Bearing the burden of climate change and extinction

Knowing what we’re going through weighs heavily on us, but there are ways to express and alleviate that pain.

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SOURCEThe Revelalor
Image Credit: The New Yorker

The questions come to me almost every day.

Sometimes a friend leans in toward me with a look of pain or confusion in her eyes. I’ve come to expect the question that’s about to follow.

Other times they arrive by email, direct message, or in response to a Facebook post. There’s desperation in them.

Their wording varies a bit, but many boil down to the same thing: “How are we supposed to handle the news about climate change and the extinction crisis?”

I try to answer as best I can. “We carry that burden because we have to. And we can.”

It’s up to people like me and you to take it on. Because many people, and other creatures, can’t stand up for themselves—especially those most directly threatened by the changes we’re seeing today. And the ones we’ll see tomorrow.

Another version of the question goes like this: “How do you live with the pain of knowing what we’ve lost and what’s coming?”

That’s a tougher question to answer.

We all need to develop our own survival strategies, of course, and those can be personal. But getting out into the wild world is a good idea for all of us. It helps to remind us what we’re losing—and what still urgently needs our help.

You can even start this close to home. I take daily walks around the neighborhood by myself or with my dogs and take the time to watch the birds, insects and plants that we encounter. I recommend that, too, even if you’re only outside for a few minutes. It helps to change your venue, if not your point of view. Of course, sometimes on my longer walks I find myself pacing so fast, with so much anxiety, it feels like the hounds of hell are nipping at my heels—but that in itself is a good reminder that sometimes we just need to slow…down…and…breathe.

I also stand in place and talk to people. Friends and loved ones, professional peers—some offer company and comfort, others guidance and perspective. Even brief conversations on the street or trail can be a welcome break from the pressure.

Most importantly, I talk to people directly involved in climate and conservation issues. They’re the ones doing the hard work, and their experience—even when they’re discouraged or exhausted—reminds me that people are still looking for greater understanding and answers. Their work and their stories, and often their pain, make a difference. You don’t need to be a journalist to do this; activists and experts live in almost every community and are easy to find on social media.

Take advantage of the quiet moments, as well. During my down time, I read—from the nonfiction books I review here at The Revelator, which expose me to new ideas, to fiction and comics. There’s nothing wrong with a little escapism.

And don’t forget to exercise if you’re able: As it turns out, endorphins work.

Personally, I also exorcise pain through artwork and cartooning. Creative expression works, too.

Through it all, I write and tell stories, here at The Revelator, on social media, and in person. That happens to be my job, and I can’t offer it to you at the moment, but whether or not you have a job like mine you can be deeply invested in the important stories of our time—read them, pass them along, and retell them yourself. Stories are how we make meaning.

Don’t be afraid to get upset or angry, either. Those are valid responses. Your pain and fear need an escape valve.

As a journalist covering these issues, there are also some things I can’t do.

Ethically, I can’t protest, call my elected officials, donate to political candidates, run for office, sign petitions, or generally be an activist.

But for those of you in other professions, those are great paths to action. They’ll help you fight the despair, and they’ll push progress at the same time.

No matter how many adaptive strategies you’ve been devising, let’s admit—it’s been a hell of a year.

And that’s why taking time off once in a while is also a good strategy.

We’re about to take our annual end-of-the-year break here at The Revelator. When we return the first week of January—rested and recharged, we hope—we plan to hit the ground running with some powerful, important stories and thought-provoking essays, starting once again with our predictions about some of the most pressing problems we’re likely to encounter in the year ahead.

We look forward to you joining us for what will no doubt be an eventful 2020. (Eventful may prove to be a drastic understatement. Better get some rest over the holidays, while you still can.)

We’re not disappearing completely during the next two weeks. Before the year’s up, we’ll revisit some of our most thought-provoking articles and essays from 2019. You’ll still see us on social media, although perhaps not as much (yes, that’s another strategy). And our newsletter will still come out every Thursday (subscribe here if you don’t already).

We want to keep having conversations. Even when we’re out of the office, our email inboxes stay open, and we want to hear from you. Send us story ideas. Tell us what you want to know more about or what you think needs to get done. Start writing an op-ed or essay for us. Share your thoughts and experiences about how these critical environmental issues are affecting you and the planet around you.

While you’re at it, we’d love to hear how you’ve carried the burden so far and learn more about your own coping strategies.

Because we’re all in this together, and one thing’s for sure: None of us can do it alone.

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