Conservationist and author Aldo Leopold was one of the earliest observers to codify the phenomenon of grief associated with the disappearance of plants, animals, and ecosystems. Today, humans across the globe confront losses in the natural world that have significantly altered their way of life, and these changes have mental health consequences as well. It’s time to recognize, if not embrace, our collective grief for our imperiled planet, and mobilize our efforts to mitigate the damages before it’s too late. Many people feel otherwise.
Some believe the idea of global warming is a clever hoax devised by elitist international cabals seeking to impose restrictive regulations and impinge on the sovereignty of nations. Others who would rather exclude the global community, argue for national unity rather than global cooperation in the fight against climate change.
Agree or not (see “Climate Change Is Not a Crisis
” for a dissenting opinion), the climate crisis is here. In August 2021, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organ of United Nations tasked with assessing climate change science, released a blistering report about the current state of the climate, confirming what many of us know in our bones: “Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe (IPCC< 2021)” (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2021). It is not a deep-state conspiracy, and as I explored in an earlier newsletter, while many leaders continue to authorize the wanton pillaging of natural resources with total disregard for the consequences of these actions, many others are mourning the death of our planet.
Where does that leave us? Though some politicians pay plenty of lip service to the gravity of the situation, some people aren’t waiting anymore. Citizens’ movements are taking up the charge in demanding change and leading efforts to make that change reality. Consider, for example, the climate campaign group 350.org, which targets the global fossil fuel industry and advocates for a shift to 100% renewable energy. In an opinion piece for the Guardian, 350.org leader and author of one of the earliest books to sound the alarm on climate change, Bill McKibben
wrote that while the international community continues to be paralyzed by the pandemic and the environmental catastrophe underway, there is a ray of hope: renewable energy costs are plummeting, which would facilitate the much needed rapid transition to green energy. Coupled with hundreds of thousands of concerned global citizens, and international leaders can not attend many more conferences and come away with warm sounding platitudes.
A flurry of recent studies (here
, and here
, for example) demonstrate the adverse psychological effects of climate change, but joining citizen-advocacy groups can help counter some of those problems. Calming eco-anxiety is possible. Since climate change is not a single event, but rather a chronic condition, we must address the mental health component as such. Researchers recently wrote in The Lancet
that climate anxiety “may be the crucible through which humanity must pass to harness the energy and conviction that are needed for the lifesaving changes now required.” Emotional suffering can be reduced by cultivating awareness of the problem and by engaging in activities that work to reduce the threat of climate change. The writers of The Lancet piece suggest active travel, spending time in nature, and participating in community-based initiatives such as advocating for more trees in urban spaces and improving infrastructure.
In other words, cleaning up the litter in your neighborhood may not cure the global ills we suffer, but it is better for your mental health.
And with that in mind, I’m engaging in my own climate initiatives. See below for details.