Wray on the suitability of emotions in response to climate change


in Politics, Psychology, The environment

Pain is a natural outcome of being told—and experiencing—that wildfires, hurricanes, and floods are becoming more ferocious due to the climate crisis, and that droughts are getting more serious and lasting longer. It is reasonable to get worried when the World Bank foresees that 140 million climate migrants will be fleeing ecological catastrophes and the knock-on effects of social strife within Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and south Asia by 2050, while other estimates put the number at over one billion. It is normal to get anxious about mass migrations and resource scarcity increasing the risk of violence and war. It is appropriate to grieve when the UN reports that humans are driving up to one million species to extinction, many within mere decades. It is logical to be horrified when a study shows that most trees alive today will be killed in massive die-offs within forty years if we don’t dramatically change course. It is understandable to be scared when a different study finds that Arctic permafrost is thawing at a rate that was predicted to happen seventy years from now, that the Greenlandic ice sheet has already melted beyond a point of no return, and that unchecked climate change could collapse entire ecosystems as soon as 2030. Stress is a suitable reaction when scientists say that by 2070, one to three billion people will be living in hot zones outside the temperature niche that has allowed human civilization to thrive over the last six thousand years. It is humane to be gutted when you learn that air pollution caused the premature deaths of nearly half a million babies in their first month of life over a twelve-month period. It is fitting to freak out when the World Meteorological Organization issues a report on the global climate that states “time is fast running out for us to avert the worst impacts of climate disruption and protect our societies from the inevitable impacts to come.” It is sensible to get spooked when a group of leading environmental researchers publish a paper that opens with the words, “The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.” It is right to be pissed off when you learn that we’ve emitted more carbon dioxide since the UN established its framework convention on climate change in 1992—that is, since we have been making an intergovernmental effort to reduce our emissions—than in all the millennia before then. And it is decent to rage once you understand how deeply the fossil fuel industry has manipulated the political system and misinformed the public, valuing money over our survival. There is nothing pathological about this pain. It is an unavoidable symptom of a very sick society.

At this late stage in the climate crisis—a scientifically proven anthropogenic phenomenon that’s been debated on baseless claims for decades—I would suggest eco-anxiety is merely a sign of attachment to the world.

Wray, Britt. Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis. Knopff, 2022. p. 19-21

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