On February 17, 2022, as part of our climate action series, Cathance River Education Alliance and Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust hosted a program on how to manage our complicated feelings about climate change. Below, you can watch the session (at the bottom of this post), read summary highlights, find resources to learn more and take action, and explore our presenters’ recommendations on how to manage our emotional responses to the climate crisis.
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Our guests were:
- Anne Hallward, host and founder of Safe Space Radio, a radio program and podcast that uses storytelling and practical guidance to help people find their courage to deal with challenges.
- Ogechi Obi, a high school senior and climate activist from Bangor.
“As a climate scientist, I’d like you to know: I don’t have hope. I have something better: certainty. We know exactly what’s causing climate change. We can absolutely 1) avoid the worst and 2) build a better world in the process… No one is saying this is going to be easy. But it is possible. The biggest uncertainty by FAR in climate projections is what humans will do. Let’s get to work.”
Dr. Kate Marvel, Columbia Center for Climate Systems Research
Highlights of this session include:
- People suffer the most when they suffer alone. This applies to climate anxiety, so share your feelings with others.
- Many feel ‘climate shame’ – a sense of moral failure that we haven’t done anything to prevent climate change. Shame leads to hiding and avoidance – don’t do this!
- The fossil fuel industry has used climate shame (e.g. publicizing the notion of the ‘personal carbon footprint’) as a strategy to make individuals feel responsible for climate change, deflect attention from the industry, and distract people from seeking government action on climate change.
- Mental health strategies for dealing with climate anxiety include fostering the courage to do what is right despite fear/anxiety.
- Do this exercise to get a sense of your own ability to be courageous.
- Think of a time when you were courageous, e.g. apologizing, speaking up, doing the right thing when it was difficult. It doesn’t have to be a big thing.
- What made that courageous action possible?
- The forces that motivate courage are most often:
- love for others and from others
- a clear sense of what needs to be done
- The ‘bystander effect’: in a crisis, the more people who AREN’T taking action, the less likely someone is to act. However, if just ONE person acts, it often motivates others. Individual action can make a big difference.
- Don’t let taking action turn into self-righteousness, which is counter-productive. There is a difference between clarity about what needs to be done and self-righteousness. Climate work should be motivated and inspired by our love for children, nature, etc.
- To motivate yourself:
- Think about protecting the next generation (don’t think about yourself which can lead to avoidance)
- If you don’t have children, think about children you’re close to, or plants and animals that you value
- Seek clarity about how you will act. Think about what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and where you can make a difference.
- Think of small examples of your own courageousness to empower action.
- Share your feelings with others – don’t bear them in isolation.
- Don’t use fear to motivate people to take action – when people are fearful, their thinking is more rigid, or they move to avoidance.
- Harness anger and use it as a tool to fuel action. Don’t let anger lead to self-righteousness.
- Make hope tangible as actions we take to reverse climate change. Imagine a positive future.
- Remember to seek out the beauty and awe that nature inspires. Make time to recharge.
- Use grief about our children’s future as an agent of transformation – use it to motivate positive actions to create change.
- Take action with others – acting together is more powerful than acting alone.
- To be sustainable, climate action must be fulfilling, play to your strengths, and offer joy – not only in successes but also in being in community with others.
- Even if you don’t know what to do, you can still show up and figure out later where you fit in.
- High school student Ogechi was inspired to get involved by moving to Maine from a neighborhood in DC. Seeing stars for the first time, experiencing clean air and natural beauty gave her a feeling of wonder that she wants to preserve for others. She is shy but pushes through that by asking herself if she will regret not acting on her beliefs.
- In Ogechi’s research on barriers to action, she found that many are put off or confused by the terminology of climate change. Her takeaway was to focus messaging on climate impacts that people can relate to (e.g. don’t talk about ‘ocean acidication’, talk about how changes to the ocean are affecting lobsters).
- LD 1902 is a bill to fund pilot programs on climate education in ME, such as teacher training and curriculum development. It will help prepare the next generation for dealing with climate. Support this bill by advocating for it with members of the Appropriations Committee and your legislators.
- Balance individual action with federal action. We need systemic change – at the federal and corporate/institutional levels – to achieve the scale of change needed. Complement personal actions and policy actions with steps to affect behavior of corporate players.
Resources recommended by our presenters and others during the session:
- Ten Ways to Confront Climate Crisis without Losing Hope, by Rebecca Solnit in The Guardian
- Anne Hallward’s podcast on Climate Courage, on Safe Space Radio
- Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit
- Link to print a copy of LD 1902, An Act to Establish a Pilot Program To Encourage Climate Education in Maine Public Schools
- Contact members of the Appropriations Committee to urge funding of LD 1902
- Find your state senator (Maine)
- Citizens Climate Lobby, an advocacy group that helps you learn how to effectively advocate for good climate policy
- Maine Climate Table, non-partisan group promoting broad civic engagement and action on climate
- A Baby Boomer and a Gen Z-er Walk into a Bar, article in Stanford Social Innovation and Review about how to foster productive intergenerational dialogue about climate
- The Book of Hope, by Jane Goodall, about why she feels hopeful despite climate and other challenges of today
- How to Let Go of the World (and love all the things that climate can’t change), documentary with sobering first half but ultimately inspiring. Sundance Film Festival selection.
- Third Act, organization for people over 60 who want to change the world for the better.
You can find additional resources related to this session HERE.