How I deal with climate panic
The main way that I consume news is through The Week magazine. I decided to subscribe
so that I wouldn’t feel like I needed to read the news every day to keep up, and so that I could read more global news and get different perspectives from a range of newspapers.
I was really struck by how many different stories about extreme weather events there were in this week’s issue.
In Sardinia, 1,500 people were forced to leave their homes as a result of wildfires. This is just one of several fires burning in southern Europe, which is experiencing a heat wave.
In Oregon, in the US, rampant wildfires scorched 541,336 hectares of land. They produced their own lightning and fire tornadoes, spiralling vortexes of gases, smoke and fire, and Pyrocumulonimbus plumes — aka fire-breathing dragon clouds. The smoke reached New York City 3,000 miles away, which now has some of the worst air quality in the world as a result.
Brazil’s coffee plantations suffered the worst frost combined with the worst drought in a century, which has driven Arabic coffee prices to the highest in nearly seven years.
In Iran, three people have been killed in a protest sparked by water shortages.
In London, flash floods inundated homes, caused vehicles to be abandoned, and resulted in roads, tube stations and hospital emergency departments being closed.
In Chenzhou, China, a year’s worth of rain fell in a single day.
The Met Office reported that 2020 was the first year that the annual values for rainfall, temperature and sunshine in the UK were all in the top 10 highest recorded, in the same year.. The latest 30-year period in the UK (1990–2021) was also 0.9 degrees warmer than the previous 30 years (1961–1990).
The IPCC announced this month that human activity is changing the Earth’s climate in ways that are ‘unprecedented’ in thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, with some of these changes now inevitable and ‘irreversible’.
I find these stories really terrifying. What the hell are we doing to our planet? And when are we going to start turning it around?
We’ve been hearing about stories like this for decades now, and they just seem to be getting worse and worse.
I’ve thought really deeply about how to respond to global warming. I do not claim to have the answer. I wish I did, but I don’t. I do think I have found that some perspectives seem to make more sense to me than others. These are my thoughts on the different responses that people have.
My initial reaction is a feeling of panic, terror, hopelessness and despair. I think it’s good to let myself feel that, but it doesn’t lead to any useful action.
Place head in bucket
Another response that I see in myself is ignoring it or not thinking about it. That seems to be what most people are doing as they go about their days, acting as though the world isn’t on fire and disappearing underwater at the same time. Again, it can sometimes be helpful to allow ourselves not to think about it and focus on something else, but pretending it’s not happening isn’t going to help.
Anger and blame
For me, action has normally been motivated by anger and blame. Thinking that other people should or shouldn’t be doing something, or that I’m not doing enough.
But I don’t think I’ve ever judged or argued someone into doing the right thing for the planet. I don’t think I’ve ever argued anyone into doing anything differently. Have you?
Someone on the radio this morning was suggesting we all ride our bikes more to stop global warming. One problem with addressing this issue is that any suggestion for what to do about it either seems so small-scale as to be futile, or so large-scale as to be impossible to achieve. My inner-cynic laughed at this one.
Tech will save us
What I heard recently from our minister for the environment is that we don’t need to worry because technology is going to take care of it.
Even if we could suck all the carbon out of the atmosphere and replace all of our energy with clean technology, is this the kind of world we want to live in?
Doesn’t something about the way we live need to change more fundamentally if we’re going to heal our soils, clean our air and water, protect our forests, reverse all the species extinctions and eliminate toxic waste? How else will we reverse the constant increase in general waste and the growth in cancers, mental illnesses, chronic pain, obesity, autoimmune diseases, inequality and polarisation?
This crisis is calling us to transform our relationship with the Earth, with each other, and with ourselves — not to do more of the same only with clean energy.
A different mindset
Personally, I don’t feel despairing about global warming, because I’ve changed my view of how reality works. If it were all dependent on us humans summoning up a huge effort to force a shift in direction, then I agree with the pessimists: I think we’ve already lost.
But I’ve come to believe that we are not the most powerful beings in the universe: there is an intelligence far more powerful and mystical than we can imagine, which we have the capacity to align with and which could support us to make the transformations necessary to heal ourselves and the planet. I don’t believe that divine intervention will do it all for us, but we could choose to work in connection with it.
I’m reminded of this whenever I experience a bizarre and often hilarious synchronicity — a coincidence that makes me feel that there is some kind of intelligence supporting my life. And I experience this surprisingly regularly.
The other thing that gives me hope is the idea of ‘morphic resonance’ promoted by biologist Rupert Sheldrake. It is the idea that any change that happens in one place creates a field of change that allows the same change to happen more easily somewhere else.
If we are all separate, then one individual’s action to address a global problem is futile. But if we are deeply interconnected, then tugging on one thread in the web of life has an effect on all the others.
What if every action we make is a declaration of who we are and what kind of a world we want to live in? And what if there is a higher ‘being’ or intelligence that sees these actions?
As things stand, there have been lots of declarations of intent to heal the planet, but our collective actions still indicate the opposite. If we became committed, like we did with tackling Covid-19, who knows what unforeseen providence would move to support us.
I can’t offer a formula for what to do or suggest that some actions are better than others, but here are three things I think we can do about global warming.
‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I want to change myself.’
I think a lot of the harm being done in the world is as a result of trauma. As we heal ourselves of our own traumas and illnesses, we have more capacity to be a force for good in the world.
We’re more able to act skillfully, less likely to burn out, and less likely to do more harm than good in our attempts to make a difference.
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibres connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibres, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
― Herman Melville
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are seeing a loneliness epidemic and an environmental crisis at the same time. We’re disconnected from each other and disconnected from our relationship with the Earth itself.
Lockdown must surely have been the most separated we’ve ever been from each other in all of human history.
The need we are feeling for reconnection, community and healing in the wake of this pandemic is, I think, deeply related to the kind of healing that needs to happen for our planet to have a stable climate.
Do what you love
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
― Howard Thurman
I think a lot of the harm that is not being done as a result of trauma is being done by people who don’t really want to do it.
I don’t think that anyone, deep down, wants to cut down the rainforests, intensively farm thousands of animals in inhumane conditions or contribute to any kind of harm.
If more and more people can get in touch with what gives them joy, both in terms of how they spend their spare time and the work they do, I think that will have some connection to what needs to be done to heal the planet.
Even something small and private like making a lasagne or playing with your child, is a contribution towards a world where people do what feels good, which is aligned with personal and collective healing.
This is one of the most unfathomably complicated existential crises we’ve ever faced as a species. I’d love to hear your perspective, and how you deal with climate panic.