Blogbox | Youth2020

On the climate and other crises

By - 18.09.2020

How to begin saving the world starting with yourself.

A troubled, chaotic world. Our troubled, chaotic world. A turbulent, boiling mind. My turbulent, boiling mind. 

As the world burns, I take the freedom to be able to write about something I cannot discuss much lately, the climate crisis, the emotional side of it. It almost feels like a luxury to talk about something that seems so distant when facing more urgent health, social, political and economic crises. 

But as every day goes by, the horrific effects and politics of it continue, “wildfires in California”; “a record-breaking hurricane in Louisiana”; “a new gas pipeline in the Western Balkans”; “hydro power and illegal dams in Brezovica”; “degradation of Mirusha waterfall“; as well as the continuous disruptions in our society concerning racial, gender and animal injustice that keep adding up to anxiety, frustration and anger in me, and I assume in most of us.

But before I start dwelling on the psychological and emotional struggles, I believe it is particularly important to point out an understanding of the concept of intersection, a nonbinary frame that includes, rather than excludes the many facets and strings between these issues, the interconnection and the dependence on each other. 

Taking this into consideration, the million dollar question is: How do we move toward a sense of action, one that embraces the different and often very difficult and nuanced emotions?

The reason I bring this up is that just recently I came to the realization that to be able to tackle one issue is that you will have to tackle many more, if not altogether quite similar to psychotherapy practice. 

In other words, to care about the environment also means to care about the economy and the political system as they go hand in hand. And wow, this feels overwhelming.

Beginning with these overwhelming emotions, this nonbinary framework also applies to the individual and collective emotional experiences that we are going through or better to say, that we always go through. And this surely relates to people on the front lines of the climate crisis battle too. 

It is merely one point of many highs and lows, hopefulness and despair, ambiguity, anxiety, courage, frustration and fear; intense emotional states that can give different directions to our ways of dealing with them and our actions in the end. 

It all starts with our way of relating and feeling about many aspects of our life and our world to then our many diverse ways of acting on them. Moreover, for the past few decades, research has shown that there is an intensive mental health toll from environmental degradation and there is subsequent evidence that a large number of people are experiencing difficulties such as severe anxiety, PTSD and depression. 

Taking this into consideration, the million dollar question is: How do we move toward a sense of action, one that embraces the different and often very difficult and nuanced emotions?

The simple explanation would be by just showing up and caring, with whatever we have got, but that doesn’t do it justice. Not because people don’t care and that is not enough but for the sole reason that people do not always act as they feel or think and that the dissonance causes an inner conflict, one that most people want to minimize for the most time on an unconscious level. 

As a post graduate psychology student, this information is known to me, yet I still struggle to fully grasp and accept it and that is because I myself very often am uncertain with how I can contribute especially in the face of adversity where I feel powerless. 

But it is a process with a number of diverse defense and behavior mechanisms. Some of them are developed and studied by Dr. Renee Lertzman, a climate psychologist bridging the gap between psychology and climate change for the past 20 years. She offers some powerful insights into ways we can engage in more effectively when facing these complicated emotions and our conflicting behavior. 

A lot of people do care and together we can help change what is actually happening and what feels very painful and scary.

Some basic principles that she introduces are tools used in the clinical practice to the climate context such as the concept of “attunement” that can be defined as in tune or in touch with others, the world around and most importantly with ourselves. 

To be attuned means to take care of ourselves and not in the sense of the “easy and fast way” but rather acknowledging and naming our emotions, how we are, how we are coping, what processing is needed and how to reach the point of talking about it.

Dr. Lertzman chooses to see it through the lens of trauma, as something of a collective traumatic experience, as a time to tune into our self with as much compassion and empathy to then acknowledging that all these events are destabilizing. 

Concurrently, feeling heard and understood by oneself creates a better space for our connections and relationships that in turn will increase our empathetic listening and our sense of being with something bigger, the sense of not being alone, that it is not all on me and all up to me. A lot of people do care and together we can help change what is actually happening and what feels very painful and scary. 

This is something I find exceptionally powerful and deeply helpful — thinking of all the efforts that are underway and all the organizations, companies and people that are persistently working on this, all the victories, engagement and our profound connection to our earth.

Undoubtedly, this period in time when uncertainty about the future can lead to existential anxiety can also be potentially a great time for new ways of thinking and tuning in. As Naomi Klein says, crises can be a great catalyst for positive change, for taking back the power and leveling our green and protective policies high in the pyramid. 

Even during these days of frustration and overwhelming emotions, I choose to step up and bring the focus back to what is needed to do, because I am not alone and what I feel and do is meaningful. 

Extraordinary, peculiar world. Our extraordinary, peculiar world. Elated, wary mind. My elated, wary mind.

Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.