The Climate Crisis: Anxiety, helplessness and a different approach

‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”

— W B Yeats – ‘The Second coming’, (1919)


Wildfires in Utah seemed to take over the sky

Fay and I are both opinionated people.We have very well-defined views on politics, religion and the environment.We are proud to consider ourselves liberals and environmentally aware, and within our group of friends and peers, we make no secret of our beliefs and opinions.I’m sure there are many people better informed in all these areas than we are, but we both read as much as we can and try to keep ourselves as well informed as we can.

I think you’ll agree it’s impossible not to ‘take a side’ when talking about these subjects.None the less, we’ve always made a point when creating content for the blog to remain as neutral on contentious subjects as we can – simply put, our main purpose here is to talk about all things related to travel and adventure and we do not want to be side-tracked or derailed into conversations about our political views.I think we’ve all seen how these things can degenerate in the comments sections!

However, it has reached a stage where there are some issues – specifically the Climate Crisis – where we feel we genuinely cannot keep our opinions to ourselves any longer.To use the word crisis may seem like a cheap shock tactic, but let’s be honest: that’s exactly what it is.We believe expressions like ‘Global Warming’ or ‘Climate Change’ are now inadequate: the former does not accurately describe the reality of the situation and as such offers a simple way for deniers to counter or reject otherwise sound reporting.The latter is simply too mild.The vocabulary does not go far enough to suggest the true gravity and danger of what is happening.It does not suggest something that is a problem let alone a potential existential threat for our whole way of life and perhaps even our lives themselves.

From our point of view there is no question that the Climate Crisis is real and absolutely zero debate that it is caused by human activity – namely the output of greenhouse gases.I don’t want to spend any more time putting forward the case that these things are real.The weight of proper scientific evidence can’t be ignored.Sadly, though, there are still plenty of people who ignore the evidence – whether that’s simply because it is convenient not to believe or because they know well what’s happening but have a vested (and short-sighted!) interest in keeping things going as they are.It is also sad that this minority of climate deniers – and I really do believe they are a minority – happen to be exceptionally vocal and in some cases influential.Just as the anti-vax movement took on a life of its own following relatively small-scale reporting, the climate denial movement has grown disproportionately and dangerously to the point where blatantly false opinions and pseudo-science are now regularly pedalled as truth.

I’m sitting down to write this article in January 2020 and, as I’m sure many of you have also been doing, we’ve been following the story of the Australian wildfires with a mixture of absolute astonishment and horror.These fires will be extinguished or burn themselves out with time, and it won’t be long before they have left the news cycle and in turn, our memories.So, for the benefit of those who might be reading this article in months or years to come, here is a recap: From November 2019, Australia has suffered what is undoubtedly its worst bushfire season in living memory.The statistics associated with the fire are dizzying – almost incomprehensible: 18.6 million hectares burned.And estimated one billion animals killed with some species perhaps left extinct. A smoke plume that has entered the stratosphere and encircled the globe.As I write, the fires still burn.

What’s almost as bewildering as the scale of the fires are some of the theories being wheeled out to explain them.Climate Crisis denial is big business these days after all – and indeed it is formally endorsed by the Australian government.Various conspiracy theories are being linked to the fires: That they are a result of co-ordinated arson attacks; that Daesh (aka ISIS) is somehow responsible; that it is a false flag operation perpetrated by environmental terrorists; That it is a ploy to clear land to build a high speed railway line.Anything and everything, it seems, can be blamed for the fires.Except the obvious.

