How to Manage Climate Anxiety

Climate change is an existential threat. If CO2 levels hit a certain concentration and temperatures increase by a particular number of degrees, the human race is certainly doomed. This summer, in particular, has seen a nonstop slew of ever-worse disasters that permanently changed lives and formerly familiar landscapes: from Hurricane Harvey to western wildfires.

And climate change — while slow-moving — has already begun to alter the places in which we live in ways that cannot be reversed. That, to the average person, is a viscerally depressing sentiment.

The sad truth is, you can’t control the actions of your peers, coworkers, and fellow citizens, so you need to figure out how to keep yourself from losing all hope.

A portion of environmental psychologist Renee Lertzman’s work is devoted to what she calls “environmental melancholia,” our unconscious sadness over ecological loss and degradation.

Lertzman starts with the premise that a single person can’t stop an environmental crisis. One person can only do so much, and many people are doing too much to drown out any individual action. That imbalance can lead to a kind of depression — a “resignation of place,” she calls it. Sufferers might try to avoid those feelings by focusing obsessively on a behavior that they believe can be effective.

“Our inability to manage feeling out of control often leads to very unproductive communication and behaviors, which center around: ‘How do I get you to care about what I care about?’ ‘How do I get you to change?’” she explains. “And that simply brings up people’s resistance and ambivalence.”

The impulse to do something proactive is very healthy. But when that becomes over-relied on as a substitute for facing the fear and deep rage and loss periodically, we get uncreative and disillusioned and backed up against a wall.

There are a million ways to attack a problem as big as climate change. A single one of them can’t fix the problem, of course, but each chips a piece off the carbon burden. It’s up to you to figure out which one can have the most impact.