After all that, it’s time for a nice, relaxing break to talk about something easy.
Like climate change.
My normal reaction whenever I face up to the reality of our current situation is to immediately stop facing up to the reality of our current situation. Our species trashing our only home is just too big for my brain to absorb.
In a way, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. As humans, we’re terrible at cleaning up after ourselves. Who hasn’t left an extra few dirty plates in the sink, trusting that it’ll all get sorted eventually, somehow? Viewed that way, climate change is just our entire species refusing to think long-term, each believing someone else will sort it eventually.
And now the tower of dirty crockery has piled up so high that it’s threatening to topple over and crush us all. Or something.
Dubious analogies aside, I’m not alone in finding it difficult to think about. Climate scientists have to grapple with the slow decline of our planet’s habitability every day, and—perhaps unsurprisingly—they’re finding it very painful. So at least I’m in good company in feeling overwhelmed.
But the scale of the problem isn’t only frightening—it’s paralyzing. What can any individual do?
A parallel with mental health
I’m no expert in climate change. But I do talk a lot about mental health, and lately I’ve noticed an interesting parallel.
Much of the discourse around mental health encourages everybody to develop better management of thoughts and emotions. Clearly, this is a useful aim. If the entire world were better at managing emotions, things would be better.
But it wouldn’t solve the entire problem.
Teaching individuals to manage their emotions puts the entire responsibility onto us as individuals. It says very little about where those emotions may have come from in the first place.
This matters because we want to react differently depending on the source of the emotion. Being anxious/sad/angry about a genuine problem is good. If I’m in a room that’s on fire, the anxiety motivates me to escape. Or if people are mistreating me, the anger prompts me to speak up, or leave the situation. In contrast, negative emotions when the situation isn’t negative requires some sort of emotional management.
Imagine if we all had perfect emotional management, but lived in a cruel, terrible world. We might use our perfect emotional management to manage this, without ever taking action to fix anything.
For example, if the only response to “does the job market have to be this precarious?” is “here’s a tool for better handling your negative feelings about that” then we might never improve the job market for all of the actual humans that have to engage with it.
Similarly, in the case of climate change, the conversation over the last few decades has often taken place on the individual level. For example, “We should all do more to minimize our carbon footprint.”
Just like with emotional management, this is obviously a good thing. It’s important to reduce wasted energy, switch to renewable providers, and to play our part in reducing demand for fossil fuels… but, realistically, this will only mitigate the problem, rather than solve it.
In an ideal world, we’d solve it at the source, by drastically reducing our reliance on fossil fuels as a species. The problem is systemic, which is part of the reason it’s so frightening to us as individuals.
A multipotentialite response?
Scientists say that solutions exist, if we’re willing to use them. So it appears that this systemic problem is political, and that convincing our politicians to listen to actual experts (i.e. not me) on the specific actions that need to be taken is key.
I’m not an expert, nor a campaigner, and definitely not an expert campaigner. Just a concerned citizen of Earth, who thinks that a community response is more important than any individual action.
Perhaps this is where multipotentialites come in. A community is necessary for a community response. And not only is Puttylike a community itself, it’s made up of people who are themselves members of many communities. This gives us enormous power to ensure this issue isn’t forgotten, by keeping this conversation going across multiple spheres.
Perhaps talking builds pressure which generates action? Maybe. But not talking about it definitely won’t help.
Despite the rational fear of a frightening situation, I do believe there’s hope. All we have to do is be strong enough to face the issue, and determined enough to use whatever little levers of power we have.
Neil might not be an expert, but perhaps you are! Do you have any stories of your involvement in this issue? Or ideas of what the community can contribute? Share your thoughts in the comments.