Dear Metro: “I’m terrified of climate change and my bleak outlook is a buzzkill for friends and family.”
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I’m becoming intensely worried about climate change and it’s starting to affect my relationships.
I’m a new mum so I think about my son’s future a lot. And my prophecies are pretty bleak.
The thought of climate change and guilt over my emissions stops me from enjoying things. I live overseas and recently my mum came to visit and for a while all I could think about were the airline’s emissions. Sometimes I think it’ll be impossible to fly home one day and I should be learning to sail.
I think about prepping a lot. I fantasize about what supplies will be most in demand and best for trading (coffee? Tobacco?). And where the closest clean water supply is. And whether I should buy a gun.
As I spend a good amount of time at home alone with my son and these thoughts my conversations with friends and family are starting to sound like, ‘ yeah he’s so cute and precocious, it’s a shame civilization as we know it will only last until he’s 12’. I get frustrated when people don’t engage with the issue or shut down conversations about it but I also realize I’m being a full-on buzzkill.
How do we stay hopeful and realistic in these times?
READ MORE: “I’ll miss clouds when the climate apocalypse hits“
Well, aren’t we all? I don’t say that to devalue the way you feel; rather to admit that I’m unable to give any kind of definitive advice on how to feel better about this existential threat. It is overwhelming, and if anyone knew how to channel feelings of rage and grief about climate catastrophe into something useful, we’d be in a much better situation than we currently find ourselves.
One thing I do know though is that guilt is an almost entirely useless emotion. For one thing, you feeling guilty about your mum flying over to see you doesn’t reduce the emissions that flight created. You’re allowed to want to see your mum after the birth of your child – something which breaks my heart is how climate anxiety manifests in encouraging us to deny some of our most basic and human desires. Usually this crops up as the decision to not have children. But anyway, the flight has been taken, it’s done, and prostrating yourself is truly pointless. Let it go. It’s also profoundly unfair if you consider the scale of your “crime” compared to the true climate criminals – the 100 companies producing more than 70 per cent of all emissions.
The lead author of the IPCC Special Report on global warming recently wrote a piece I found helpful, regarding the notion we have a 12-year deadline before everything collapses. He has warned this is misleading – that it’s not a countdown till doomsday, and framing it as such is likely to lead to despair and inaction. He writes: “Please stop saying something globally bad is going to happen in 2030. Bad stuff is already happening and every half a degree of warming matters, but the IPCC does not draw a “planetary boundary” at 1.5°C beyond which lie climate dragons.” The whole thing is well worth a read.
I get the feeling many people are currently oscillating wildly between despair and apathy. Personally, I sometimes feel so cynical about the lack of political will needed to avert climate crisis, I figure I should just jet set around the globe while I still can, and fuck everyone else. Other times I agonise about recycling improperly for hours. One thing which makes me feel better is to remember that humans are spectacularly adaptable. A saying I really love: “our anxiety comes not from the future, but from wanting to control it.” One of the most stressful things about climate change is not knowing how it’s all going to shake out, and being therefore unable to prepare for it. But consider this. We’ve been living through a period of unparalleled abundance. The irony, of course, is said abundance is what got us into this mess in the first place but that aside, humans have lived for centuries without the luxuries we’re accustomed to. They still lived, loved, thrived. We can adapt.
Some people might think you’re being a buzzkill, but I’d wager most have the same worries. Find friends who you can have hopeful conversations about this stuff with, figure out who near you is involved in climate activism or environmental conservationism – any movement or group you could realistically create ongoing ties with who would help you feel less alone in your worries.
Finally, it’s worth remembering you’ve just gone through one of the biggest life changes a person will ever experience – becoming a parent. It doesn’t necessarily sound like you have postnatal depression, although symptoms can include feeling anxious, panicky and overwhelmed, but even so a big life change can throw off our sense of resilience for a while as we adjust to the new.
With love and solidarity,
Send your woes to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration: Loryn Engelsman