Blog post

Circle of handsThis brief post is intended to stimulate a response among people who are bearing witness to, and tracking, the latest effects of climate change on people and the planet. It’s aimed at those who sense the consequences of large-scale inaction, and poses the question of what sorts of psychological and social resources may be needed to keep up spirits and address the potential impact of depression and anxiety on those who are wrestling with, the climate issue.
Since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP 15) in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009, arguably little has been done to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And yet, alarmingly, the pace of climate change has accelerated.
Witness the recent news that the Amazon rain forest, which was supposed to be able to act as a carbon sink, was in 2010 shown in a major study in certain areas to be a net carbon emitter because of extreme drought in the region. In the summer of 2010, fires surrounding Moscow caused thousands of heat- and pollution-related deaths. And, in Pakistan and Australia, the flooding was disastrous, causing billions of dollars in damage, displacing millions of people in both the developing and developed world.
These changes are occurring even as the climate issue has fallen off the radar screen of most Americans.
Understandably, the American people are concerned about the state of the economy, their jobs, and their futures. For climate scientists and climate activists, however, every bit of news that confirms the hypotheses of accelerating warming -- and brings us closer by the day to catastrophic outcomes -- adds to the urgency and to the stressful nature of their work. After all, scientists and activists in their own unique ways are trying to attune policymakers and citizens, respectively, to the need for large-scale action -- action that does not seem at present to be forthcoming.
When I covered the Copenhagen climate conference as a freelance journalist, there were anecdotal reports of youth activists huddling together and crying in their room as the talks collapsed and it became clear that the small island states’ call for tough global emissions regimes would not be heeded. Anna Rose, then co-director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, said that her organization was alone among the dozens of international youth climate coalitions, in sending one psychological worker and one social worker to assist youth activists with the negotiations’ emotional highs and lows. Clearly, youth delegates were emotionally attuned to the very real consequences that a failure of the talks would have on multitudes of innocent civilians around the globe. And useful assistance was provided to deal with their natural upset.
But what about the rest of us who may be without adequate psychological and social support? Resilient People, an international initiative focused on helping to address the psychological, social and cultural impacts of climate change, is partnering with the Post Carbon Institute, whose mission is to lead “the transition to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world.” Together, we’re soliciting feedback from organizations that do climate advocacy work to determine if there’s a need for a psychosocial toolkit to help organizations build psychological and social resilience among the grassroots workers and volunteers.
The question we’re posing is:
Would a “psychosocial toolkit” help advocates of bold climate action to better cope with anger, sadness, or loss they may be feeling about accelerating changes to the climate system and the lack of mobilization among the general public and policy makers?
Contents of a psychosocial toolkit would include:
  • Notes from the frontlines – anecdotes and quotes from climate advocates on their experiences at Copenhagen and Cancun climate conferences
  • Organizations’ approaches to keeping up morale in the face of worsening climate science findings
  • Climate advocates’ successful personal strategies for coping, particularly surrounding leisure time, family, and community engagement
  • Suggestions from top environmental psychologists, Indigenous elders, and mindfulness teachers on approaches to dealing with “global warming era”
We’d love to hear from you. Are you concerned about how advocates for bold climate action are handling the enormous weight of the challenge? How are you dealing with it? Would such a toolkit be of value to you or others you know?
Please contact either Sanjay Khanna at or Asher Miller at to share your thoughts in confidence.

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