How can I stop feeling hopeless and conflicted about the doomed future?
June 27, 2019 7:35 AM   Subscribe

As someone who comes from a conservation background, seeing and feeling all the current and impending impacts of climate change are inducing panic, fear, and hopelessness in me. Seeing the backwards thinking of our (US) right-wing politicians regarding the topic, among many other hot-button issues that concern me, is making me question everything I'm doing and has gotten me feeling nihilistic. How can I remain more balanced?

Hearing the news of the impending heat waves in Europe, water insecurity in India, Oregon Republicans literally running away from voting on a carbon cap-and-trade bill, and watching the Democratic debate and feeling only a couple of candidates even see climate change as a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately, has me feeling hopeless and questioning all my future decisions. Should I be moving to a desert when it could become inhabitable (I can't live in Northern climates because of my mental health)? Should I go back to a job field I hate because it's "doing good" for the cause? And the biggest one - is it even responsible to consider having a kid/kids? Pile on top of this all my concerns about every other major issue going on in the US right now - health care, women's health, immigration, etc. - and I feel helpless.

I have been focusing on self-improvement lately due to mental health problems and it feels futile when there are such bigger concerns out there. It feels, while not pointless, almost ineffectual to filter my decisions for my life based on climate change when so many people around me are unaware, don't care, and our elected government seems happy to let us all burn and drown in the next century because they'll be dead and will have 'gotten theirs.' I get all riled up about it and all it does is hurt myself and make me frustrated that people around me aren't as concerned as I feel they should be. I know I could commit my time to volunteering for the cause...but to what end? I want change on a bigger scale.

Is there anything I can do to reframe this, see things more optimistically, etc.? I don't want to become complacent not thinking it's as much of a crisis as it is, but I also don't see a point in making my life stressful and miserable when it won't change what's happening.
posted by majesty_snowbird to Grab Bag (37 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Read more history. Read about how the US totally fucked up the midwest by cutting down zillions of trees and allowing railroads to fuck over poor people. Read about how President Grover Cleveland raped a woman, then put her in an insane asylum and took her child away. Read about how all three Hemingway children, Ernest and his two siblings, killed themselves. Go back even further, and read about King Henry VIII, or the Crusades.

You'll realize that that this shit has been happening for a long, long, time, and some of us have managed to survive in spite of it. We're still here. Some of us will have children. Some of us won't. We're not special. It's a thing that is. Unto dust we shall return. In the meantime, we take joy wherever we can.
posted by Melismata at 7:49 AM on June 27, 2019 [62 favorites]

I relate to this completely, and I think climate change is different than challenges that humanity (and the rest of life on Earth) has faced in the past. But I also know that there's an enormous difference between two degrees of warming and, say, six degrees or eight degrees. Everything we do matters. And I feel like we're finally seeing more movement politically as people become more engaged on the issue. This is the time to push as hard as we can.
posted by pinochiette at 7:57 AM on June 27, 2019 [12 favorites]

The first thing I would do is stop listening to the news and taking in all the shouting around you. Generations of people have gone through hard times and hard conditions and lived to tell the tale, and have happy lives. Don't let the noise around you frighten you and disable you. You have this life to live and to live it as well and as happily as you can. Do you know that some of the poorest countries have the happiest people. And they have challenges. So shoo away all your fears about the doom of the world, and ask yourself what matters to you in a deeply personal way. What feeds your soul and brings a smile to your face? Is it your family? Is it your friends? Is it the birds chirping in the morning when you get up? Is it listening to music, watching you favourite TV shows. Just calm down and make that list. When you have the list, start trying to surround yourself with those things and make it a goal to enjoy. That's where self care really happens. Fill yourself up with good stuff. With getting so caught up in the news and what people around you are saying, you leave no space inside to take anything else in. You're in this loop and you have to get out. And only when you're at that good place for a while can you make decisions that will give you a good life. You'll be more clear headed and you won't have to ask anyone if, for example, kids or no kids. The answer either way will be in you. And finally, don't despair if this process takes a long time. Take your time and then the good feelings will be deep and real and nothing you hear or see will make you stop your path.
Hang tight.
posted by Tziv at 8:04 AM on June 27, 2019 [14 favorites]

When this kind of thing gets me down, I think of the story of the Bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, who swore to save all sentient beings from suffering even though they are infinite and suffering is eternal. And even she got overwhelmed by the immensity of this task and wanted to give up at some point- yet she committed throughout countless lifetimes to continue this impossible task.

Faced with evil and suffering, it feels impossible to do anything about it. But if everyone pitted themselves towards an impossible task, change would happen. And even though it’s impossible, what’s the alternative? We may as well try.

