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Prepare for crisis, resist destruction, enjoy this world
On the art of walking multiple paths simultaneously to prepare for acute crisis, resist continuous destruction of the planet and keep enjoying the beauty of this world.
Welcome back to Climate Psyched, a newsletter where we explore all things related to the psychological aspects of the climate and environmental crises.
A few days ago it rained here in southern Sweden for the first time in over a month. It’s still early summer, but the grass has already grown yellow, the soil dusty and dry. Farmers are crying out warnings of imminent food shortages.
This has been constantly on my mind during the year as I’ve been tending to my growing vegetable plants in our co-op’s communal garden. Taking a beginner’s steps to learn the art of growing my own food has evolved from a fun hobby to providing a sense of safety and resilience, should there be a food shortage in the stores.
The day before the rain fell I got to celebrate some friends’ birthdays, with a party next to the ocean where we spent the evening dancing and singing along to live music and then ran down to the water and let the salty waves cool us off. It was one of those indescribably beautiful Swedish summer nights where the sun barely set before it started rising again. Life felt light.
Recently, I’ve been finding it exhausting to exist in the parallell extremes of living between emerging crises and feeling a deep gratitude for all this life provides. It would somehow be easier to be in full crisis mode, or to completely deny it all, instead of this shifting back and forth. But instead of choosing, we perhaps should find a way to navigate our way forward with all that is here: Prepare for upcoming crisis, keep resisting the continuous destruction of the planet and still allow ourself to enjoy the beauty of this world.
Let’s dive in.
The climate crisis is letting itself be known in more and more explicit ways for every year. In 2023 there’s been massive heat waves in south Asia (made 30 times more likely due to climate change), extensive flooding in Italy, droughts in Spain, and soaring fires in Canada lead to New York City being covered in smoke and ashes a few weeks ago. It’s up to 5 degrees celsius hotter than normal in the Atlantic ocean. To mention a few things.
At the same time as emissions soar, there’s a lot of progress happening, big and small: Wind and solar produce more energy than fossil fuels in the European Union for the first time ever, ex-poachers in Indonesia are now working to restore coral reefs they once destroyed, and in Panama sea turtles are given legal rights, boosting the ‘rights of nature’ movement. To mention a few things.
In the midst of catastrophes and progress, of heatwaves, droughts, political decisions and climate policies are we and our everyday lives, just trying to cope with the complexity of it all.
When discussing what we need to do to tackle climate change, there’s a not uncommon tendency of trying to find the one most efficient thing. But if we want to nurture hope it seems that the ability to explore multiple pathways is essential, as is remembering that we can feel and do several things at once. Climate work isn’t an either or issue. It’s an issue of mitigating the ongoing crises on the global, national, regional, communal and individual level. Of adapting our societies, neighborhoods and our own lives to the impacts of the crises. Of nurturing resilience psychologically, socially and materially. And while we can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything at once, there are many benefits of engaging on several paths parallell to one another - not the least to keep building hope through the actions we take.
Sometimes mitigation, adaptation and building resilience go hand in hand. In a recent study, by Longman et al. (2023), participants from three highly impacted communities in rural Australia participated in workshops designed to explore the mental health impacts of climate change and how to address these. Through the workshops it became clear that collective action, led by the community, nurtures a sense of belonging and social connectedness while also helping the community to adapt to and prepare for consequences of the climate crisis. Furthermore, community level activism and democratic actions seems to offer a constructive response to the frustration and anger caused by governmental inaction. Working together in the community provided meaning and purpose, building resilience while working towards change and strengthening connection to the place.
Examples of community-led activities were, amongst others, nature-based programs, sports clubs, activities that foster secure one-to-one connections, group activities to design a plan for the future, topic specific political protest, emergency services preparing for extreme weather events and psychological first aid training.
Summer is for many (at least in Sweden, where we have a generous vacation law) a time for rest and restoration, of gathering energy to keep us going throughout the dark period of the year. But when the rain ceases to fall and the crops start dying, the sunny weather can become a trigger for climate anxiety. For some this means that each glimpse at the yellow grass or weather forecast is associated with heightened levels of worry. The mere thought of enjoying the sunshine can become associated with guilt. Are we allowed to rest in the sun when the sun is a reminder of the crisis we’re in? Are we allowed to enjoy life at all when the ecosystems are collapsing and people dying? Yes, we are. More so, it seems that feeling gratitude is associated with prosocial behaviors and wanting to give back to the world. As we’ve written about before, balancing action taking with allowing space for pausing and recover is important in the long-term coping of climate related emotions.
On the other side of climate sorrow and worry lies a deep care for this planet, nature, animals and our fellow humans. In the midst of ongoing crises we occasionally need to connect with that and remember why this world is worth to keep fighting for.
Practice doing different things with different purposes, and see how they sometimes can go hand in hand.
Start doing things that will make you feel more safe and prepared in the event of acute crisis such as food or water shortages. Learn how to conserve water, grow your own vegetables, connect with your neighbors and nurture your social support net.
Keep working to end the use of fossil fuels. Organize with others to influence political and corporate decisions. Make your voice heard, and amplify it together with others.
Allow yourself to enjoy the beauty of this world. It won’t make you any less engaged in the climate work, but it might make you more resilient in the marathon that the climate transition is. Pause, soak in the humming of the birds, the love for your dear ones, the amazing vastness of the ocean, and let it all serve as a reminder of why we need to keep fighting.
See you all in a month, or - depending on our own need for rest during the vacation - in August!
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