How Do You Face A Crisis?

The climate crisis is the largest challenge that humanity has ever faced, and the tipping point is right now. This is a technical challenge, an economic challenge, and a policy challenge – and scientists, businesses, and politicians will need to be bold, creative, and decisive. 

That said, technical, economic, and political systems are not the only systems that deserve our attention. After all, the climate crisis is also a profound psychological, moral, cultural, and spiritual issue. In recent weeks, BCL students have been grappling  with how we should face this crisis, in our minds and in our hearts.

In an interview with Christina Figueres, Rebecca Solnit humanized the climate crisis by reminding us that we are faced with 

“a kind of binary thinking…either we’re confident everything will turn out fine, in which case we don’t need to do anything, or everything is going to hell and there’s nothing we can do about it–and they are both justifications for passivity. There’s a tendency to think that hope means that you don’t have to do anything, but for me hope is an engagement with radical uncertainty. We don’t know what’s going to happen… If you think, ‘It’s all over,’ it sounds like ‘I don’t actually have to do anything.’ Despair requires very little of you. Despair is a luxury good and an excuse. Hope is a method of engagement.”

Solnit may be right, but uncertainty is hard to hold. As we began to explore the full range of human responses to this crisis, we saw just how many of them can lead to passivity. How should we face something this big, and something this scary? What is the path forward? 

Climate change has been on my radar my entire life. My teachers, parents, and mentors always described global warming as the world’s problem, but for some reason, I did not include myself in the world. It was always the world’s problem and not mine, funny considering I am a part of this world… In a BCL activity, we posed a question about whether we should wait for everyone to be on the same page and act together, or if we should start addressing global warming before it is too late but without full support from the people. The latter of the two sounds much better in my mind. I can not imagine a world with deadly heat, bleached coral reefs, and submerged coasts. I very much look forward to our next discussion around this topic, the articles we read are helping me grasp the full picture a bit more.

Auggie

Global warming is one of the biggest threats to humanity and if we don’t address this problem soon, there won’t be a place for us to live. Cities are both the cause, and the solution. “Cities, while being the main cause of climate change, are also the most affected. Most cities are situated near water, putting them at risk from rising sea levels and storms.” CO2 emissions have risen 90% since 1970 and they will only continue to rise if nothing is done about it. The decisions of the past have really impacted future generations, and because of the fact that all of the people in power now are old, they don’t really have to do anything because they’ll be gone soon. As the population continues to rise, there will be fewer homes for people to live in because of the possibility of flooding in major cities due to global warming. 

Ali
Anna and Aya grapple with how to prioritize the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals…
…while Felipe and Gonzalaiz look for interdependence.

Reading the Seven Days article about Vermonters responding to the climate crisis with grief and action made me realize I most certainly have responded to the crisis in a similar way mentally to other Vermonters. The article talks a lot about the dread and anxiety that comes with the realization of global warming and its effects. For me, I have known about global warming since a young age but somehow did not understand its severity until recently. I knew it was an extreme issue, but I didn’t understand it enough for it to scare me. This past year, it has really set in. The feelings of anxiety and fear I have when I think of the crisis are overwhelming. What will my future look like? What will my children’s future look like, and will it even be smart at that point to have kids? The fact this is something I already feel the need to consider is upsetting.

Aya

When reading the articles I chose, I had mixed reactions. I also tried to go into the articles without a firm opinion, but after just the first few paragraphs, I was fighting off old ideas of thinking and starting to accumulate new perspectives. In an article about the psychological responses to threat, the author writes “There’s a debate in climate circles about whether you should try to scare the living daylights out of people, or give them hope – think images of starving polar bears on melting ice caps on the one hand, and happy families on their bikes lined with flowers and solar-powered lights on the other…” One specific communicative tactic will not have the same effect on every person in the world. Since climate change really is a global problem, I think we need to start customizing our different tactics. We need more than just fear or hope tactics. We need to target smaller groups with different tactics… [We also need] a higher quantity of educational material that is being put out into the world so that climate change gets on more people’s radars and becomes a priority.

Henry 

 “There’s “a danger in overstating the science in a way that presents the problem as unsolvable, and feeds a sense of doom, inevitability and hopelessness” (The Guardian). When I began to look at this quote through a different lens, I understood its application to the real world. In situations where I experience challenges that don’t feel accomplishable, I feel unmotivated. This  leads to the issue only getting worse as more time passes, and leads to inaction. This is the mindset that many feel when the topic of climate change is brought up, because as one person, it’s hard to imagine you can impact the global climate. Even though I am aware of the issues going on around me, I have never felt climate panic, “a growing sense that everything is hurtling toward cataclysm, that we’ve trapped ourselves in a hell of our own making.” When I tried to search for a scenario that I could personally relate to, I came upon the article, The Snowy Countries Losing Their Identity. Although the author lives in the German countryside, the experiences they had were so similar to ours in Vermont that I could picture myself writing a similar piece.

