Beyond Coping: How To Find The Strength To Take On Climate Change


Published:

It’s hard to ignore not just the scientific reports, but also the on-the-ground reality of climate disruption. It’s  getting hotter and drier, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates we have about 12 years to reverse this direct trend. It’s a challenge requiring us to come together as a mature and functional human family.

It’s a tall order because at its root, the climate crisis is also the crisis of human relationship—how we relate to our own emotional states, those of others, and, ultimately, conflict. To solve problems with—not for—human beings, which is what this crisis requires, we need to be conflict-literate. We need to be in touch with our own emotions and feelings, which can be as scary inwardly as climate change can feel outwardly. The situation is dire: Rising temperatures in just the United States and Mexico are predicted to increase the numbers of suicide by an extra 21,000 people per year by 2050, according to a study led by Marshall Burke at Stanford University. 

Unchecked strong emotions elicited by personal and environmental stress (sometimes this is called structural violence) can usurp the mental energy we  need for sustained nonviolent action. Yet healthy human relationships are full of what cultures of restorative justice and conflict resolution call “healthy conflict”: inner and outer processes of resolving disputes that promote clarity and growth and strengthen relationships in community.

And while many people are “conflict avoidant,” even fearful (think fight-or-flight) of someone with contrary opinions and ideas, we don’t have to be intimidated. All of our faculties are tested in conflict situations. What helps us take on conflict intentionally and offers us resilience is the depth of our capacity to weather various emotional and mental energy, both ours and others’—and put them to work. These psychic energies are some of the most precious natural resources and sources of power we have.

“I have learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger,” Gandhi said, “and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.”

What Gandhi knew is that emotions have immense potential—and that we can harness that power for meaningful and effective action.

We have our work cut out for us because anger over climate disruption is not the only emotion we’re working with. Ashlee Cunsolo, a researcher linking climate and mental health, has documented that the Inuit in Arctic areas in Canada believe their way of life is under threat, and are experiencing greater anxiety, depression, grief, and fear. In Indonesia, a sense of panic is likely what’s motivating the government to move its capital city to Borneo, because Jakarta is sinking and running out of potable water. And in the U.S., most of the public is feeling “worried about harm from extreme weather events,” as well as feeling helpless, disgusted, and even hopeful, according to an early 2019 report from over a decadelong research project at Yale called Climate Change in the American Mind.

Like a wind turbine taking in all of the wind—whether it passed over a manured field or a lavender meadow—all of these negative and positive emotions can be harnessed by our minds and expressed in positive, effective ways that help us take on climate conflict from a position of inner strength.

Even denial can be harnessed, if we take a little time to understand it with a compassionate lens.

We’ve come to know denial at its worst, the passive resignation we experience as wildfires spread and species disappear. Denial is also a powerful coping mechanism for releasing ourselves from the stress that comes with anger, grief, or overwhelm, with feeling like the problem is just too big. However, as clinical psychologist at Columbia University Wendy Greenspun is careful to point out, “the very thing that protects us also prevents us from taking action.”

She suggests that to break down our defense mechanism, we should connect with others and take on self-care strategies. For example, we can calm our reactivity with mindful breathing to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, go out in nature, spend time with friends, and even take on some form of meditation. We can explore such strategies by attending workshops and retreats, like those hosted by Greenspun, that focus on how to handle the stresses of climate disruption. And we can also seek out organizations and individuals making change and get involved, even through offering similar workshops within our own circles.

Naming our emotions also helps. When we do, we activate a part of the brain that helps to regulate them. This helps especially well when experiencing more than one emotion at a time, which is common and often confusing. Behind my anger toward the government for deregulating harmful industries, I may also experience anxiety. By naming both, I own them. Then, because I’ve made myself aware of them, I can decide more easily how to constructively act with the power locked up in those feelings. Activists in Iceland, for instance, held a public funeral for the Okjökull glacier, motivated by owning their grief. The action resonated around the world.

But what about hope? What about connection?

Across the board, hope is a key emotional state that compels us to act. Not the hope that someone is going to single-handedly solve our problems—but hope that it can be done if we take strategic collective action. The National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation has identified such a strategy, bringing together informal science education institutions (aquariums and zoos, for example) and social psychologists with tools for effective conversations. Their main goal is to connect their audience with examples of grassroots positive change being realized in communities all over.

That hopeful attitude just might be enough to help us stay balanced in the face of overwhelming circumstances. Barbara Fredrickson, psychologist and professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has dedicated decades to researching positivity. In a 2003 study, for instance, she looked at resiliency and the role of positive emotions in how college students at the University of Michigan coped with the aftermath of 9/11. She wanted to find the coexistence of positive emotional states with negative states—terror and anxiety on the one hand, and greater closeness and gratitude on the other.

And after many years of research, she did. She found that cultivating positive emotions in crisis can put our minds at greater ease and undoeffects such as  increased blood pressure, vasoconstriction, and heart rate that come with the onslaught of “negative emotions” like fear, anger, and anxiety. And we can do it intentionally: Use humor, hug someone you love, even try smiling more (this one makes me cringe as a feminist, but the science says it can trigger endorphins).

Don’t discount how you feel. As my meditation teacher liked to say, this is a come-as-you-are party. Wherever you find yourself right now is how we need you to show up. Just show up.

