Article: It's Hard To Think About Climate Change During A Pandemic. Here's How To Stay Engaged

Climate Change, Psychology // 10 mins

This past Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Instead of feeling gratitude and oneness with the planet you may have experienced darker emotions as we weather the pandemic: a fear that more disruptive events are on the horizon due to climate change.

For some, feelings of sadness about the state of the planet aren't new — they're constant and at times debilitating. This experience goes by many names, among them eco-anxiety, climate grief and climate despair.

A movement has begun to help people face these feelings — and build resilience so they can stay engaged with the work of fighting the climate crisis.

We spoke to psychologists and climate activists about their approaches to processing climate grief — it turns out these tools are useful for dealing with any kind of wide-scale upheaval, including life during a pandemic. Here's a road map to facing your fears — and our planet's future.

Observe your resistance

Before you can process grief, you have to open up the protective shell many of us encase ourselves in, says Craig Chalquist, a psychologist and professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

"The resistance is understandable because the news is so catastrophic," Chalquist says. "The human mind is built such that it protects itself by defending itself against intolerable information," Chalquist says.

Such defenses may include burying yourself in distraction like "surfing away from the bad news," says Chalquist. Or you may scapegoat the messengers who share this news, or regress to a childlike state and expect someone else — scientists or the government — to take care of the issue.

Another classic: denying that the problem is happening or believing that a silver-bullet solution will save us all. In the case of the climate crisis, these fantasies most often one involve new technology.

Chalquist says that not all defenses are bad, and for those entrenched in climate change work, it's important to take breaks. It is a problem, however, to use the defenses to block out our own feelings.

Read more here

Published on NPR on April 22, 2020.