When you search for “climate change news,” there is an abundance of hopeful studies, pleasant updates, and all-around good news. Right? Unfortunately, no. This is not the case. As a society, we are at a frightening fulcrum with the reality of climate change. Our cells feel it, our students feel it, and our communities feel it.
It not an easy idea to accept, though we’ve had years of warnings about what inaction means for vulnerable populations—and this generation of “kids.” Climate change is not an easy topic to teach. But more importantly, it is not an easy—or ethical—topic to ignore.
We owe it to our students and our communities to teach about climate change in a way that is not completely hopeless or fearmongering.
Whether a traditional educator or a grandparent with young toddlers, there is hope. There has to be hope.
Before diving into more tangible resources and hope, I ask readers to pause. I ask readers to consider their personal coping mechanisms around the global stress and local ramifications of climate change.
This article is Part I of a larger conversation offering personal and educational tools for teaching about climate change.
So… what are your tools for coping? And if you don’t have any tools or want more, this article is for you.
Note: This is an opinion piece solely reflecting the thoughts of Allie Rigby, an environmental educator, and writer. Allie is a regular contributor to our blog. Our featured image of Antelope Canyon is courtesy of Paul IJsendoorn.
Tool # 1 – Self-Care in the Time of Climate Change
Self-care is not selfish: it is what enables you to do the important work that needs to get done. Scientists and educators of all backgrounds are practicing it—or starting to.
What does it mean to take care of ourselves in a world on metaphorical and literal fire? This is why self-care might seem arbitrary in the big picture. I argue that self-care is not arbitrary: it is vital.
When we ignore our personal needs, we risk losing the long-term stamina that we need to address the climate crisis together.
Self-care is a key part of climate advocacy work. However, a lot of self-care ignores the privilege of self-care: not everyone can afford the time of self-care or the act. Stereotypical notions of self-care often give ideas like “take yourself to the spa,” which is a nice idea, and also, an expensive one that may require childcare and scheduling logistics.
More so, Western notions of self-care are so personal that they tend to ignore the communal ways we can rejuvenate and recharge. Communal self-care routines might include joining a local group or club or exploring public library events.
I am still refining a self-care routine that balances the time I have with the need for introvert time. Low-cost and communal ways to recharge can be hard to find, but they do exist.
Do you know your go-to self-care tools? If not, it is time to start brainstorming.
Here are five of my favorite personal self-care actions. Feel free to use and share them:
- Limit screen time during mornings and evenings
- Write a letter occasionally to a friend instead of texting
- Walk during my work breaks
- Practice calming breaths when I feel stressed
- Attend monthly readings at the library
Tool # 2 – Know the (Actual) Facts
Fear is a powerful emotion. Climate anxiety is a new buzzword—and for good reason. We have people of all ages who are worried about their future, let alone their grandkid’s future.
This tool encourages you to understand—and research—both the science and the source of where you learn about climate change. There is a lot of false and manipulated science, so choose your source with care. I personally process climate-related news from sources like BBC, NPR, The New York Times, and local publicly-funded radio stations like KQED.
More so, there is a balance to understanding climate change and not becoming so “wrapped” in the daily updates that you risk emotional burnout.
The “problem” with fear and unchecked anxiety is that it changes our brain chemistry, making it more difficult to process the news of climate change itself. At the same time, it might be odd not to feel anxious.
Anxiety has a purpose, as it influences how the body and mind respond to threats; a little anxiety can be helpful, whereas unchecked anxiety can be devastating.
UK-based psychotherapist and researcher Caroline Hickman says how a little bit of anxiety can help people stay engaged with this global issue. In an interview with BBC Future and Christine Ro, Hickman says how “There’s less space for anxiety emotionally when you take practical steps.”
You can read more of their interview—and find hope—in this article.
Tool # 3 – Make Changes that Feel Important to You
I like to think that my reusable mug makes a difference. I use it instead of a disposable to-go cup. When I forget it, I try to use an in-house mug.
This “mug dedication” I feel does and does not make a difference. I recognize that my reusable mug is not going to reduce enough waste that it addresses the escalation of the global temperature. And I’m a bit skeptical of the argument, “Well if everyone used a reusable mug, the world would be better off…” I find that argument too easy of an emotional “band-aid” that makes every action feel extra significant.
But… my mug does make me feel better. It’s a little reminder when I start the day that I am trying—that I am not giving up on the people and planet I love.
In that way, the mug makes a difference.
The mug is one simple thing I do that gives me hope and helps me feel control and impactful—even when in the bigger picture, there is little control.
Do you have a “mug” action that makes you feel better, even for reasons that may be small? I’d be curious to learn what they are.
We have to take care of ourselves during these stressful times, and we owe it to our current and future generations, to take care of ourselves. Quite simply, we cannot afford emotional burnout.
In this psychological era of climate anxiety, we need coping tools. And lots of them.
What are your coping tools? Let us know below. We would love to hear from you.
Note: This is an opinion piece solely reflecting the thoughts of Allie Rigby, an environmental writer, and educator. Allie is a regular contributor to our blog. Our featured image of Antelope Canyon is courtesy of Paul IJsendoorn.
Ro, Christine. BBC Future. The harm from worrying about climate change. 10th October 2019.