Mental Health and the Climate Crisis

I have to admit that while writing about climate change, I feel, at times, disgusted and overwhelmed. I’d feel alone on a misguided Sisyphean mission. Anxious and depressed.

I decided that I wanted to know whether I was the only one feeling this way or whether I was not alone. Common sense told me that there had to be others given the nature of the subject and the reaction to it. So, I thought I’d research the issue in order to write a brief blog post about the psychological impact of the climate crisis on other activists, and, in particular, this writer.

Anyone subjected to the willful ignorance and paid obfuscation of facts about the climate crisis could feel that their capacity to cope is at a breaking point.

Add in other existential issues like the rise of nationalism around the world, the bigotry and inequality, the Trumpian bullying assault on common decency, the consequences of demographic shifts, the ongoing global cyberwar and local civil wars and one could assume that we are not looking at a rosy future. More likely, in Henry Miller’s terms, a “rosy crucifixion”. 

It’s going to get worse as the climate crisis worsens and droughts, floods, disease, famine, and war become more the norm than the exception. The Four Horsemen are saddled and only global action can prevent their ride across the planet. Are they coming down Route 95, across Route 66, or up California 1? If we don’t act, Yes. (I ran the spectacularly Big Sur Marathon on California 1, years ago. It’s beautiful.) Maybe, they’ll stop at Nepenthe in Big Sur for a quick bite. I’d like to be a fly on the wall when they saunter in and a tripping, spaced-out patron asks for their autographs. 

I quickly discovered a plethora of articles about the implications of the climate crisis on the mental state of workers in the field. I discovered that I wasn’t alone. We weren’t alone. There seemed to be a consistent theme that the ongoing barrage of bad news combined with public apathy, well-funded opposition, and willful ignorance is having. Depression and anxiety.

I found an article from the Sierra Club magazine, Sierra, called the “Got Those Climate Change Blues?”, by Eric Holthaus. He described his own stresses and reactions to dealing with climate change issues on a daily basis.

The current issue of Mother Jones (July + August, 2019) has a long article by the well-known author and journalist, David Corn, titled “Weight of the World”. He describes the psychological impact the climate crisis is having on several leading experts in the field. Depression and anxiety. Anxiety and depression. The article is well worth reading, depressing as it is.

Esquire published an article in June, 2015 about the impact climate change is having on a number of activist climate scientists: among them, Jason Box, Michael Mann, and Camille Parmesan. All described the negative implications their work has had on their mental health. The article described the “sadness, followed by fear and anger” exhibited. Another called this “pretraumatic stress”. One activist described her “climate trauma” and suggested “compartmentalizations” of the issues. Some took their inspiration from Edward Abbey’s great novel, “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, and advocated infrastructure sabotage. Another indicated that she became depressed and moved to the UK taking her expertise with her. And, finally, another expert described his feelings of “anger, befuddlement, disillusionment, and disgust.”

One of my favorite environmental authors is Paul Kingsnorth. He has written several novels, “The Wake” and “The Beast”, as well as “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays”. He was a founder of the Dark Mountain Project. Perhaps, most importantly, for our purposes, a PBS program described his new life as he moved his family from England to a farm in the west of Ireland to get away from it all and live in an environmentally friendly manner.

I readily admit that working on this blog has at times caused me to question my sanity for pursuing it. It’s tough writing about a subject you believe is important but either ignored or questioned by a large segment of the population. Even repudiated.

We know that we only have another decade or so for global societies to get their acts together and address the climate crisis on a global basis in order to stave off catastrophe. The U.N. publishes superb reports. It recently reported that there is one climate crisis per week. One per week. The reports are discussed by working groups, but where is the aggressive action that their contents require? At this point, we need grand steps on a global basis. That’s not happening and is not likely to happen any time soon given the position of the current administration in the US. I doubt that it will occur in time to stave of catastrophic long-term outcomes in the long-term. There is simply too much money supporting inaction, rather than the education and action required. I am not optimistic for the future we will be leaving our children and grandchildren. I fear they will damn us. I wouldn’t blame them.

One of my favorite quotes is from the journalist Fran Lebowitz: “In the Soviet Union, Capitalism triumphed over Communism. In this country, Capitalism triumphed over Democracy.” Let’s now take it a step further and state that: Now it is triumphing over humanity.

At times I simply say “screw it”, take several weeks off and catch up on my reading. Finished a new English translation of Les Miserables and read War and Peace twice this year, in two different translations, in order to escape the near futility of writing about the climate crisis. As a retiree who personally funds this blog, I have that luxury. 

The bottom line is that it seems my reactions are pretty typical of those reported of others working in this field. That’s a truly sorry state of affairs. As I mentioned previously, I’m not optimistic. My only solace is that I’m in my 73rd year.

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