This doesn’t mean making yourself miserable trying to fix everything. That would increase suffering, not reduce it!. It just means committing yourself to doing whatever good you can. Looking after your own mental health is Good. Doing small kindnesses to people in your life is Good. If you can manage it, things like volunteering are Good. It’s about finding the things you can do in your life and using those opportunities to do good- and appreciating that even the smallest thing is still Good in the face of our impossible task, and is worth doing.
posted by Balthamos at 8:08 AM on June 27, 2019 [15 favorites]

Do you feel inspired at all by the concept of the happy warrior—the idea of someone who takes great pleasure in the struggle and the fight even though she knows it’s futile? I have always found inspiration in Camus’ ”The Myth of Sisyphus”.
posted by sallybrown at 8:12 AM on June 27, 2019 [8 favorites]

You know how when somebody has a near death experience, they sometimes suddenly see life differently and realise their real priorities? Climate change is my near death experience. Yes, its a constant sense of doom, but it also spurs me to make the most of the time I have now. Spend more time with my family. Do small acts of good in the world. Commit to projects and creativity.

There are some people who can throw themselves into fixing this, but I am not one of them. My mental health would not allow it. But at least if it all goes to hell in 10, 20 years, I will not regret how I spent my time.

You just do the best you can, and when it all gets too much - take a walk, feel the wind on your face and the sun on your back, and enjoy the now. It's OK to embrace some joy, even when it feels like things are crumbling around you.
posted by stillnocturnal at 8:19 AM on June 27, 2019 [15 favorites]

I agree with others that you may be exposing yourself to too much toxic news. The world has always had problems. Injustice, inequality, war, suffering have been the plagues of humanity - sometimes self-inflicted, sometimes not.

Just try to not be part of the problem. That is the best we can all do. Anything you can do beyond that, to try and make things better is a good thing and makes you a good person:

1) Vote and encourage others to vote. Large scale issues like Climate change will require big policy changes. We need the right people in power and to hold the polluting companies responsible.
2) Simplify your life. Don't be that person who has convinced themselves they need an SUV to get across town. It doesn't mean relinquishing joy but the opposite - finding joy in simpler things. If you are able - and only if you are able to - favor public transport or biking or walking.
Think twice about buying new things. What do you really need?
3) Learn about Nature - trees, birds, animals. Be more aware of your surroundings. This too can be joyful.
4) Don't travel just to travel. If you have to see family/friends then of course. If you have always wanted to go to NYC or to see the Grand Canyon, then go. But don't be one of those people who asks "Where should I go?" because the answer to that is: stay home and find something to do locally.
5) If you really want to have kids, have them. But if you are having kids because its the thing to do/your parents/neighbors expect you to/you are feeling bored with your spouse - then don't. Please don't.

If most people just did the above things we'd be closer to a solution. If you do the above things already then you are doing the right things. If you want to do more, there are lots of ways to do more.
posted by vacapinta at 8:20 AM on June 27, 2019 [12 favorites]

I would add to the suggestions that you read/listen/watch less news for now. Focus on taking care of yourself right now. I feel the same helplessness at times. I try to snap out it quickly by reminding myself of things I'm greatful for. It may not seem like it sometimes, but there are many people with you. We're working to fight climate change. I for one will definitely do more to get out the vote next election. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by almost 3 million. If we get out the vote in 2020, we can start to turn things around.
posted by mundo at 8:35 AM on June 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mediate your news consumption, especially the social media froth. Remember that if you're incapacitated with fear and anger and grief you're no good to anyone, so it is actually part of your activism to make sure you only take in what you can manage. This is not going to spare you the great crisis points but it should ease the day-to-day stress, which is in some ways harder to manage.
posted by praemunire at 8:38 AM on June 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

The other suggestions are all good. As someone who suffers from this sort of overwhelmed paralysis (shouting 'we're all going to hell! it all needs fixing' and kind of ending there), I would add: just pick a thing. Anything you care about. Give yourself a smaller, more manageable frame for all the chaos.

What do you care about: women's rights? Police brutality? Climate change? Gerrymandering? Pick the thing that's going to motivate you and just do SOMETHING about it. Other people will pick different things and it will all even out (I tell myself). But you'd be surprised how very very very many people do nothing at all. So doing one thing is actually pretty impressive. It's impossible to do everything you want to, so start small, do one thing, and be proud. That wasn't so hard, was it? Then think about doing it again.
posted by catesbie at 8:42 AM on June 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

Kind of relating to the 1st comment here....

