Thursday, June 6, 2019

How to deal with news stories claiming the end of civilization is nigh...

I've had yet another conversation with a student feeling worried, anxious and confused about yet another report pointing out the dire threat of climate change. This headline (or variants of it) has been making the rounds today: "Climate change could end human civilization by 2050: report". 

What are we to make of this information, and such extraordinary headlines - which suggest that we could literally be dead in 30 years!? Here's my attempt an an answer for students:

1) Before reading the rest of this... if you are feeling anxious just take a moment to look around your current context and breathe, and take a moment to appreciate what a wonderful world this is and what a wonderful life you have. If you're reading this then the walls are NOT coming down around you at the present moment. You're not facing an imminent threat (as in, your life is not in danger at this moment). You have access to all your needs for survival (food, shelter, water, companionship, etc.), and likely many amenities too. Quite frankly, by virtue of just being able to read this it is likely the case that your life is - relatively speaking - pretty darn fantastic. So just take a moment to appreciate that before trying to process this type of news...

2)  The situation is indeed urgent, but the future is not already determined. Try not to get your focus diverted by sensationalist headlines... the actual report itself isn't actually saying much new when you boil it down: It's saying IF we don't tackle climate change the consequences will be extremely dire. But we actually have already known that for a while, right? The important thing to note is that this is not inevitable. We CAN avoid that fate, but we have to change our BEHAVIOUR. One way to think of reports like these is that they are like 'interventions' for a friend who's an addict. It's not that they WILL die from their addiction, but rather that if the situation doesn't change things could get very, very bad. So... change!

3) Sometimes it feels like changing our personal behaviour is the only thing we can do, and there are lots of good reasons to change our personal behaviour and consumption. But ultimately the most effective changes are at the COLLECTIVE SCALE. In other words, instead of JUST cutting down on, say, single-use plastics, join a campaign or sign a petition or write a political letter about it. Ultimately we need the COLLECTIVE to change behaviour, not just individuals, and the best way to bring those changes about are through political change or regulation or laws or policies or programs, etc., that target entire communities of people. And if you feel the governments of the day aren't addressing the situation adequately, join a political movement to express your concern along with others.

4) Try not to DWELL on the shitty stories. Instead try to focus on good news stories. There are amazing things happening - even in terms of climate mitigation. For instance, another story came our today which was eclipsed by that report: Finland - a developed Northern country - has announced a plan to be carbon-neutral by 2035. That's remarkable, and it serves an example we can point to. The Clean Energy Canada weekly newsletter is full of stories like this. Subscribe so it ends up in your inbox each week.

5) Channel your concern into action of some sort. This is kind of a repeat of point 3 above.. but it's so important. It will also help you feel better and give meaning. ACT, with others, in a POSITIVE way. There's a bazillion things you can do. From attending/organizing a rally to planning trees to writing a song, or calling your MP to express your frustration, whatever... just try to CHANNEL your concern into action (and again, not JUST more sustainable consumption).

6) Don't let yourself slip into despair. In fact, remind yourself that as one of the world's privileged individuals you have a RESPONSIBILITY to NOT become a climate defeatist. And for those times when you're having trouble, talk. Talk to your friends, your family, your colleagues, your professors, your psychologist, whoever! Just don't sink into a world of despair, and especially not on your own. Talk it out... and seek professional help if you're having trouble with this (there's nothing wrong with getting medical support for this).


  1. Thank you SO MUCH for this piece! I'm probe to anxiety and feelings of overwhelm, so the doomsday headlines often get to me. This was a timely reminder...