The silent transformation of winter’s character can also weigh on one’s psyche. To me, it’s more than just a reminder of the wrenching planetary change we’ve caused and the hopelessness and anger I associate with it. There is something unique to witnessing the deterioration of this season.

 I think back to my early elementary school years when I could consistently wake up to a white blanket of snow, when today, we rarely experience more than 1-2 snowstorms. These articles helped me relate to the effects of climate change. 

Emmett

Because the impact [from climate change] is global, there will be different solutions for each individual, group, city, country, etc. The article by the Guardian stressed the need to find the balance between fear and hope when making change. It’s hard to tell what will be the most effective. At the end of the article, the author stressed that simply ensuring that the idea of climate change is shared and it becomes real to the world is where we should first go. After that, the different methods of hope and fear can be targeted, and used to make the most change as fast as possible. 

Karl
Students tour  the McNeil Biomass Generating Plant, a key part of what makes Burlington’s energy production portfolio 100% renewable.
Paul Pikna, SeniorGeneration Engineer, explains the carbon cycle.

Susanne Moser writes that ¨It is incredibly hard to look the realities we have created in the eye.¨ Yes, yes it is, and it’s not getting easier. We need to take action and keep taking action until climate change is solved or we die. It might seem like we may not be able to do much in the face of climate change, but we need to look for the places where we can make the most impact and do the most we can…We must not give up, we must not succumb to depression and despair, not yet. Eventually, when there is no more hope and we are doomed, then we can lay down and die, but until then we need to keep working.

Connor

In the conversation with scientist Susanne Moser, published in Earth Island Journal, one quote that stood out to me reminded me of the privilege I have in this crisis. “It’s no coincidence that eco-anxiety tends to afflict the privileged – those for whom climate change is an internet rabbit hole rather than a life-upending reality.” Every person experiences climate change differently, and I experience the dread and mental effects of it while others experience extreme effects of climate change first hand on top of these feelings. So what can I and others do to change our thinking to be beneficial? The article talked about the two kinds of hope. It explained what grounded hope can look like. 

It’s not like you’re working towards winning something grand. You don’t know that you’ll be able to achieve that. But you do know that you cannot live with yourself if you do not do everything toward a positive outcome.” 

With radical hope, “you have to reinvent yourself completely to come to peace with whatever that new future is.” Radical hope means being hopeful and taking action without knowing if there will be a positive outcome. I think this is what I’m missing when thinking about the climate crisis. My question now is how can we come to peace with what the future holds, while making change, without knowing if our efforts will succeed?

Aya
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Maria journals about connection to place.
Discussing resilience while exploring our urban wilds.

I have noticed a change in how people are getting increasingly scared about the climate crisis in my lifetime. I have not been alive for long enough to experience a complete shift of people’s mindsets, but I have noticed a big shift just in the last ten years. I remember being in elementary and middle school and having talks about “global warming.” I think now that I have not heard the term global warming in so long. I think this is because global warming almost sounds like an idea and not a factual situation. I have been alive to experience the shift from global warming to the climate crisis. I think this shift is because people are getting increasingly scared about how they view this situation. It is such a large scale issue that people do not know how to handle themselves. Climate collapse is a test that you can’t study for. There is no cheat sheet or review packet. It would be pointless for me to talk about solutions here because I as a single person can do very little. Even if I changed my entire life the impact of just me would still be basically nothing. That said, it is still important to TRY…People can accept that the possible disasters are scary, but working to fix them just takes work. I know that solving the climate crisis would help many other people. That is enough motivation I need. I do not need the stories of what will happen if we do not act or the dates at which  point all will be lost. People just need to think about others and try to help.

Cooper

In a conversation with Joanna Macy on the Outrage + Optimism podcast, Christina Figueres says:

We are walking along the ridge of a very tall mountain and if we turn our gaze to the left we see a very steep precipice of darkness, of anger, of despair, of destruction. And if we turn our gaze to the right we see the connection that we have to nature, to this planet, to each other. We see the love that is possible, we see the compassion that is powerful and we see the solidarity that can be transformative, but we are walking on that ridge…. What I find disquieting is that as a whole we humans still have to decide which way we are going to turn our energies.”

