In taking on individual responsibility, it is also important to recognize that we need not panic. While we must be urgent, and act quickly and efficiently, we must realize that climate change is not just a momentary crisis in our lifetime — it will characterize our lifetime. Bad news, catastrophic weather events, loss, habitat destruction, meticulous and grueling reworking of our political and economic system… these will become
part of our everyday life. But so will new leaders and new technologies, moments
of success, overcoming challenges, deepening connection, and mass healing.
The true challenge of climate change will be overcoming our destructive,
entrenched systems and beliefs amidst the incoming instability, and replacing
them with new ones that will sustain us in the long run. And that will be an
evolutionary development – that will take a long time.
Amidst this new reality, panic cannot be our lifestyle. If we want to be sustainable, strong agents of change, we will still need to find room for love,
for joy, for rest, for connection, for self-care. As characterized by many of the
activists I spoke to, the work will require “constant vigilance”, not an apocalyptic
frenzy. Our well being is an essential part of this journey.
And, alas, essential to our well being – and our success – is optimism. We humans are governed by our imaginations, and it is safe to assume the extent to which we believe we can solve the climate crisis will reflect the extent to which we do. If we are working towards a healthier, sustainable future, we will find solutions. If we treat ourselves as doomed, we will find no reason to change. As Grinspoon put it, “pessimism about our future is actually irresponsible," and “more likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy than to rouse people
to action.”[i] We therefore must put our full will behind conceptualizing the world
we want to create.
As Joanna Macy describes in her book Active Hope, we can train ourselves
to be more optimistic by changing our perspectives on the things that trigger our
pessimism — particularly uncertainty and frustration. Our reason-obsessed, progress-oriented minds see these as signs of failure. But in a world of constant flux, where continual adaptation and re-adaptation are necessary, frustration and uncertainty are inherent. As we can’t escape them, why not be resourceful like our biosphere, and learn to embrace them? Why not see uncertainty as a breeding ground for growth, as an opportunity to carve your own path forward when the answer isn’t clearly there? Why not see frustration as a sign that you are doing so, that you are becoming part of a positive legacy of change? Digging up entrenched systems and beliefs is tiring, vigilant work. Frustration is a necessary part of that journey — an indication that you are on, not off, course[ii].
Vigilance, Not Panic
[i] From “Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future” by David Grinspoon, 2016, p. 451. Grand Central Publishing.
[ii] From “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy” by J. Macy and C. Johnstone, 2012, p. 189. New World Library.