As data continues to underscore the severity of climate change, reactions have been all over the place. Politically, Democrats and Republicans have been divided, as they continue to spar on EPA regulations and climate policy altogether. For politicians, the talking points are about policy and lobbyist money. But perhaps the most vulnerable in the conversation are everyday citizens, some of whom are reporting “climate despair.” That is, climate change has given them so much anxiety they’ve considered suicide.
Though climate despair is far from the status quo, the wave is undoubtedly growing. VICE reported that 37-year-old Meg Ruttan Walker, a former teacher, “felt like there was nowhere to go,” and that “[her] son was home with [her] and … [she] couldn’t even look at him without breaking down.” As a result, Walker contemplated self-harm in light of what felt like helplessness.
Now, most people can’t resonate with Walker — climate change is serious but not enough for one to self-harm or even commit suicide. But science shows that this kind of behavior isn’t all that outlandish.
A 2009 study conducted by British researchers tested subjects by exposing them to fear-inducing climate-data visualizations. In other words, researchers wanted to know how people would react if presented with a “do something … or die” scenario. Surprisingly, the research yielded that people tended to choose the latter.
Thematically, it’s all about hopelessness. Some might ask, “Why bother if we can’t do anything about climate change anyway?” Others might wonder what the fate of their kids might be. When people hear AOC say that the world will end in 12 years due to climate change. And rightfully so, whether or not science backs that claim up.
We need to talk about what companies and politicians can do to work together in the fight against climate change. There needs to be a discussion around how oil and gas companies can get involved in moving the world towards cleaner energy.
Altogether, we need to take action. Climate reform can’t be theoretical — it can’t just companies promising things 20 or 30 years down the line. Though those promises are surely helpful, people want to see progress immediately. The feedback loop needs to be short and people need to see implementation, not just conversation.
That’s how we deal with climate despair in the long run — reduce the feeling of helplessness through actually doing something about climate change and showing people they can take action and make a difference.