Every day you read how the “climate crisis” is real, and rapidly getting worse. Humans burning fossil fuels to support out-of-control consumerism have brought the earth to the brink of disaster. Droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, and plagues of every sort are proliferating. Of course, you are feeling all the natural human reactions: fear, dread, not to mention overwhelming guilt at your own role in causing the crisis through the grave sin of enjoying your life. In short, you have entered the state known to the experts as “climate anxiety.”
The New York Times, as usual, was way out front on this issue. Back in July 2021 they published a long piece by Molly Peterson with the headline “How to Calm Your Climate Anxiety.” Subheadline: “Between wildfires, heat waves and hurricanes, we’re all feeling nervous about the future. But stewing or ignoring the problem won’t ease your burden.” Yes, if you are a writer for the New York Times you fully expect that among the readership it is accurate to say that “we’re all” feeling the climate anxiety. How could we not? Kindly, Molly, tell us how bad it is. Excerpts:
Evidence that climate change threatens mental health is mounting, according to a recent report from Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation. Higher temperatures are tied to depressive language and higher suicide rates. Fires, hurricanes and heat waves carry the risk of trauma and depression. . . . Young people especially report feeling debilitated by climate anxiety and being frustrated by older generations. “They try to understand, but they don’t,” said 16-year-old Adah Crandall, a climate and anti-freeway activist in Portland, Oregon. “I am scared for my future because of the inaction of adults in the past.”
But, as that Times headline concedes, “stewing and ignoring the problem” won’t ease your excruciating angst. You’re looking for real solutions here. You want to “do something.” Fortunately for you, a whole new mini-profession of psychologists has sprung up to advise you.
I recently learned about this subject in connection with my upcoming college reunion (50th — ouch!). The college was Yale — I know, one of the looniest institutions on the planet. One of my classmates got wind that they were planning some kind of panel on climate change, and he suggested me for the occasion. But it turned out that the organizers (surprise!) had something different in mind. Another one of our classmates, a guy named Mick Smyer, is one of these psychologists specializing in the “climate anxiety” game, and they have turned the panel over to him. Here is a link to some information about Smyer. It appears that Smyer is going to offer his services to help us all “cope.”
The hypothesis here that you are required to believe to participate in the game is that there is a climate crisis and the cause is human CO2 emissions. If you believe that, one would think you might be concerned, for example, that China has permitted some 47 GW of new coal-fired power plant capacity for construction this year alone. At the emissions rate given by our EIA for coal-fired power plants of 2.23 pounds of CO2 per kWh, that would mean that China’s new coal power plants just this year are going to be emitting around 460 million tons of CO2 annually once they are up and running.
Against that, what does Dr. Smyer suggest to ameliorate your “climate anxiety”? My classmate who had proposed me for the panel did some digging into Smyer’s prior pronouncements, and came up with a list of proposed actions that he suggests you can take, along with supposed CO2 emissions savings from each. Here are some of my favorites (figures in parentheses are supposed annual CO2 emissions reductions in tons):
- Replace the air filters on your air conditioning system regularly (0.30). Well, at least he’s not proposing to get rid of air conditioning entirely. That would be beyond the pale.
- Composting (0.31). I’m not sure exactly how that’s supposed to work here in Manhattan.
- Buy fresh food one time more per week (buying all your food from local sources saves up to 100 tons per year) (100). I find that estimate of a 100 tone annual CO2 emission reduction highly dubious, but put that aside. Has Smyer noticed that around this part of the country we go a full six months per year (about November to April) without any local fresh fruits or vegetables of any kind? And then there are things like coffee, oranges, avocados, rice, etc., etc., that are just not grown around here. I guess it’s back to carrots, turnips and potatoes in the root cellar.
- Recycle (1.40). Aren’t we all doing that already under mandatory government edict?
- Move to a smaller home (2.70). Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter — voluntary poverty. I’ll bet you could save even more by going into a monastery.
- And here’s my personal favorite: Turning water off while brushing teeth can save 0.05 tons per year. That will really put those ChiComs in their place! Unfortunately, as I understand it, here in Manhattan the water system up to six stories works by pure gravity and without electricity.
As absurd as Dr. Smyer’s proposals may appear, he has nothing on Ms. Peterson of the New York Times. For her article, she tracked down something called the Good Grief Network:
The nonprofit Good Grief Network offers support for climate distress through a 10-step process, introduced at weekly meetings that culminate with a commitment to “reinvest in meaningful efforts.” . . . “We don’t see any single approach as a silver bullet” against climate anxiety and inaction, said Sarah Jornsay-Silverberg, the Good Grief Network’s executive director. Instead, the goal is to do things, small or large, that mean something to you, and reflect the internal shift in your outlook.
So what’s an example of a concrete step? Here’s what one subject of the article did:
Using noncombustible materials and sustainable defensible space, they have rebuilt. And next to their new home, they planted a flowering tipu tree, which can spread a canopy of shade within just a few years. “The idea was, we’re not going to be defeated by this thing,” he said.