This is just the latest horrific event in a long history of them. Just think how many millions of innocent men, women and children were brutalised, enslaved, and made to work and die to create the wealth we take for granted today in the West.

You and your ilk will be fine a hundred years from now. You need to focus outward and try and use every ounce of your being, skill, creativity and energy to craft the world going forward for those less privileged that you and I.

I don't mean to be harsh. I see your pain, and I feel it too, but what those politicians are doing is no different from all those in and of power over the centuries. They will sustain their way of life at the expense of countless other people and creatures and ecosystems. But remember.... IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN THAT WAY.

If you want hope, find it in the solace that more people than ever think the way you and I do. There is a growing movement that can become a flood. The future doesn't have to be for the 1%. Remember that every day you wake up and use it to drive everything you do, however large or small it seems.
posted by 0bvious at 8:44 AM on June 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

When asked a similar question on NPR, an Iranian women's rights activist said, "Optimism is a political act."

That has stuck with me: optimism as a verb, not a noun. Optimism is the first step of activism. It is not the result of a logical weighing of possible outcomes. It is the first action you take to affect the outcomes.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:26 AM on June 27, 2019 [42 favorites]

"The Power of Now" and many books like it encourage us to live in the present moment rather than inhabiting anxieties about the past or future. Sure, we can project all manner of bad things into our futures, but even if those things are in some way inevitable they are not upon us yet. It's a skill that requires patience and practice, but perhaps it would be useful for you.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:27 AM on June 27, 2019

It seems like you're panicking because you think you personally, individually, can solve this crisis if you just focus enough. You can't. I too used to work in a field I was passionate about, but I realized me working in that field hurt me more than it helped anyone else. Sometimes it's better to be the person outside the field who can continue time and money towards it. Don't make yourself panic, lose hope, give up, and stop contributing. It's much more important to show up every day and contribute consistently than to throw yourself into it and burn out before the problem is solved.

And not to be a downer, but that volcano in Yosemite might blow and kill us all before climate change really gets to us. Or maybe we'll be hit by an asteroid in 5 years. We can't control when bad things happen, they just do. Enjoy what you have and work to solve the problems we can hopefully fix, but don't assume that throwing yourself into this and burning out will lead to a better outcome than consistent work.
posted by Penguin48 at 9:34 AM on June 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've found that getting outside, doing enough physical activity to make myself physically tired and going to movies/dinner with friends/etc helps a lot. Anything that is immersive will break up the cycle of fear and sorrow. Like, yesterday I rode my bike a lot in the sun and ate a random burrito while sitting outside on some steps, then went to an event, and I felt much, much better afterward than before. So much better, in fact, that it made me recognize how irrational I am. Nothing had actually changed except that I was tired and my reasoning had been interrupted. But you can't beat not thinking "fear despair fear despair" all the time.

If you really want my opinion - and this is ask metafilter, so you must - climate change and the events obviously coming down the pike are not things that can be hacked by reasoning or by taking individual action. Really bad things are coming. There is no power of positive thinking or look-for-the-helpers or but-some-humans-will-somehow-probably-survive or humans-have-suffered-before that makes those things seem trivial or go away. What is coming is largely out of our hands, because it's going to be the result of the interaction of huge, worldwide forces. It's going to be titanic and terrible, even if what happens is a world revolution and sending all the bankers and ICE bosses and plastic-makers to re-education. You can't think your way out of planetary events.

So my point is, don't think it. Hack the process of thinking. Think when you need to, decide when you need to, and interrupt your thinking as much as possible otherwise. Tire yourself out, shock yourself into a new modality. This will give you resilience and contentment in the moment.

We're small. What's coming is big. We're used to being able to reason and act and to believe that we can get results. We can't do that now, except on an infinitesimal, snowflake-in-an-avalanche way.
posted by Frowner at 9:39 AM on June 27, 2019 [18 favorites]

Two things:

1. You say "I know I could commit my time to volunteering for the cause...but to what end? I want change on a bigger scale." But large-scale change ONLY happens through the small-scale actions of many, many people working together. For myself - I work for a local nonprofit dedicated to increasing the use of non-automotive transportation. We're not shutting down Exxon or anything, but when I look at the stats showing a year-over-year increase in biking in my city, and see new bike lanes popping up all over, it feels good. If there was a version of my org in every American city we would be so much farther along than we are now.

