A Multipotentialite Response to Climate Change?

A Multipotentialite Response to Climate Change?

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Support

In recent articles on Puttylike, we’ve talked about some difficult, painful problems. Some of these problems even have no solution.

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.

Climate Systems

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.

Your Turn

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.

neil_2017_2Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a hilarious and useful guide to life with anxiety, and The Shop Before Life, a novel set in the prelife. He also spends his time on humorous talks about mental health, standup comedy, physics, computer programming, and everything from music, video games, languages and pub quizzes. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you said hello at enhughesiasm.com.


  1. Celine D says:

    Hi Emilie.

    thanks for your article on climate change. If you are wondering about action that we can do, or environment climate and health nexus, there is an European project call HERA Health Environment research agenda. You can find more information on the hera website. Links for online survey are available on Twitter. @HERAresearch

    More answer we get, better will be our results.

    If you have any question, please let me know.

  2. Lisa says:

    Yes yes yes YES!!!!! I believe the focus on individual solutions rather than systemic ones is the single biggest failure of the environmental movement in my lifetime. 70% of climate emissions are caused by 100 fossil fuel corporations — whose CEOs make tens of millions annually in salary alone — and they’ve got us down here debating about plastic straws. ???

    LOVE your analogy with mental health too. I get SO ANGRY when people tell me to see a therapist about my anxiety over climate change. Oh yeah, sure, TALKING about it is gonna make me FEEL BETTER about the capitalist dystopia that’s currently destroying our future! We’re already halfway to 2 degrees of warming, and somewhere between 2 and 4 degrees civilization will break down and feedback loops will kick in a runaway warming scenario, and at 6 degrees the phytoplankton in the ocean will die and there’ll be no oxygen in the atmosphere, but the real problem here is MY WORRIED FEELINGS. ????

    Collective action is the way to solve this. I honestly don’t really believe it’s even possible to solve anymore, but I’m determined to go down fighting at least. Extinction Rebellion has had the focus of all my multipotentialite energy over the past year! And I’m also working on resiliency projects in my neighborhood because at this point the BEST case scenarios are all still pretty terrible. Like, it’s a question of whether global food production is gonna decrease by 10-20% or 70-80% in the next 10-20 years. My city will likely not be underwater though (other than temporary floods, but not permanent sea water rise) so I’m doing everything I can to build what we need here.

    Oh and I’m going to nursing school. Planning to focus on wilderness medicine. For when civilization falls apart and wilderness medicine is all we have. ?????

    • Lisa I’m interested in your resiliency projects in your neighbourhood. Is there a blog or website where I can read more? An environmental group I’m a part of is discussing this as well. With thanks.

  3. Richard Herron says:

    I only recently learned of my rainforest mindset, and that I’m also a multipotentialite. I am also a mid-line HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) and sometimes worry about the planet. The Human Condition on planet earth may be short term, but hopefully not.

    • rajni gupta says:

      Exactly me. Everyday I try to remain focus on one thing, to learn, to apply, one aim to look forward to, but end up adding another one

  4. Susan says:

    Dear Neil,
    as always, you made it clear. Only managing my feelings would not solve the problem. What am I doing instead? Well i first do manage my feelings. Being paralyzed is not helpfull. But next step is action.
    Change my habits. Join my children at “Fridays for future”-
    Use my possiblities as a member of a democratic society.
    Hope and pray for a good outcome.
    Yours Susan

  5. Paula Prober says:

    Two great books on the subject with lots of ideas: A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries by Terry Patten and The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution by Mary DeMocker. Also, you can send financial support to activist organizations and to politicians who are speaking out. Vote out the politicians who are in denial. Look at what Van Jones is doing via his organizations. There are many things we can do!

  6. Charles Garnsworthy says:

    I have lots of thoughts on this topic but just a brief one first of all to bring some other expertise into the frame: I want to draw everyone’s attention to a book called Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. I almost cried with relief when I came across it. It offers practical, prioritised, credible ideas which we can as a species collaborate around and build upon. I will carry on with my own Heath Robinson creative ways to reduce reuse and recycle but I am heartened that there are great ideas there which stimulate me in all sorts of positive ways.

    I have faith we will be ok but this will need as much of our diverse magic as we can muster and our hearts and minds believing in action and having as faith. This book gave me grounds for hope at a practical, material level. I think it’s important we think and behave mindfully on other levels too.

    I am an advocate for promoting compassion and selfless love for one another. I won’t even begin to pretend I am anything other than a beginner and I often make mistakes. But I pick myself up and dust myself down and I keep going with this. This topic surely is one where altruism is wise selfishness. Any other personal problems are dwarfed by it and we are talking about our common home, our planet and indeed our conscious awareness of life in our universe and, if unchecked, all that it means to us.

    I find that I at least need faith to neutralise the understandable yet deeply unhelpful terror and/or depression that can verge on despair. Compassion both nips the blame game in the bud and enables real collaboration and forgiveness when we might otherwise become tempted by competition and compromise. Blaming and getting angry is natural but let’s let it go as soon as we can because we only end up realising we ourselves are as much to blame and as responsible as anyone else if we don’t.

    I believe we collectively all need to work on our inner and on our outer worlds. We need to take personal responsibility and collaborate to be effective collectively. We need to be calm and we need to have faith and hope. I think if we put compassion at the centre of what we do and act in that spirit, realising we are all of one kind, then our differences are become just the gifts we need, and no longer something to divide and control. Each life is a gift; each life is a vessel. We each have a purpose to share that is special.

  7. Cheetiri Smith says:

    Thanks for the great post! It’s a debilitating and overwhelming problem for me because climate change is happening, will continue to happen, and all we can do is our best to change the system and try to cope with the changes that are unknown and coming. I see this deeply tied to polarization, an inability to empathize and general ambivalence. A lot of it is definitely overwhelm.

    A popular number that has been going around is that it takes 3.5% of a population to be mobilized for movement to make an impact. So what can we do to take action but also make sure we are taking care of our own health. We need each and all of us to be resilient and compassionate in the future.

    I’ve been volunteering with Sunrise, a youth led climate activist group. I’m also trying to have more conversations about the things I see and notice I. The world: like look at all this packaging, it makes me not want to buy it, or can we take Tupperware to take home leftovers. These small actions can start more conversations which might help more action.

    Oh and we just need more people making decisions who are reasonably intelligent and have the interest of general people in mind. So that’s a political movement that is currently happening.

    What I try to remember is that progress is
    Slowly being made and it feels overwhelming and slow, but if more people are involved, we can trust that when we take time off to care for our
    Own mental health it means things won’t fall a part because the movement needs us, but it’s bigger than just us.

  8. Tracy says:

    Thank you very much for this post. Climate change issues are causing me much anxiety and dilemmas in terms of what I can do to make a difference, if at all. I am paralyzed by decisions due to finally caring enough about myself to know what I want and then realizing that what I want may not be what is best for the planet in the long run.

    Even though oil companies are the main source of the problem, we are the consumers of their products.

    Where to spend my time and energy at this point in my life, I’m 60, so that I can continue to earn a living but also be a responsible citizen is my biggest concern.

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