From apocalypse fatigue to effective climate action
For a range of reasons a common response to the climate crisis is to do nothing. How do we change that?
I wrote recently how I’d decided to take a step back from social media for a while, to improve my physical and mental health.
Those few weeks away from Twitter certainly helped, both by removing me from the minute-by-minute bombardment with bad news, and also by freeing up time to do other things — whether that was reading something interesting or going out for a bike ride.
I’m back on social media in a more managed, mindful way — with the main difference being that it’s no longer on my phone — at least most of the time.
But the context we’re living in hasn’t changed. If anything, it feels like it gets worse by the day.
The record temperatures in the UK last month just added to that sense of us living through a cycle of endless, interconnected crises.
All at a time when our political leaders appear to have little of use to say, or any desire to show some leadership.
It can take its toll on your mental health. I think it’s important to recognise that, and, in whatever way you can, try to manage that.
Beyond the immediate impact on each of us, it seems clear that the immediacy of the various crises that we face — the cost of living crisis being the most obvious example — can make it even more difficult to focus upon the biggest challenge that we face — the climate emergency.
To explore this issue more, I recently read The Good Ancestor — How To Think Long Term in a Short Term World — by Roman Krznaric.
It explores how we are finding it increasingly difficult — for a range of reasons outlined in the book — to think long-term. This is of course most evident in our politics, and no moreso than in the current Conservative leadership election, where policies appear to be being made up on a daily basis.
It’s no longer even about politicians being unable to think beyond the next election. They seem incapable of thinking beyond next week.
This matters because the big challenges that we face require long-term thinking, planning and investment.
Our response to the climate crisis requires us to act now so that the world can sustain human life in 10, 20, or 30 years time.
Yet politicians don’t think in those terms, and, most of the time the rest of us struggle with that too.
In that context, it’s not hard to appreciate why I, and many others, can feel a bit defeated. Climate doomerism takes hold easily. It all feels too difficult. Maybe it’s too late, we tell ourselves.
Yet even though I often have those moments, I do believe there is still time.
And what interests me most in my work is how we can work with others to take effective, collective action in response to the climate crisis.
As I’ve outlined previously, in the social enterprise that I co-founded and help to run, we’re currently looking at our Theory of Change — to really interrogate what it is we do, why we do it, and how we think it creates change.
It’s a really interesting and challenging process. We started by looking at the Theory of Change for each of our projects — and now we are looking at the organisation as a whole.
It’s throwing up all sorts of questions, many of them uncomfortable.
It’s OK that they’re uncomfortable. Because it’s important that we are making the best use of the skills, resources and time that we have. Because, as outlined above, we are living at a time of serious, interconnected crises — and we want to play a part as effectively as we can in responding to these crises.
I really enjoyed this episode of Positive Thinking on Radio 4 earlier this month.
Over half an hour they explore how we might better respond to the climate crisis — recognising some of the reasons that we find it difficult to act.
One of the barriers to action, relevant to what I’m exploring in this post, is what‘s referred to in the programme as “the doom barrier”.
That sense of the future looking terrifying — with all of us inevitably living in endless misery.
This, understandably, creates inertia. Faced with the climate crisis, we do nothing — and in the words of one contributor to the discussion, we go into a “brace position”.
You may well recognise this yourself.
Some of these themes are explored in more detail in this Ted Talk from one of the contributors to the discussion, Per Espen Toknes.
These discussions have given us a lot of food for thought, in relation to our Theory of Change.
It feels like there’s something in there for us about helping people to move from a position of being concerned, but not knowing what to do, to a position where they’re taking effective action alongside others.
That collective action is key to us. As is explored in the Positive Thinking programme above, it is much more motivating to do things alongside other people. And, of course, it can be much more effective, as more people are doing stuff. It can change social norms.
Given that actions at an individual and community level won’t be nearly enough on their own, you would hope too that this kind of bottom-up, community action can also build popular support that will encourage governments and businesses to make the big, strategic changes that are needed.
There’s a good bit more thinking for us to do in our social enterprise to think about our work, and how we can be most effective in contributing to how we respond as a society to the climate crisis. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you’re exploring similar themes, in your personal life or in your work.