people would feel much better. They will be less isolated, less alienated, and they will know that people are interested.

Brett Wray is the author of the new book Generation of Dread: Finding Purpose in the Age of the Climate Crisis. The weekly newsletter also publishes, dread general. Ray is currently a fellow in human and planetary health at Stanford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.