Brutal weather conditions on the flanks of Aneto, Spanish Pyrenees. Mountain conditions are becoming more and more unreliable, having a dangerous and life threatening effect on mountain sports

Brutal weather conditions on the flanks of Aneto, Spanish Pyrenees. Mountain conditions are becoming more and more unreliable, having a dangerous and life threatening effect on mountain sports

It’s been suggested that conspiracy theories can act as an emotional or psychological crutch to believers: It is convenient – preferable, even – to believe that the Australian Government, say, started the bushfires to clear the way for a new rail line,or that they were lit for whatever reason by ISIS terror cells because it simplifies the problem.It reduces an inconceivable disaster to a set of human actions that we could easily solve if only we – collectively – could see the problem.Put simply, conspiracy theory (and this can also be said for Climate Crisis denial), are a convenient way for people – whether consciously or not – to ignore a problem that frankly may not be solvable.

The simple fact is that the Australian bushfires we are seeing right now (along with those we saw personally in California in 2018 and those that are little reported but still raging in Siberia) are directly caused by the Climate Crisis.It’s true that wildfires are a natural occurrence in all these places, but it is also true that all these areas are generally getting hotter and drier – both of which are conducive to fire.The fires may be a natural occurrence, but their increased frequency and severity is not down to natural causes.

The destruction these events cause to the environment is obvious, and it is a small step from here to see the economic impact these events have: homes destroyed; businesses and livelihoods lost.Less obvious, less well reported but just an obvious step further is the stress and mental health issues induced by the disasters on individuals. It is not hard to imagine that someone who had lost their home, possessions and income to a fire would suffer.But the human cost is far more wide-reaching still.It is being documented that the sense of helplessness many people feel in light of the Climate Crisis is causing mental health issues even in people not directly affected by events as cataclysmic as the Australian Bushfires.

It is perhaps no surprise that these mental health issues are being documented mostly in places that are at the ‘sharp end’ of the Climate Crisis –Greenland is one example.But it does not take much research to see that these issues are already appearing globally.Extinction Rebellion is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of this.

A sense of fear seems to have grown around the Climate Crisis, and a lot of people are afraid of guilt.Guilt that they have not done enough or that what they are making statements about regarding the Climate Crisis will be criticised for not going far enough or not having all the facts (to be clear, though, I’m talking about individuals here.When massive petrochemical companies post carbon calculators to try to shame their customers, then the internet is quite right to bite back!).The fear of ‘getting it wrong’ seems to paralyse people from writing what they truly feel about the climate crisis in many ways – and from my research, it seems to be the case that a lot of people feel that it’s best to leave it up to the experts. But that isn’t true, and in order to get past the stigma of fearing saying the wrong thing, we need to start taking action to say the things that don’t sit for us.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – used to treat a range of mental and behavioural health issues – focusses on solutions rather than the cause of the problem and promotes action over analysis and I believe that we need the same approach in the face of the Climate Crisis.We must put the fear and guilt behind us and instead concentrate on what positive steps we can take to make a difference, all whilst talking from a positive standpoint and appreciation for what we have and about saving it.Only with positive action can we begin to turn things around.

The iconic and ancient city of Petra, Jordan, pictured before the flash floods of 2018 that killed 11 people and forced mass evacuation

The iconic and ancient city of Petra, Jordan, pictured before the flash floods of 2018 that killed 11 people and forced mass evacuation

The Climate Crisis is feeding an epidemic of uncertainty: Environmental constants and seasonal patterns that have been taken for granted for generations – ‘for ever’, even – are now becoming unreliable.Whether that’s the increase in severity of wildfire season in so many countries, flash-flooding in the desert in Petra in Jordan, water sources vanishing in Cape Town and Mexico City or crops becoming unreliable and failing, old assumptions can no longer be maintained.

As our environment – something many people assume is constant and reliable – becomes less dependable, then anxiety and mental health issues are sure to arise.A few years ago, we visited the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland.We learned that at its current rate of retreat, the glacier will be gone within 90 years.In an attempt to prolong its life, portions of the glacier are now covered by insulating blankets.There seemed something futile about this – like throwing a pebble at a charging bull.In a way, though, it seemed like a fitting metaphor: We cling desperately to what we know, even as it slips from our grasp.Perhaps climate anxiety will be remembered as the epidemic of the 21stCentury?

