I was with a friend recently and the topic of the climate crisis came up. I happened to mention the much-viewed TED Talk of Katherine Hayhoe and her recommendation to have more conversations about it. The friend asked why that would be so important.
I thought for a moment about how best to answer, and I came up with the following:
For those who accept the basic science, the implications of this planetary crisis invariably generates feelings of anxiety and/or depression.
From my psychotherapy practice, I know that an almost instinctive response to anxiety is avoidance. This is fairly obvious when you think about it: someone who is afraid of flying will make a strong effort to avoid getting on a plane. A person who is afraid of snakes won’t go to a location where they are apt to see one. It’s expected that the prospect of a future with a greater frequency and intensity of climate disasters will make almost everyone feel anxious. It should. And most people will by respond to those feelings by not talking or even thinking about the climate crisis.
A common response to depression is distraction. If the thought of a topic causes sad feelings, it’s easy to think about something else. Our modern culture certainly has made this very easy with an endless source of distractions. Pop culture. What to eat for dinner. Sports. Celebrity. You get the idea. Thinking about an uncertain future is very depressing and it’s not unexpected to avoid those feelings by focusing attention on something that’s interesting, exciting, and absorbing.
In my therapy practice, it was my job to help anxious people face their fears instead of avoiding them. And one of the best ways to help people with depression was often to find ways for them to take action to change their life circumstances to one that would make them feel better.
My friend’s eye teared up because she recognized that I was right. She found herself thinking about her two young grandchildren and the transformed and unsafe world they will be living in.
We need to face the fear of the climate crisis and stop the avoidance. And the sadness about it is best dealt with by taking active steps to become part of the solution.
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