Climate Chaos And ‘Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder’
People call some of our responses to climate change ‘pre-traumatic stress disorder’. Most disturbing to me is, we aren’t even talking about it. When I mention it, even close friends sit on me: ‘you’re a disasteriser. We’ll be fine.’ That increases my stress: I feel powerless and isolated; I want to protect my nieces’ and nephews’ future. We could do much to arrest its progress, yet we close our eyes and go on as usual, straight towards the cliff, as if it wasn’t happening.
Right now, in New Zealand and other affluent countries, life looks pretty normal to most people. The very ‘normality’ scares me. The California fires in which Barbara died, or refugees flooding Europe, seem obviously climate-related to me; many don’t connect the dots. Most people realize there’s an issue on the horizon; they think it isn’t urgent.
Why this shut-down? What do we need, to feel courageous enough to open our hearts, however painful it is, and find hope to turn into the wind, look this monster in the face, and feel empowered to creatively respond and contribute?
As climate change takes hold, weather is fast getting stormier. Other storms are intensifying too: economic collapse, nuclear accidents, environmental damage from fossil fuel extraction, poisoning, deforestation. The terrifying weather raging around us rouses wild winds within: fear, frustration, anger, helplessness, hope, despair. How do we maintain a livable climate, inside and out?
I asked my niece Sonia when she was 17, ‘do you find climate change scary? In this family we talk about it all the time; does it make you depressed?’
She was silent for a while, as she continued to tidy the kitchen. Then she said, ‘no, I don’t feel scared, because I intend to do everything I can to stop it.’ She’s doing it too: she’s now promoting solar energy.
I feel like this too. I think a big reason we close down and avoid thinking about climate change is, we don’t know what to do. I so often hear, ‘there’s nothing I can do, it’s out of my hands’. We feel powerless, so we just get on with day to day life.
I believe it’s crucial to find a vision that gives us guidelines to move forward. My vision of what’s possible keeps me creative and ready to experiment. We don’t know how it will play out in reality; we haven’t seen it. In our work here, our embodied experience is a guide to how it feels in our inner climate.
There are all sorts of things we can do. We can process and transform our emotions, we don’t have to avoid them; they empower us. We can build local community. The overarching thing is to create a life-sustaining culture: the paradigm shift; The Great Turning, Joanna Macy calls it.
The main thing I believe each of us can do, at this point, is talk about the climate, with everyone we meet. That way we can break the silence, and get people feeling less alone and powerless about it. Every time someone says to me, ‘isn’t it lovely warm weather we’re having!’ I say, ‘well’ yes, right now it’s kind of nice – and it’s not as it should be.’ That starts a conversation which hopefully takes a constructive turn, to think about how we could do something to help.
(This is a slightly modified excerpt from the forthcoming book Storm-Weathering.)