“Climate Anxiety” and Emotional Well Being

Last night the Deschutes Land Trust hosted what I found to be an extremely thought provoking talk by Dr. Sarah Jaquette Ray. I highly recommend watching the recording. I had not previously been exposed to the study of the intersection of mental health and global warming. My mind is wired so that when I see a problem, no matter how large or daunting, I think analytically and disconnect my emotional state from it. (My daughter the therapist says I am weird.) I had not seriously considered what fear of a less inhabitable planet could do to the mental well being of others. Turns out this is a big problem. My bad. Really interesting talk. Keep reading if you want more opinion on this from me.

Dr. Ray’s presentation could be thought of as having two parts. First, she gave an analysis of the mental health of young people who are overwhelmed by fear of the future. She became aware of this in her environmental studies students at Cal Poly Humboldt University and subsequently began examining the relevant areas in psychology and related fields. I found this part fascinating. Dr. Ray is clearly an insightful, intelligent, passionate, and articulate individual.

I will have to watch it again and spend more time thinking about the second part of her talk where she prescribed ways for people to think and act positively in the face of “climate anxiety”. She spoke about admirable concepts like creating community, redefining our culture and connection with the planet, environment justice, etc. All wonderful ideas. But…

Given all that we know about global warming, and how little time we have to act to avert potentially catastrophic events, I don’t understand the recommendation to slow down and work on changing our culture and relationship with nature. I believe this is a time for forceful, disruptive action.

So, I have to admit that while I hope her prescriptions for addressing global warming and “climate anxiety” bear fruit, I am deeply skeptical. The bottom line from my perspective is that we as a society are not wired to behave in a thoughtful, compassionate, voluntary, mutually beneficial fashion in the time frame required.

With proper leadership we have made great leaps in the past, we now need to make the greatest one ever.