2. Philosophically, I take the long view. This isn't something I really 'chose' to do, it's just my personal outlook and won't resonate with everyone. But - well, absolute worst case scenario, humans die out, life on our planet recovers from our mass extinction event just like it's recovered from the last five, and new forms of life learn to thrive in the world we left. Better case scenario: humans don't die out but various forms of terrible chaos happen as climate change gets worse. It sucks - but humans have existed for 100,000 years, and in just the ~10,000 years of history we have we've seen countless collapses and plagues and wars and disasters, and humanity adapted and recovered and thrived and learned each time. If any part of the planet remains habitable by humans at all, we as a species will figure it out.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:57 AM on June 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Humans have been humans for ~200,000 years. There is an ice age every 25,000 years or so. So humans without the benefit of technology have made it through massive climate changes a number of times (as have wildlife).

One thing that has really effected me was hearing an interview with a wildlife photographer who specializing in documenting species before they go extinct (talk about feeling depressed about the future). After his wife nearly died from cancer, they had a real change of priorities. They took their savings and bought a piece of property in Nebraska where the Long Billed Curlew nests and put it in a trust.

We can't predict the future (to quote Yogi Berra "Making predictions is hard, especially about the future), but we can be pretty sure that future generations of humans and animals would rather be presented with a patch of nature rather than a decrepit strip mall, no matter the average temperature.

Learn from the past - people used to live in a manner that didn't wreck up the environment.
Live a simple life in the present - don't fall for solutions that encourage consumerism.
Conserve for the future - give the future a gift, not a debt.
posted by 445supermag at 10:12 AM on June 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

Get out in the nature you love. Hug trees make reasonable promises, live with less, but let nature soothe you and let your love help you find a way to help.
posted by Oyéah at 10:59 AM on June 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I definitely have times that I feel like you do. But I also have times of great optimism, partly because I have kids and work with young people, and they are really engaged in this in a way that my generation has not been. I hate Doug Ford and what he's doing in Ontario with the passion of 10,000 fiery suns, and I protest and write letters and donate to places, but I also believe he is an absolute dinosaur, that the age of white old climate deniers is passing, and even the conspiracy theorist youth will not ever have the same amount of power that people like Doug Ford and Donald Trump have now, because the kids who are starting to consolidate their bases and have power are the ones doing degrees in environmental studies and building sustainable companies.

I came to say that I think the difference, perhaps, between me and you is actually that you are struggling with mental health issues and perhaps your nihilism is a part of that. Not because it's completely irrational, but because it is eating away at your experience right here, right now.

When I was growing up, we all considered ourselves right at the brink of nuclear war. That's like, 45+ years ago now and in that time I've grown up, had kids, my kids are growing up...and we have had so much joy and so many days of wonder. Without a nuclear war. That's not to say that's an accident - there has been activism and diplomacy and ethical behaviour all contributing to that. But imagine if I had spent my life stocking and restocking my bunker and staying up at night worrying about it constantly. I would have missed so much in between.

The climate crisis is here and yes, I think there will be some rough times ahead for humanity...but all you actually have is the present. Mental illness can prevent you from experiencing the present by lying to you that you have to feel your future potential bad right now.

So please do keep on with the great work you are doing to help your mental health so that you can enjoy today. It will help you find what you are able to do as an individual, and how to help those more impacted. Go camping! Find ways to enjoy what's here now, while behaving as ethically as possible with respect to your footprint and supporting ethical companies and ethical politicians. No one will thank you for letting your concern get in the way of your joy.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:11 AM on June 27, 2019 [8 favorites]

This part jumped out at me:

I have been focusing on self-improvement lately due to mental health problems and it feels futile when there are such bigger concerns out there.

Consider it this way, then: you are working on self-improvement right now so that you can better rejoin the fight about the bigger concerns when you are ready. It's like you're a baseball player that sprained their ankle in the middle of a game - when that happens, that player leaves the game to take care of themselves. They don't tough it out and stay in the game, they leave to go heal.

And it's not because they don't think the game is important - on the contrary, they are taking care of themselves precisely because the game is important. So important, in fact, that the team is counting on having them at their best. And if something happens and they're not at their best, they stop and take care of themselves first and the rest of the team takes over for a while.

That's what you're doing now. You are not able to bring your best self to work for the world right now, and you need to take care of yourself a little first. That's fine. There are others out here on the team that can take over, and we'll be happy when you're healed and can join us again, in whatever form that joining us takes (maybe you realize you're focusing only on one thing, we'll say "great, that could use some more help, go for it!").

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:32 AM on June 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

I've been struggling with the same stuff recently-- I think a ton of us are.

I often feel a lot of despair about climate change. That said, seeing the recent wave of climate activism in the news (like Extinction Rebellion and school strikes) actually makes me more hopeful than ever before. I've recently gotten involved with a local activist group, which makes me feel like at least I'm doing something. If you don't have the capacity to do that now, could you afford a small monthly donation to an activist group or environmental charity?

