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Climate alarm? Learning to live with it

The IPCC report this week on the climate crisis has left me alarmed and unsettled, maybe you are too. I’m writing this blog for myself as much as anyone, as part of my long-running search for ways to live with this. There are plenty of good processes out there, and many of us have been using them for a while. However, I keep feeling that it’s like bailing out a sinking boat with a teaspoon: my raw emotions are flooding in much faster than I can process them out.

Why is this? We’re now in a climate crisis which really is threatening our survival, the stability of our societies, and our individual wellbeing. Floods of raw emotion could well be seen as a healthy, functional response to the current facts.

I also suspect that the emotional impact on us is aggravated by the pandemic. At root, humans are social animals: we need in-person eye contact, smiles, hugs, and companionship to nourish our sense of safety, and when alarmed we need to gather in groups to gain understanding, support, and a view on how to respond. We’re all in need for such contact because of Covid, and still limited on what’s possible.

For millennia, in a crisis people would gather in circles on the land

One of the ways I try to meet a challenge is to look for the gift in the problem. Where are the upsides in the current climate crisis? One is that it’s getting very hard to deny we’re in a climate emergency caused by human activity. So, we’re all in this together. Another is that it’s affecting lives across the world, and clearly the crisis is here, now, not elsewhere or in the future. This can help us to confront it, and to do so with others. These views are confirmed by recent UK research from Climate Outreach: see my blog on it here.

Beyond these basics, the picture gets muddier. We can see that many people can’t live with the alarming realities of the climate crisis: even if they don’t take refuge in denial, many will succumb to despair or apathy, feeling there’s no way out. All too understandable.

So where to turn? Deep Adaptation is in my view one of the best guides in this bewilderment: see my overview blog here. I agree with Jem Bendell that the first step is to accept, learn to live with, and grow through, all the big emotions this crisis stirs up: fear, overwhelm, despair, and more.

In Jem’s view and mine, one of the best processes to do this is one from Joanna Macy, known as the Work that Reconnects, or deep ecology: see my overview writeup here. But there’s a catch: the key to this process is having your feelings witnessed and validated by others. Not easy to arrange these days!

Back to the gift in the problem. The best I’ve come up with so far is these steps:

  1. Self-care: Accept how alarming this situation is, and love the parts of you that feel panicky, that want to hide in a cave or find someone to make it right for you. Give time to support yourself in whatever ways work for you, e.g., time in Nature, prayer, rest, singing, creativity.
  2. Mutual care: Find opportunities for mutual support wherever you can. Take a risk, look for this in social settings, or people you don’t know well, as well as in close contacts. Recently, I was chatting with an acquaintance who suddenly said, “My wife and I just admitted to each other we’re terrified about the climate crisis.” That helped me hugely.
  3. Practical steps: Resilience research shows that it helps us when we act, and support others. Recently, I’ve been drafting a short briefing on practical local steps we can all take as climate responses: you can see the current draft here. Comments welcome! I’m planning to use this in various ways in my local community, including a briefing event for Great Big Green Week in September.
  4. Communing with Nature: Clearly, the natural world is in crisis as much as the human one and seeing them as a unity will help. For deep insights on this, see Thomas Berry. I’m finding a sense of mutual support by meditating outdoors, in my garden or elsewhere. Just as trees handle storms by deepening their roots, we can do the same: see more on my website www.naturalhappiness.net. And if you believe (as I do) that there is some divine power as well as material reality, pray that we’re all guided through this, and that suffering is relieved for all forms of life.
  5. Love and disruption: Turbulence and glitches in daily life are already rising, and the risk of bigger disruptions is rising too. We can’t stop these, so we need to find a better response. I recommend a blog by Jem Bendell called The Love in Deep Adaptation. It’s a deeply considered call for us to move beyond alarm and self-centredness, to meet others (and ourselves) with love and compassion. This, surely, is the gift in the climate emergency we’re having to live with.

Alan Heeks is a social entrepreneur and writer (see www.naturalhappiness.net) and has been exploring resilience for many years. He has led numerous workshops on this theme, and set up Hazel Hill Wood, a 70-acre conservation woodland and residential centre showing how to learn resilience from natural ecosystems (see www.hazelhill.org.uk). In recent years, Alan has focussed much of his work on responses to climate change, with the Seeding our Future project creating pilot projects for individuals, communities, and front-line services like the NHS.

Climate collapse, collapse, Community, deep adaptation, Nature, resilience

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