But despite the sombre tone of this article, I am ultimately an optimist.I remember when I was a kid, my old relatives used to say that the Chinese have the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity. I have no idea if that’s actually true, and in a way, I don’t want to find out, because I really like the idea of that saying and I think it is very relevant now.The Climate Crisis is horrific and there will be dreadful consequences for sure – there already are. But it is also a prime opportunity for humanity to show its best side.It gives us a fantastic opportunity to re-evaluate how we do things and whether or not some of the solutions we now use are indeed the best.

I find science fiction is a very useful tool here: it has given us so many visions of the future – some idyllic, but most dystopian.Through this lens we can start to imagine how things might play out.Blade Runner 2049 gave us a vision of Los Angeles shielded from the Pacific by a vast barrier.Closer to home – and definitely a real thing – the Thames Barrier has been doing a similar job of protecting London from flooding due to surge tides since 1982.So, as sea levels rise, is our future going to be spent building sea walls around our cities?Perhaps.A major city like Los Angeles, New York or London cannot feasibly be moved, and I think that massive sea defences are inevitable in these places.However, I don’t think the future is all so bleak.I’ve read a veryinteresting opinion piecesuggesting that rising sea levels presenta perfect opportunity to re-evaluate or relationship with the sea and to relocate communities in a way that improves the lives of those moved rather than creating hordes of climate refugees.The reality will likely fall somewhere in between the two – no perfectly managed retreat, but not quite islands surrounded by walls either.

The move away from the carbon economy also presents enormous opportunity.Every way I look at it, it seems like a good thing.Even if it were suddenly proved beyond all doubt that man-made climate change was not happening, I still think a move away from fossil fuels is both inevitable and massively beneficial – and beneficial not just to consumers, but also to business: the innovation needed to overcome this crisis will lead to new technology and see whole new industries.Perhaps the only thing holding us back are influential voices in the fossil fuel industry.When I think about this, I often wonder how loudly whalers complained and what steps they took to preserve their industry when the first mineral oil wells were discovered?

The Woolsey fire in Southern California, 2018 as seen domineering the skies of Los Angeles. The fire burned 96,949 acres of land, destroyed 1,643 structures, killed three people and forced the evacuation of 295,000 people

The Woolsey fire in Southern California, 2018 as seen domineering the skies of Los Angeles. The fire burned 96,949 acres of land, destroyed 1,643 structures, killed three people and forced the evacuation of 295,000 people

In time, I truly believe that coal and petrol will be considered as obsolete and morally questionable as whale oil.A thing only lives as long as the last person who remembers it, and in the future, people will no doubt read about the petroleum industry with the same sort of morbid fascination of a thing that lays just past our collective memories in the same way you do when you read a copy of Moby Dick today.It’s undoubted that we have done too little too late and that we will all suffer for the consumption of the 20thand early 21stcenturies. Dark day are certainly ahead, but I have to see the light beyond that and I do believe that our best qualities will come through and help us to not just survive but also build a better future.

The Climate Crisis is a brutal balancing of the books.We are having to come to terms with the consequences of generations of abuse to our planet.But only seeing the negatives does not help.The situation is grave and there are tough choices – both for government and individuals and families ahead – but from these tough choices we can create an opportunity to redefine our relationship with our environment, our relationship with consumption and perhaps even our very identity as humans.We have an opportunity – and it seems public opinion is truly shifting this way – to genuinely re-valuate our place on earth.We need to find a new appreciation, love and respect for our home.

We must move beyond fear and finger-pointing and instead concentrate on positive solutions – things that we can do as individuals and that government can put into policy – that can start to make a real, tangible change.Past this, we believe we need to rebuild our connection with nature and relearn that we are part of a larger system that we must learn to work with and not just exploit.We have the power to make a difference and we do believe that the tide is turning and that our planet as a whole has a brighter future ahead.