I think focussing on personal lifestyle changes can really breed guilt and obsession, and we all know the system is the problem. But y'know, they never hurt, and I've made choices this year to buy all my new clothes secondhand and cut way down on plastics.

I try to limit my news consumption as well and not click on "we're all gonna die in 10 years!" type articles. People like us, we already know climate change is real, we don't need to read it again.
posted by noxperpetua at 12:05 PM on June 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I found Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark (extract, review, Amazon) very helpful after Trump's election (the publisher was giving it away free for a while).
posted by col_pogo at 12:37 PM on June 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is my approach, YMMV, but it is helping me:

First I am learning the reality of climate change and what we know as well as what we don't know. There is so much we don't know yet - it was only in 2015 that we learned that the Greenland ice shelf and the Arctic ice shelf are melting much, much faster than expected. I am accepting that the current levels of carbon and methane in the atmosphere mean that the normal of our recent past is gone, there is no new normal, and there isn't going to be.

Part of what I do regarding anything is learn as much as I can. I just finished reading David Wallace-Wells's The Uninhabitable Earth. Now I am searching out some of the sources he cites and finding other sources to deepen and broaden my understanding. I think that one of the things he talks about in the book is interesting: we know that some things ARE going to happen; we cannot predict the time scale and that the actions of humanity will influence the time scale.

He also exposes our shared mythology around individual actions. The aggregate carbon emissions of all individuals are so small a percentage compared to industrial and agricultural emissions, that individual carbon footprint reduction is symbolic at best.

I am still processing what I am learning.

Second, I am moving to bold acceptance. Climate change is here and it isn't going away. All the interacting cycles of environments and societies are complex enough to make it really hard for me to hold more than a superficial sense of the whole. Part of that acceptance is acknowledging that we have seen this coming for at least 50 years and instead of seriously addressing it, we have done fuck-all. I suspect we do not have the political will to put down our guns and pitchforks until we are forced, and even then....

I think we can expect an increasing swell of climate refugees and diminishing agricultural yields. I think that isolationism and nationalism are crimes against humanity. I am accepting that my life will change and that there is too much uncertainty to even be able to guess what that looks like.

I find this oddly comforting. All I can do is live each day and try to contribute more than I take and to try to build space for others to make their contributions. I will unfold what is in front of me and continue on.

TLDR: Climate change is here and will continue dealing out devastating effects regardless of what humanity and individuals do. That's my baseline. Accepting that gives me power to choose how I respond.

I think we all have to pay attention to current events/news in the way that works for us. I think it's important to not check out completely. That is what I see so many people doing and that is part of why we are where we are.
posted by Altomentis at 12:43 PM on June 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sadly, Global Climate Change is a genuine existential threat to humans. Congratulations, you have comprehended reality.

Do what you can do. Write and call Senators, Cong. Reps, State Reps. Often. Join protests. Letters to the Editor. Reduce your carbon footprint as much as is reasonable.

I get some hope from Project Drawdown, headed by Paul Hawken, which has researched what can be done. Climate Change is happening, but there are things we still can (and must) do, and we may be able to manage the way we respond to Climate Change to reduce human suffering. My efforts in the 2020 election are definitely shaped by this issue more than any other. I try to share news on social media that I think might help people act. I try to communicate to local and national news organizations that the issue needs better coverage.

Then, make a conscious decision to live your life, continuing to do what you can, but accepting that don't have ultimate control. I don't read scary articles or books much; I'm already convinced that Climate Change is real and it doesn't prompt me to act more. When an issue makes you anxious, deservedly or not, you can teach yourself to think about other stuff. Consciously say to yourself climate Change scares me, for good reason. Have I done my part this week? No? Go write a letter. Yes? Go read a novel. That's a wild over-simplification, but Conscious Behavior Therapy, Meditation, Relaxation, are all useful techniques.
posted by theora55 at 1:02 PM on June 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Read the work of academics like Michael Mann at Penn State, an internationally renowned climate scientist who is much more optimistic about our future than the likes off the twitter and Reddit Doom cults. Read serious forums and articles about climate science run by real experts and not filtered through the crude lens of armchair or self-styled "experts. " Those sorts of forums help me realize that frightening headlines like "glaciers melting 70 years faster than anticipated" we get slammed with day after day are things serious scientists have known for ages and have factored into their public projections and models.
posted by shaademaan at 1:32 PM on June 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

I've just been fortunate enough to read an early copy of James Lovelock's new book, Novacene. He's 100 years old next month and furiously optimistic about the future of the planet: he believes Artificial Intelligence will figure out how to handle climate change, much sooner than we expect.

