Climate Anxiety — How Do We Joyfully Deal with it?
This post originally appeared in The Joy Thief newsletter. To get more articles like this straight to your inbox, subscribe.
It’s been a week of emotions.
Dread. Gratitude. Guilt. Relief. Fear. Helplessness. Anger. Joy.
It reached 36c in Sheffield on Monday. Followed by 38C on Tuesday. At one point, I stood outside, closed my eyes and just felt the wind whip around me. It was like silk running over my skin. But after no more than a minute the heat became unbearable. Being inside was barely any better, even with all curtains in the house closed.
On Wednesday the temperatures dipped to somewhere around the high 20’s, low 30’s mark and I thought… finally we might get a little reprieve. Then a green space near my house caught fire, filling the streets with smoke that was being blown across the neighbourhood.
Every room in the house was stiflingly hot. Every room stank of smoke. Outside the streets were hazy. The panic I felt threw me back in time to September 2020. I was living in Vancouver and for 11 days the city was blanketed in a suffocating plume of smoke which had blown up the West Coast from severe wildfires in the USA. For a few days, the smoke pushed Vancouver to top the leaderboard for worst air quality in the world.
Those 11 days, living in a smoke-filled Vancouver, felt apocalyptic. Where once I could see mountains, sea and city, now all I could see was a thick white smog. Visibility was non-existent. I was shuttered up at home, knowing that leaving the house meant risking a deadly virus (this was the early days of the pandemic, before vaccinations had even been developed) and damaging my lungs, potentially causing health issues. It felt too much like a dystopian novel I didn’t want to be a part of.
At this point, I’d lived in Vancouver for 3 years. Every summer there would be wildfire smoke. Wildfire szn seemed like part of Vancouver normality. So, when the smoke rolled in, I shrugged it off. As the days continued without any reprieve, the existential dread I developed hit my mental health in a way that surprised me, bringing on panic attacks and intrusive OCD thoughts. This week I’ve felt that same anxiety.
When I left Canada and moved back to the UK, climate change was on my mind.
I expected some flooding, but never fire and smoke. I thought…
Not here. Not in my lifetime.
But I was wrong.
My privilege shielded me and elevated my sense of safety in regards to the impacts of climate change. But privilege only protects us for so long.
Last week I wrote about my experiences as a working class person, how we aren’t afforded the joy of clean air. I should have ended by noting if the working classes aren’t protected and given the joy of clean air, then no one else can expect to hold onto that joy for long either. This week has shown why.
We have failed to listen to those most affected, we have failed to change our lifestyles and systems to allow others the joys of a life free from climate change. Now we are being hit by those same catastrophes (although less frequently and often less disastrously). It is so obvious that our systemic joy is not guaranteed, that if a single person isn’t safe, none of us are safe.
How do we get through this?
How do we take back joy and hold the joy thieves accountable for the joy they have stolen and continue to steal?
I could give you a list of ways. I could insist you get involved, tell you to join a climate group or write to an MP or donate whatever resources you have to organising, but I know from experience that organising isn’t for everyone — I learned that the hard way.
The single most important tip I could give you is to find something you love and find a way to make it count.
When I was living in Vancouver I was leading a Greenpeace local group, while working full-time. When the wildfires happened I through myself into organising a campaign to get local media to make the link between the smoke and climate change.
By the time I came back to the UK, I was burned out. While I loved making use of my organisational skills, I found it stressful rallying people into action and I found it physically and emotionally draining to spend lots of time with people. It took weeks of guilt and avoidance before I joined a climate group and even then I stopped taking part after a few meetings. After discovering I am neurodivergent, my burn out makes sense. My neurodivergent traits have not built me to handle the kind of activism I was pursuing and as a result of ignoring my body and mind I got sick.
I’ve started embracing the joy of being alone. Not just being alone, but undertaking things alone. I’m far happier and far less burnt out. Instead of trying to fit into busy spaces that I find stressful and draining I’m embracing solitary forms of activism.
I love to write, and I’m in the unique position of sitting at the intersections of being a working class, disabled, bisexual woman. I can see from multiple angles how joy is stolen by powers that marginalise and oppress. I started this newsletter to share these intersectional experiences and raise awareness for them through the lens of joy, or lack of.
This year, I discovered that I love gardening! I’ve been planting wild flowers for pollinators, growing my own food to reduce to slightly reduce my food footprint and I’m practising seed saving so that I can make seeds bombs and share them with people in my local community. My hope is they will sow the seeds in their gardens, balconies or local spaces that are looking a bit sparse of biodiversity.
My partner is really interested in politics and he’s part of a local labour group and regularly attends meetings. He’s also very techy, and has recently started going to a right to repair group to lend his skills and love off meddling with all things tech to a good cause.
And right now, between us we have monetary security, so we’re committing to donating monthly to a number of causes we care about because this is a resource we can give.
We’ve found things we love, undertaken them in ways that count and in doing so we protect our mental and physical health. We enjoy what we do and find energy in doing it.
So sure, join a climate group if it’s something you haven’t tried before. Or go back to one if you enjoyed it in the past, just don’t feel pressure to do it if it’s not enjoyable. There are quieter, more solitary ways for you to be active. Do them if they bring you joy.
Activism MUST come from a place of joy otherwise we will leave the fight too miserable to take part. In this sense, joy is essential to activism.
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