The IPCC report is the bearer of alarming news for all on Earth. How can we best hear and respond to this alarm, caring for ourselves and others while mustering motivation and commitment for desperately needed action? The research of climate psychology tells us that rather than suppress or avoid our distress, we need to welcome it as a healthy response to the climate crisis. If we are not feeling some level of fear and grief, we are in denial.
Acknowledging the myriad feelings of distress we have in response to climate breakdown is crucial for sustained action in response. Our feelings show us how much we care about our world, our communities, our lives and our loved ones. This caring is the basis for the action and change our world needs from us all right now.
This work of acknowledging our feelings needs to be done with others, for climate breakdown involves us all, both in its causes and its effects, albeit to varying degrees. We need to use this report as a stimulus for reaching out to others, not only to share ideas about what we can do in response, but first to ask one another how we feel. Climate distress is very difficult, if not impossible, to bear alone. However, inviting an open conversation with trusted climate aware colleagues, friends or family members about how you feel in response to the latest climate news, lets everyone name and validate their feelings. We can learn that we are not alone in what we feel. There can be great comfort in this.
Psychotherapists describe a safe sharing of feelings and a careful listening to how others feel as a form of ‘holding and being held’. There are a growing number of group approaches based on this simple premise, facilitated by organisations such as Psychology for Safe Climate, the Climate Psychology Alliance and the Good Grief Network. Listening to our own and others’ emotional oscillations helps us to accept the necessity and normality of feelings of grief, hope and despair as part of the emotional ebb and flow that accompanies major loss and change. Being held by a large group can make all the difference to how we respond as we become more able to engage with an open heart and a stronger sense of shared purpose. This is what our leaders are supposed to help us do. True leadership can hold the fear and grief evoked by the climate crisis and offer a vision for the future we can work towards together.
How to read the report
How you read the IPCC report or climate media reports bears thinking about. It is important to be kind to yourself, and to be in as calm and grounded a state as one can be. Ideally do this with a trusted companion or a group of colleagues. Choose the time of day to read and a pleasant setting, perhaps first walking or meditating in a natural setting. It can be helpful to read slowly, noting your feelings, taking pauses to focus on your breath and checking in with yourself and with others. Try not to take in more than you can digest, take time out for refreshments.