In our society we have polarized the climate crisis and tried to simplify it to one side or the other. We don’t know which way we want to turn, so instead we look up and try to avoid the problem altogether. We needed to do both. This is something that I took away from Jen Green, Burlington’s Director of Sustainability. You have to see the negative, the sad, the depressive reality of climate change, but then you need to turn toward the positive. If you dig yourself into a hole you won’t be able to get out and therefore you need to start small. Look for little successes, then move to bigger ones. You need to not let other factors get in the way.

Anna

When we met with Ashley Eaton, she asked us to write down some things that we were hopeful about in our journals. I wrote “I’m hopeful that our generation will work together to solve issues other generations kind of dumped on us. We’re a very welcoming, understanding, & smart generation. I believe that we will come up with creative ways to solve these issues.” I didn’t intend to put the blame on “other generations” when I wrote that, even if that’s the case in some ways. I was recognizing that my generation can put aside people’s differences when needing to face challenging issues. I’m not sure what it is, but to me it feels like each new generation gets more empathetic and open-minded. Climate change is a major issue, and it affects every single person on Earth. When taking climate action, the youth are thinking on that larger scale. We realize that it’s more important to make significant changes that will help many people and stabilize our planet, even if that impacts our country’s economy or privileges. We’re thinking about the years to come and the generations after us.

My classmate, Anna, described how she hoped that now that youth are talking more about global issues, it would create a “chain reaction.” As issues are discussed and creative solutions are developed, awareness of other neglected issues will increase. There is so much interconnection between problems in our world. Tackling one problem can lead to solving many more. I’m hopeful that my generation’s willingness to discuss and find solutions to issues, driven from our empathy for others, will bring great change!

Maria
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Sunrise at Delta Park
Additional Reading & Listening
We’re not in the habit of sharing recommended links, but this issue feels so alive right now. We figured it couldn’t hurt. Feel free to read, listen, and pass these links around. The more people who are thinking about this stuff, and talking with others about it, the better. 

Audio: “Facing This Mess with Heart,” with Joanna Macy [Start at 11-minutes!] Joanna Macy, now 90 years old, is a Buddhist philosopher, writer, and activist. She speaks eloquently about this unique moment in human evolution, and the opportunity for compassion, engagement, and love.

Interview: How to Prepare Internally for Whatever Comes Next –– Joanna Macy  “How lucky we are to be alive now—that we can measure up in this way.”

Article: Holding on to hope in the middle of a deluge of bad news about the world Dr Chris Johnstone, a resilience specialist, explores how to remain inspired when there is so much to feel depressed about

Audio: “It’s Time to Rebel,” with Gail Bradbrook [Start at 7-minutes!]  Gail Bradbrook is the founder of Extinction Rebellion [XR], a global non-violent civil disobedience movement, and believes that we must face this crisis by taking real risks, and by disrupting systems.

Audio: Embracing Radical Uncertainty with Rebecca Solnit  [Start at 22-minutes!]  Rebecca Solnit is a writer, historian, and activist. She has authored more than 20+ books on feminism, western and urban history, popular power, social change and insurrection, and hope and catastrophe. She is quoted as saying, “Hope is embracing radical uncertainty…Hope is an axe to break a door down.” 

Article: Which Works Better: Climate Fear, or Climate Hope? Well, It’s Complicated — This article from the Guardian focuses on communication, motivation, and human psychology. It is packed with embedded links. Consider clicking on a few of them!  (NOTE: If you read this article, spend some time with the BBC’s series titled Climate Emotions as well. This series includes sections such as “How to Beat Climate Anxiety,” and “How Flight Shame is Changing Travel.” )

Article: Degrees of Panic: Vermonters Respond to the Climate Crisis with Grief and Action  — A Seven Days article, offering a  local perspective, with global connections. A wide variety of different “ways to face a crisis” are highlighted.

Article: Despairing About The Climate Crisis? Read This. What exists between “We’re going to be fine” and “We’re screwed, we’re going to die out in the next five decades” …?  The answer is hope – but not a blind hope. Instead, climate scientist Susanne Moser makes the case for a hope that leaves space for transformation. In this complex and beautiful interview, Moser reflects on the mindset we need to survive into an uncertain future. 

Editorial: ‘He Just Cried for a While.’ This Is My Reality of Parenting During a Climate Disaster. One New Orleans mother on Hurricane Ida and what comes next.

Audio: The Future of Hope (A Conversation Between Kate Bowler and Whajahat Ali) Whaj and Kate met through a tragedy. Here, they irreverently play with, and heartfully reflect on, the real potential of hope. 

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