Prof Lovelock is the chap who proposed the Gaia theory in the eighties, that Earth is an mega-organism and one that has been looking after itself very well for the past four-and-a-half billion years. The book left me feeling calmer about our prospects – and more aware of how lucky I am to be alive on our unique and extraordinary world.
posted by MinPin at 1:50 PM on June 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Reading the news and climate change updates simply doesn't help. Do as much as you can personally, but you don't have to read the latest update on ice levels or whatever. Protecting your ability to energetically act on whatever you feel is your oar to row is a valuable step to take. I personally greatly restrict my media and news intake for exactly this reason.
posted by salvia at 3:08 PM on June 27, 2019

Oh no... I think you are only seeing part of the picture. Our media is a pervasive monster like never before in the history of human existence. And it focuses on the BAD - because that sells. It's biased and sloppy... coming at you from every angle.

I'd encourage you to broaden your view. Here, Harvard professor Steven Pinker poses the question is the world getting better or worse? Great answer - numbers based.

Medical care is better, dental care is better, more people live freely, fewer in poverty, people live much longer. There are lots of examples of the other side of the news story. They don't get reported a lot, because they don't motivate clicks and ad revenue.

Women's rights and maltreatment have been in the news. So have many LBGTQ issues.... but that means change is happening. Upsetting to hear, but good to get action on.

Check into the Gates Foundation, and see what awesome stuff is going on there Tremendous and inspiring successes.

Yes, we've got a wack-a-doo president, and things are extreme now... but if you look back in history, they always have been. Which is a bummer... but we perservere and IMPROVE!

And don't count out the human species. Yes, we're volatile and violent... but we're also incredibly resourceful and clever... can we modify our climate? I think perhaps we can.

Finally, I believe, because of our "blip" short lifespans in the grand scheme, we tend to want immediate results. Grand changes often happen over lifetimes and centuries, not years. So give yourself hope that for your kids, things will be even better. (And the world will still be nuts).
posted by ecorrocio at 4:08 PM on June 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Hey, I could have written your question. Here is the best I have come to:

Ought implies can. I cannot materially impact the course of climate change at this point in history any more than my father could materially impact his cancer on his deathbed. Therefore it cannot be my obligation to prevent climate change.

On the flip side: if I prevent suffering, I have prevented suffering. This is true regardless of how much suffering remains outside my reach. The fact that I believe with high confidence that there will be tremendous suffering in the future that I cannot prevent if anything makes it more important that I act to prevent suffering in the present when I can.

My suffering is as laudable to reduce as anyone else's.

Also I've basically cut out most media consumption on the grounds that it causes me distress without meaningfully increasing my ability to act as I wish to.
posted by PMdixon at 5:16 PM on June 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have hope when I see bold technological leaps being taken and remember how much technological progress can be made in a relatively short period of time. I love following climate news with an optimistic twist, and in the meantime do as much activism, buying carbon offsets, and donating funds as I can. So activism plus informed optimism, I guess.
posted by Threeve at 9:58 PM on June 27, 2019

I've just finished a farming conference about 3 hours ago (go to my twitter) - mind blown, I'm now decompressing.

Things are changing REALLY fast. Five years ago, nay three, audiences would have heckled speakers at an agric conf presenting on - veganism, climate change response, having a carbon neutral farm, a carbonless supply chain, gosh even a 1 hour talk on being very critical about using gyphosate, and many other things besides. These people are mostly BSC level (or higher) working farmers - they really know what climate change means, and are working toward whatever that future holds.

Work on protecting yourself, but also get out there and meet with folk responding, and maybe take part.
posted by unearthed at 11:47 PM on June 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

First up; you've gotta put on your own oxygen mask before you're at all useful helping others. If it's all you're able to do, that still feels entirely ethical to me.

Regarding deserts, "Should I be moving to a desert when it could become (un)inhabitable". Deserts have pretty much *always* been uninhabitable. They're deserts. If it helps your health, hell yes, move to one, with the awareness that you may need to leave in thirty years if the heat gets substantially worse? Alternatively, move to one and power HVAC off of solar, and... yeah, that's pretty much permanently habitable, and slowly and steadily pushes forward the solar industry, which again, win.

It feels fine to have a kid or two. It would feel a bit odd to have ten. Specifically, two is status quo - it replaces you and your partner. Because of that, more than two feels a bit greedy on that front. Up-to-two feels - again - entirely ethical.

