Don't look away from climate change

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In my life and my work, I deal with deadlines. I need to write to deadline and I set deadlines for other writers. I joke (but it’s very true) that I couldn’t get anything done without a deadline. I love deadlines.

Woman looking at her phone screen with a worried expression (pxhere)

But when I read the expected deadlines for climate change to become catastrophic, these points of no return meant to frighten us into action, all I can feel is dread.

In the past few years, we’ve become more familiar with the concept of eco-anxiety (also known as climate anxiety or solastalgia). This is a sometimes debilitating anxiety people get when engaging with climate change, sometimes triggered by news articles about climate change. I’m pretty sure I have a low-level amount of it. I think in some ways it would be hard not to. I’m already an anxious person, and I have to engage with the most up-to-date information about climate change for my job.

Every time I need to read an article that deals with climate change, I can feel a tightness in my body. It’s a physical response, the churning in my stomach and my shoulders hunching over, as though I’m trying to protect myself from the information. I read it anyway, focusing on the quality of the writing and the strength of the argument. Sitting in my office chair, I feel a little like the dog meme who says to himself, ‘this is fine’.

The overwhelming temptation is to not think about it too hard. I’m an avoider and procrastinator by nature, so this falls straight into my bad habits. But climate change is also, for all my privilege, becoming difficult to avoid, at least without employing some serious cognitive dissonance. It creeps in when I walk through my suburb and notice that each year the wild freesias are coming a bit earlier. I think about it when I am at an airport, and instead of wondering about where all the people are going, I think about all the jet fuel that those planes will be using.

There are, of course, many people who don’t have the privilege of thinking about climate change selectively. The real people who are, or soon will be, directly and adversely affected by climate change and the ways we pollute our planet: the people who don’t have enough food and water, the people who live in smoggy cities, the people who live in cities or countries threatened by natural disastersmelting ice and rising water levels. Climate change is already disproportionally affecting the most marginalised.

Australians are becoming more worried about climate change, but can still be stuck in a Western tendency to separate the environment from humanity, and by extension, see climate activism as less important or pertinent. But in many ways, environmental justice is social justice — we are all coexisting and implicated.

 

"It is hard to keep confronting the realities of climate change. Our minds are literally fighting against us to do so."

 

From 16 of September, media organisations from around the world will be participating in Covering Climate Now, an initiative started by Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation to emphasise the emergent nature of climate change in the lead up to the United Nations Climate Action summit on the 23rd of September. Eureka Street will also be taking part, publishing a week’s worth of climate change coverage.

We will have articles that talk about nuclear power and politics, explore what sovereignty might mean when countries no longer exist, list ways we deny climate change is happening, and how consumerism factors into all of it. The writing we have commissioned is in different styles and tones, but underlying in all of the works is a sense of urgency.

The word deadline has a brutal history. The term comes from the American Civil War, and according to Merriam-Webster, it meant a ‘line drawn within or around a prison that a prisoner passes at the risk of being shot’. There’s a stark literalness to the word — cross over this point, and you are dead.

It is hard to keep confronting the realities of climate change. Our minds are literally fighting against us to do so, and it’s important to check in with ourselves about our mental health, take steps to manage our own self care and talk to others about how we’re feeling.

We do, however, still need to keep engaging with it. It could look like taking part of the Climate Strike on the 20th of September. It could be learning how to fix things you would normally throw away or join your local climate action group. Maybe it'll be reading Covering Climate Now stories. The learning and talking and protesting is all part of getting through this. We have a deadline to work to.

 

 

Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street and a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Image: Woman looking at her phone screen with a worried expression (pxhere)

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, Covering Climate Now, environment, climate anxiety, eco-anxiety

 

 

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Existing comments

Thanks Neve, compassionately written. We can not look away from climate change - our natural world surrounds us, sustains us and fires our imaginations. We are intimately connected and our future well-being is tied to the earth's well-being. I look forward to reading the forthcoming articles in ES about this very serious topic.
Pam | 16 September 2019


As an educator, I taught about Climate Change (or Global Warming as it was first called) as part of the Geography syllabus from the mid 1980's. Later I taught it as "Stewardship of God's Creation" when teaching Religious Studies. I have monitored weather and climate for just on half a century , reporting on it each day as part of the network of weather observers across the continent . With the mountain of evidence now available like you Neve, I have become increasingly concerned at the new records being established and broken yearly as our climate warms. At times I feel a sense of intense frustration that those in power fail to read the signs all around us. I worried for my grandchildren, now I am worrying for my children. I also thank E. S. for joining "The Covering Climate Now" initiative.
Gavin A O'Brien | 16 September 2019


There are many things we can do as individuals to combat climate change. Installing solar panels is one. We can walk or cycle instead of drive the car more often. We can consume less. We can bury the kitchen scraps in the garden. We can vote for politicians who are serious about taking climate action. We can plant trees. We can buy carbon off-sets to offset our carbon emissions. We can download, read and implement ' Laudato Si''. We could see the movie '2040' for more ideas. and we can visit the 'Climate Council' website for reliable information. We need to act - not despair! The future of our children and the planet is at stake!
Grant Allen | 17 September 2019


Addressing the climate emergency is an enormous challenge. Thankfully we have the leadership of Pope Francis to help guide us. Laudato si' should be compulsory reading for all Catholics. It addresses the science, the ethics and the theology of the climate crisis lucidly. And we should also give thanks for Eureka Street, not only for participating in Climate Coverage Now but also for its excellent coverage of the issue over many years.
Tim Stephens | 18 September 2019


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