“Feeling” Climate Change

I have been wondering what makes some people “feel” the hugeness of climate change.  I think I am one of them.  When I let my imagination take me into the cold harsh science of the facts (facts, Mr Gradgrind, facts), I am sad, and fearful.  As well as angry (at polluters and consumers and macro-level decision makers), depressed (at all that we are losing), worried and anxious (for resource depletion and food instability, let alone the increasing frequency of climatic violence).  

Most emotional engagement attaches to imagining my children in this earth-depleted future. But I can imagine myself as an old lady, desperately uncomfortable in heat-waves or blown around vulnerably by gale-force winds.  Of course there are movie images–  Soylent Green is always the specific one– but I see swathes of refugees in my mind and now will never forget a futuristic art installation at the Tate Modern in which the main hall was taken over with triple-tier bunk beds and a sound recording of dripping, dank, endless rain.

I have a friend who seems to focus her feelings on the rapid extinction of so many beautiful kinds of plants and animals, the murder of species really.   There are probably people who could mourn a landscape, the loss of snow on a particular mountain, rains you cannot predict, maple syrup, summers without sun, springs that are summers and the ugly distortions of what used to be such cherished and magical seasonality.

My husband will now and then say that someone “gets” or “does not get” climate change.  By this I think he means a kind of intellectual grokking of the emerging evidence.  Of course it is possible to hear all this evidence, as it constantly issues from the media, and not absorb it, to go on with business as usual.  He understands this as denial, which takes psychological and social forms.  (See his blog http://climatedenial.org).  I must admit the concept of denial does not totally make sense to me.  I think if people don’t “get” it, then somehow they are not feeling it.  But maybe you could then argue that finding ways not to feel it is what denial is?  (I recognize that people do a lot of different things with  feelings.)

I have long been intrigued by the workshops of Joanna Macy who with other “Deep Ecologists” has developed the  “Work that Reconnects.”  This “work” bases itself on the premise  that people are disconnected from their feelings about really huge social issues and problems; that if you can get in touch with your feelings, acknowledge them, they can become your strength because they are what connect  you to the realness and the beauty of how things could be.  I think she used to use the phrase “Despair and Empowerment,” developed when nuclear weapons seemed so prominent (of course they still loom ominously), but “despair” is actually a word that turns people away.  Thus, the new nominal focus on the postiive of “reconnecting” with self and world.  

Disconnection is numbness.  By working through the numbness, you can feel, and therefore, connect.

As someone who is capable of dwelling in despair (something I try to address), and hopelessness (must say numbness hasn’t neccessarily been an issue), I had wanted to take part in these workshops but somehow the time and place had never been right.  So last spring I organised an abbreviated version for our small town.  I really tried to get people to come, but didn’t succeed in getting more than ten (which was enough actually).  I remember trying to enthuse one woman, a quite warm, guitar-playing, earth-mother kind of Roman Catholic.  I described to her what I understood to be the importance of dealing with “despair” about all the losses climate change would bring.  “Despair!” she said.  “I don’t feel despair for the planet.”  That was a real conversation stopper because I knew if I went on she’d just think me self-indulgent and annoying.

Which perhaps I was, but months spent staring my sadness in the face have had a good effect, because they’ve helped focus for me what I think my reactions and roles might be– hence, a kind of “empowerment” rather than just feeling passive, or paralyzed, or just overwhelmed.  

Empowerment– to reclaim power for oneself, from feeling powerless against the hugeness of it all.

One of those roles is that I see myself as a potential bridge-builder, something I’d like to write about next week.  I don’t think i’m a leader really, or even a work horse, but I have the capacity to relate to lots of different kinds of people and that actually is one of the most important gifts I’ve been given.

Another role has to do with this blog, which is that I feel I have some creative and perhaps inspiring artistic expression that has been blocked, and I want to proceed with this, unblockedly.  Writing as a discipline is really effective at creating synapses in your brain (I can feel it happening!), and also to keep track of the fleeting thoughts and connections that can add up to meaning and motivation and productivity.

I also have about ten smaller scale things I want to do, which I won’t list here, but active things that push awareness and preparation of climate change, and the contraction of the energy we need forward.

And the main thing, just figuring out how I am going to mother my children. Because if I can just face the future as I see it, I know who they need to be, the gifts they need to bear, the skills they need to have,  for their lives to be empowered where one might easily feel defeat and despair.


3 Responses to ““Feeling” Climate Change”

  1. Sedge Says:

    You might find the spanish word (usually used in relation to mobile phones) “deblockeado” useful. It just means unblocking, but its a lot more elegant, and ofetn comes to mind when I get the feeling you put so well. I am in need o some deblockeado myslef so if my words come in clunky fits and starts, blame the rust. I actually don’t feel despair for the planet either. I know it’s a little cod-hearted but I feel like the planet will do fine. The mountains will rise, the continents will collide, the clouds will blow across the sky. What’s sad – more than sad – is that human eyes won’t see it. Bugs will see it, birds will see it, trees will see it. The sun will rise and set, rise and set. So what if we’re not here too? Well, actually it’s tragic. Tragic that we will gratuitously waste our gift of consciousness, and will – before our time – annihilate ourselves and poison our world and take a whole load of great species with us. Apes always get my tear ducts going. So here we are facing the end, sooner or later, and with knowledge that we are the generation that could have stopped it. The bit that I can’t quite grapple with is how to equip our children with what they need to face the world and find a store of hope someplace. I hope that’s what this blog gets to as I need to know too.

  2. Penny Walker Says:

    Does it help (what would ‘help’ be like) to know you’re not alone in feeling this?

    I’ve done some work in this arena as part of my consultancy practice (but unpaid) and produced a survey of people who are working with(in) organisations to help create change towards sustainable development. Not the whole field of ‘change makers’ I know, but perhaps an interesting subset.

    You can read about the survey here: http://www.penny-walker.co.uk/sd_change_agents_survey.html if you’re interested.

    I also – of course – have feelings similar to what you describe. I have also noticed them surfacing unbidden (in myself and in participants) when I’m doing even the simplest ‘environmental awareness’ training.

    Thanks for this blog – I’m interested to share your inner journey!


    • heshwesh Says:

      Thank you Penny. I have actually seen your comments on another blog and really appreciated your insights and balance. Please keep reading– I crave crave crave great conversations and hearing what other people think and feel not just being stuck in my own head.

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