Finally, try taking a one month break from social media, or at least unsubscribe from pretty much every channel you've got that's feeding you negative input. You'll be less informed, temporarily, and that's A-OK; you've gotta put your own oxygen mask before you're useful helping others.
posted by talldean at 3:51 AM on June 28, 2019

When confronting an enormous gigantic complex problem there are a few principles that work.

1. Start doing something. Anything. Most problems get solved in two minute increments. So if you do two minutes you are going in the right direction. Two minutes of research. Two minutes of petition signing; two minutes of starting tree seedlings in the bottom drawer of your fridge.

2. Don't try to take on too much. If you decide to plant a forest by Wednesday next week you will be exhausted and unsuccessful. So limit what you do, and the time you spend on the problem. Figure out a reasonable commitment, such as ten minutes three times a day, or an hour twice a day. Do not embark upon eight hours a day unless you are being given an income to do just that.

3. Figure out where your efforts will be most successful. Giving up using drinking straws is not it, and you know it. So sit down and look at the research other people have already done. We know planting trees is one thing that will make an enormous difference. If we could plant a billion trees we'd be halfway to solving the problem. If everyone in the world planted one tree... we'd have a lot more than a billion!Climate change denial is being funded by a very small group of people, unfortunately those who own the government. So focus your efforts on prying the government out of their hands by organizing other people to spread the word of this necessity. - There are seven or eight other really likely-to-be-extremely-helpful fields you could get into that could make an enormous change. Read about the problem enough to figure out one or two such projects that would be possible for you and look for other people to work on these projects with you.

4. Stop freaking out at the size of the problem. Stop reading the horror stories about the dying Arctic or the Tar Sands of Alberta. You already know they are out there and this is happening, right? You are not getting more information when you read about these things. So make a point to not read the details. Don't listen to them either if you are an auditory processor. Every podcast you listen to about how the world is ending is twenty minutes you are NOT spending on saving the world. If you want to use encountering such articles and stories as incentive to do something it is a good trigger event. See an article about dying polar bears? Donate another $2 to an organization dedicated to saving us from climate change. Or write to your local supermarket asking them to reduce packaging, and informing them that you and your friends will preferentially shop at any store that protects the meat and fish unwrapped behind a glass case enabling you to pick it by pointing at it, and then will wrap it in waxed paper for you. (Use a template you modify for different types of stores.) Or sit down with that community college text book on installing solar panels and work on being ready to install them for any of your friends, relatives or neighbours come to you for help. Do something practical each time you get the trigger events that make you despair.

5. Set yourself a routine of checking each day if you have met a climate change combat goal, and then, if you have, keep reminding yourself that you have met that goal. Today I met my goal of writing to five politicians. When the goal is met, forget it. You don't have to do more. You don't need to do more. You have done what is reasonable.

6. Connect to other people. People do what they see their neighbours doing. We are sheep. So work with that. Demonstrate that you are doing practical things, and demonstrate what those practical things are, and demonstrate how easy they are. Don't tell your neighbours "We should vote green because..." Put up a sign saying "Green!" Avoid debate. You want to get people involved, not with arguments, but because they are afraid of being left behind. This is much more effective than actually debating with people. Rather than tell people that they should install solar panels, learn to install them and drop of business cards informing everyone in the neighbourhood that you install them, for free and have installed several of the $110 ones available at Home Depot for people in the area already. Or tell them about the plant based waxed paper you use to wrap your food instead of plastic. Or tell them about the get together at the park where they can bring their kids on Saturday and learn about starting tree seedlings at home. Listen for times when you can proselytize. Any time anyone says anything to you about worrying about climate change, change the subject to what you and others in their community are doing. "We are getting good feedback from the city about them providing spots of land for us to plant our trees."

7. Remember the long view that success or failure does not matter. Whether or not climate change goes runaway, you will be dead in 100 years. Whether or not you have children, they will be dead in 200 years. Whether or not we solve climate change the climate will change enormously in 50 million years and all currently living species will be unrecognizable or extinct. Whether or not we get our species and life itself off this planet the sun will collapse into a red giant and then die, if you give it enough time. You could be dead by Tuesday, if your brakes fail, so let next week take care of itself.

8. Remember the short term view that this moment, this second is where you are now and fill it with serenity and beauty. Look at the green and growing and breath deep. Look at a bird and marvel that it is a dinosaur. Feel your shoulders. Stretch. enjoy playing with words when you write letters. Enjoy adapting to change when you used waxed paper wrap instead of plastic. Enjoy making things grow. Glory in the fight when you combat the fossil fuel oligarchs. You are David against Goliath, Love against Hate.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:23 AM on June 28, 2019 [8 favorites]

Keep in mind that our media is under the pressure of evolution. This means that features are increasing in how much they grab your attention. Features that you can ignore are disappearing. Stories and ads and articles and pictures that you see are the ones that you have the most trouble ignoring. This means that instead of dry articles about soil conservation studies you get pictures of devastated land with text describing how air borne dust is causing fungus infections in agricultural labourers' lungs and unknown numbers of them are being crippled or dying. This means that the stories you read are polarizing and are designed to create shock, outrage and obsession. Not only is the media doing this to get your attention, but enemies of the state are doing it as disinformation, such as where the Russian meme generators are deliberately posting memes on both sides of the vaccination issue, in order to sow division in the US.