This story is published as part of YES! Magazine’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Stephanie Van Hook wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Stephanie is executive director of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, host of Nonviolence Radio, and author of “Gandhi Searches for Truth: A Practical Biography for Children.” Find all of this at www.mettacenter.org

This article was republished from YES! Magazine.

See also:
Disaster Collectivism: How Communities Rise Together To Respond To Crises
The Best Medicine For My Climate Grief

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

January 22, 2020

Mixed trends build safety and stability in some instances and create chaotic turmoil in others. The Capricorn Moon helps make visionary ideas and solutions available during the early morning hours. Pay close attention to your first waking…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2020

Saturday January 18th, 2020 from 10:30-4pm and Sunday January 19th, 2020 from 10:30-4pm In Reiki Master Level you will learn the master symbols, receive the master level attunement and learn how...

Cost: $295 for new students, $195 for the refresher option

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough Shopping Center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Join us and connect to the powerful energies of the bird kingdom. Throughout earth history, birds have been thought to be divine messengers. Many spiritual systems believe they are emissaries of...

Cost: $95

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack St
Methuen, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: front desk
Website »

More information

Your soul has already seeded your existence with all that is needed to completely express your destiny. Let the Miracle Mantra awaken you to the awareness of spirit ever present in your...

Cost: Suggested Donation: $20

Where:
Yoga At The Ashram
368 Village Street
Millis, MA  02054
View map »


Sponsor: Yoga at the Ashram
Telephone: 508-376-4525
Website »

More information

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

January 19th, February 16th, March 8th by appointment only. Kinetic Chain Release (KCR) to balance body, resolve leg length discrepancies, reduce back, shoulder, knee, hip pain and reduce stress...

Cost: $65 to $145

Where:
Leapin' Lizards
449 Forest Ave
Portland, ME  04101
View map »


Sponsor: Leapin' Lizards
Telephone: 207-221-2363
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Discover Beauty. Discover Goodness. Discover Yourself. Your soul’s gifts are waiting. Breathe. Find stillness. The spark you need to ignite your life is here, within. Max Meditation...

Cost: $15

Where:
Modern Mystery School Boston
132 Charles St
3rd Floor
Auburndale, MA  02466
View map »


Sponsor: Modern Mystery School Boston
Telephone: 617-694-0994
Contact Name: Jordan Bain
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Total Life Group Cleanse begins with Jonathan Glass, Ayurvedic practitioner Includes the following three Tuesdays. A 28-day program designed to initiate and maximize detoxification and...

Where:
Concord, MA


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Are you considering, going through or recovering from divorce? Join us at our free Daytime Divorce Boot Camp, and we’ll help you get into shape! In response to requests from people who...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation
180 Wells Avenue
Suite 300
Newton, MA  02459
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Do you have questions about the legal process of divorce? Join us at our free informative workshop in Hingham, MA! About this event: David Kellem, experienced Family Law Attorney &...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kellem Mahoney Family Law & Mediation Group
100 Recreation Park Drive
Suite 201
Hingham, MA  02043
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Are you ready to permanently up-level your life? Are you ready close the gap between where you are today and your higher purpose? Are you ready to take a definitive step toward healing the...

Cost: $15

Where:
Modern Mystery School Boston
132 Charles St
3rd Floor
Auburndale, MA  02466
View map »


Sponsor: Modern Mystery School Boston
Telephone: 617-694-0994
Contact Name: Jordan Bain
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Join us at Vesta’s One-Day Divorce Retreat in Newton, MA! In just one day... you will come away with valuable knowledge about the issues associated with separation and divorce,...

Cost: $149

Where:
Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation
180 Wells Avenue
Suite 300
Newton, MA  02459
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

January is the time of the year when we look ahead to the year in front of us and imagine it to be better than the one we are leaving behind. We often make the New Years resolution in January and...

Cost: $108 before Jan 20 ($120 after)

Where:
Unity Farm Sanctuary
17 Unity Lane
Westborough Shopping Center
Sherborn, MA  01770
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

This is a free and mandatory orientation prior to registering for the 8 week group program of mindfulness based stress reduction or MBSR. Please RSVP so we can plan accordingly....

Cost: Free

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough Shopping Center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

This class will teach you how to make your own intricate wire-wrapped gemstone pendant, expanding on the basics from the introductory Level 1 class that has been taught previously. This class if...

Cost: Reg includes supplies $60 per person or $50 more than one

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd, Unit A
Our Yellow Banner is in Window w/Fairy Lights Please remove shoes at the door
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

We will be sitting in the New Moon Energy and The Energy and Consciousness of the Chinese New Year.  Stacey and Bob will be doing an energetic transmission with Energies and Stones...

Cost: Class: $30, Online Reg. $25

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd, Unit A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

Next Class Starts January 25, 2020 You will learn: How to hypnotize How to use hypnosis to help clients make personal changes How to turn hypnosis into a profitable part-time or...

Where:
, RI


Telephone: 401-374-1890
Website »

More information

January 25–April 26, 2020 Now offered in one day and weekend modules that can be taken individually or consecutively.  Dates and individual class links are listed below. All...

Cost: $1360

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, #1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags