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 Katharine Hayhoe and her suggestion to have more conversations about it. My friend asked why that would be so important.
I thought for a moment about how best to answer and 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 automatic response to anxiety is usually 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. The prospect of a future with more frequent and intense climate disasters will cause most people to feel anxious. It should. And most will react 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 has certainly 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 that many will avoid those feelings by focusing on something else that’s interesting, exciting, or 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 to find steps they could take to change their life circumstances in such a way that would help them to feel better.
My friend’s eye teared up because she recognized that thinking about climate change caused her to feel very sad. 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 while the scope of the issue can feel overwhelming, the sadness is best dealt with by taking active steps to become part of the solution.
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