Dealing with climate anxiety in a dying world
I've been thinking about this post for over 3 years now. I've started writing or typing about it at least a dozen times, but every time I stop myself. Writing the words down seems too real, too scary, and too sad.
But here it is. Our planet—our home—is dying. We're killing it and we know it, but we do it anyway for the money. Or the convenience. Or the lack of options to make a different choice.
Well, not us exactly. We're all contributing to it with our dependence on fossil fuels to take us places, our insistence on disposable goods, and our meat fixation that we just can't shake. But really, it's the major companies like Coca-Cola, Exxon, and the like who are knowingly and willingly polluting our planet for profit.
I'm an anxious person by nature, but these two articles reall shook my to my core. And I realized it's not so much the dying I'm afraid of but the suffering and immense sadness that comes before it.
In the 1960s Elisabeth Kübler Ross did a study with terminally ill patients, where she watched them go through what she coined "the five stages of grief". The first stage was denial, followed by anger, then barganing, depression, and then finally acceptance. Not everyone follows this model, but it's a good indicator of the main stages people go through when they receive a terminal diagnosis.
And I think we are all in this now. We have been diagnosed, and we are dying—fast. But this time it's not just one person but billions, and not just one animal but millions of species.
The world will eventually right itself, it's just that we'll all suffer a lot before it happens.
And the worst part is there is no going back. There is no making it right. Now there are only mitigation and minimization tactics. Waking up and thinking about it every day takes its toll and manifests in odd ways.
I somewhat obsessively check the weather. I dread the Portland summers that I used to love becuase now it just means that there will be so man fires. And even if I don't see the photos from it, I'll see and feel the smoke. I'll see the trees that I love all burned.
I look outside every morning and hope that it rains. I feel shame every time I drive or travel, and pangs of sadness when I bike or walk through my neighborhood, knowing what will be lost.
I check the trees in my neighborhood for signs of stress and drought. And it feels like I simultaneously know too much and not enough. Because I know what's wrong, I know we need systemic change, but have no idea how to work toward fixing it.
I wonder about the future. When I was 20 I wondered if I would have a good career and get to travel. At 33 I wonder when we will finally run out of drinking water or the pH level of the oceans will finally become too acidic to be inhabited by wildlife. I worry about my friends' children, and what type of world we're leaving them.
It feels like nothing I can personally do makes an impact, and yet everything I do has a consequence.
To manage this, I've turned to anger. I've settled in on rage and live somewhat happily there. I write to our representatives, vote, participate in community environmentalism programs and open data initatives, donate to legal causes that put pressure on our governement to make a radical change, plant a garden that will be a wildlife refuge for local birds, butterflies, and bees, and read all I can (probably too much) about our current state and how I can change my buying habits to support the real business decisions that we need.
But none of it will be enough. And I know that. If America, our "president", our Senate, and our judiciary can't get their collective heads out of their asses long enough to see what's happening, we will never make the radical changes we need.
And the suffering will be solidified. Not only will we have to deal with a lack of resources, but we'll start to see even more human rights violations, and violence.
And as we watch this unfold, we've also sealed the fate for the roughly 2 billion other species on earth, too.
There is no other planet. This is our home and we have defiled it. And if you think you're going to be "one of the lucky ones" that makes it out, I leave you with the wise words of Bill Watterson. "I thought these things only happened to other people. Well, we're all someone else, to someone else."
So my suggestion is not to wallow and not to wait. Take action and let that sweet fire of anger consume you rather than despair.
You can get involved by writing, rallying, or donating. Whatever you do, make a fuss. Be heard. This is the only home we've got.
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