Beyond coping

September 23,2019

It’s hard to ignore not just the scientific reports, but also the on-the-ground reality of climate disruption. It’s getting hotter and drier, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate...

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It’s hard to ignore not just the scientific reports, but also the on-the-ground reality of climate disruption. It’s getting hotter and drier, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates we have about 12 years to reverse this direct trend. It’s a challenge requiring us to come together as a mature and functional human family.

It’s a tall order because at its root, the climate crisis is also the crisis of human relationship – how we relate to our own emotional states, those of others, and, ultimately, conflict. To solve problems with – not for – human beings, which is what this crisis requires, we need to be conflict-literate. We need to be in touch with our own emotions and feelings, which can be as scary inwardly as climate change can feel outwardly. The situation is dire: Rising temperatures in just the United States and Mexico are predicted to increase the numbers of suicide by an extra 21,000 people per year by 2050, according to a study led by Marshall Burke at Stanford University.

Unchecked strong emotions elicited by personal and environmental stress (sometimes this is called structural violence) can usurp the mental energy we need for sustained nonviolent action. Yet healthy human relationships are full of what cultures of restorative justice and conflict resolution call “healthy conflict”: inner and outer processes of resolving disputes that promote clarity and growth and strengthen relationships in community.

And while many people are “conflict avoidant,” even fearful (think fight-or-flight) of someone with contrary opinions and ideas, we don’t have to be intimidated. All of our faculties are tested in conflict situations. What helps us take on conflict intentionally and offers us resilience is the depth of our capacity to weather various emotional and mental energy, both ours and others’ – and put them to work. These psychic energies are some of the most precious natural resources and sources of power we have.

We have our work cut out for us because anger over climate disruption is not the only emotion we’re working with. Ashlee Cunsolo, a researcher linking climate and mental health, has documented that the Inuit in Arctic areas in Canada believe their way of life is under threat, and are experiencing greater anxiety, depression, grief, and fear. In Indonesia, a sense of panic is likely what’s motivating the government to move its capital city to Borneo, because Jakarta is sinking and running out of potable water. And in the US, most of the public is feeling “worried about harm from extreme weather events".

Excerpted from: 'Beyond Coping: How to Find the Strength to Take on Climate Change'.

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