So look at your media with some thought and consider how accurate, well researched and biased it is. That story about agricultural workers had very few numbers - it suggested that hundreds or thousands of workers may be affected but tells us we have no way to know. And while there may indeed be some definite truths in the story, it is also, very definitely fear mongering. Compare that type of journalism with urban legends "And to this day nobody knows where he is!" and to propaganda. You'll see that a lot of what you are seeing and reading is deeply polarized and is manipulating you.

A good exercise is to try to parse one of these outrage articles and figure out if there is a strawman argument, and if the Other Side really does what it says or supports what they are doing whole heartedly. I've noticed that the media is shouting about how bad the concentration camps are, and has a couple of pull quotes about media figures who are gloating about how good they are, but it is not showing how concerned bewildered and disturbed many people on the Right are reacting, and how they are flailing for answers - which you can't give them either. There is a chorus of one side screaming "It's YOUR FAULT!" and the other side saying, "No it's not!" or "It's not really a problem!" because they have been put on the defensive, and very little discussion on either side of what practical solutions can be found to the underlying problems.

So stop taking your media as being a good source of information. Look at it as if you were learning what life in America is like solely through TV commercials. They certainly show some traits but they are such a limited version of what is going on, so cherry picked, that you need to remind yourself that the media reporting on global climate change is only reporting the stories that will increase ratings.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:57 AM on June 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

It occurs to me that we are in the position of the first generation after the death of any possibility of a rational belief in God. That generation lost hope of Heaven, but still had hope for a better future for their offspring. Now we have lost hope of a better future. I think that humans are no more likely to become extinct than rats or sparrows, but it seems unlikely the future is anything we would wish on our descendants.

The good thing is that we can use the tools our predecessors used. Live with care for the moment. Remember that you have dominion over the work, but not over the fruits thereof. Eyes down, hands on the work. Sit and follow your breathing. Do all the good that is within your power, and cease to think of anything that is out of your power. Occupy yourself as completely as possible with what is immediate, necessary or useful.
posted by ckridge at 5:04 AM on June 28, 2019

My area of research deals with climate change's impact on my profession. Here is how I deal with this:

1. Recognizing that yes this is a big deal and getting upset about it means you are responding like a compassionate concerned person. Even climate scientists deal with what you're going through. Feeling scared and anxious and sad means you're paying attention. Congratulations, this means you're ready to do the work.

2. Climate change both is and isn't like massive tragedies humans have faced before. Reading the histories of the survival of marginalized communities in the face of colonialism especially is very instructive - both because we can learn a lot from how other communities have experienced apocalypse before, but also because marginalized communities will continue to experience climate change disproportionately. If we want to chart a new path forward, environmental justice and indigenous knowledge need to be foregrounded. I have found histories of both to be very inspiring for both a historical look at hope against all odds plus imagining what a better future looks like.

3. Bill McKibben once said the most important thing you can do as an individual about climate change is to shed "being an individual". Join a local environmental or climate activist group, or if that isn't in the cards, think about how to cultivate an environmental perspective to communities you're already part of. (whenever I'm out hiking and see a foot bridge made by an Eagle Scout, I'm grateful for all the environmental stewardship the Boys Scouts have done, even though we don't conceive of them as an "environmental group")

4. Look up climate grief. This is real, and you are not alone. A lot of people find the work of Joanna Macy helpful in this arena. I also really like the podcasts How To Survive the End of the World, For the Wild, and No Place Like Home, which are all women-led podcasts that often touch on themes of grief and collapse within the environmental world but with a great deal of emphasis on not letting this paralyze forward movement.

5. I personally find being out in nature helps me more than anything with my grief and rage about what is happening to the world. Last year we replaced our front yard turf with native plants, now every day I see pollinators of all kinds (who knew there was a moth that looks like a hummingbird!!!) visiting my flowers. When I can, I try to get out hiking. Spending time immersed in nature is so healing, and I firmly believe we have to keep realizing that life continues to bloom even amidst the death.
posted by mostly vowels at 12:11 PM on June 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

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