Krista Kurth, Ph.D.
Climate Scientists Have Spoken Again and Thankfully I'm both Angry and Scared
How I acknowledge and channel my intense emotions into climate action
If you are like me, then you’re probably experiencing a mix of emotions after reading or hearing that the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, declared “a code red for humanity.” Our house is on fire. Climate change is already baked into the planet and will get much worse if we don’t act now. With this kind of news, who wouldn’t be stirred up?
Yet, while many international organizations, environmental groups, and major media outlets over the past weeks have been repeating the key messages from the most recent IPCC report and raising the alarm on climate change, few have spoken to the range of emotions the information triggered in many people. Nor have they addressed how to deal with them.
So, I thought I’d share how I’m dealing with my overpowering emotions. Here’s the mix I’m feeling; dismay, worry, fear, concern, hope (that maybe the report would now spur significant global action), but most of all, anger. Lots of anger. But not at the scientists. They’ve been predicting for many years the current state of the world and the narrowing possibilities for reversing course.
No, it’s the politicians and business leaders in the United States and other developed nations that have been slow to act with whom I’m angry. I’m angry with anyone who’s been blocking climate action and hiding their self-interested greed for more money and power behind the false narrative of keeping capitalism and the economy going.
What the hell is it going to take for them to wake up to the distressed world around them? When will they get that the rules and systems they protect are no longer working for the planet and the living beings it sustains, including humans? Do we have to wait until climate disasters are on their personal doorstep and the rest of the world is burning or underwater for them to do what is necessary? What will move them beyond their self-interest to set aside partisan politics and capitalist excuses to take bold, meaningful action to cut greenhouse gas emissions drastically and save humanity?
I could go on, but I’ll stop my rant there. I don’t want to get my nervous system too ramped up. Instead, I’ll pause and take a moment to be grateful for and give space to what I feel. Over many years of internal exploration, I’ve learned when I’m angry, it means something is “off” for me. A deeper need I have isn’t being met. Taking a breath, I sit with my wrath, allowing myself to notice what might be behind it.
A feeling of helplessness, vulnerability and fear slowly arises that makes me terribly uncomfortable. Thoughts arise from this place like, “I’m not safe, nor are my children, grandchildren and the rest of the world.” “I have no control over what these large governments and global corporations do and yet they are controlling what happens to my life and the lives of billions,” and “My individual actions aren’t enough to make a difference. Maybe I should just hunker down and prepare for the worst.”
From here, I could easily give up and slide into despair and doomsaying. But thankfully my anger is still around and keeps me from going there. I feel its protective, outgoing energy surge in me and I move away from collapse. It says, “What the hell are you talking about? We need to hold the politicians and multinational businesses accountable. There are lots of things we can do to make change happen. There’s still time.”
Caught between these two parts of myself, I remember the teachings of Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun who writes and speaks about how to turn your world around during challenging times. She recommends accepting and holding both at the same time. I follow her guidance and imagine a large space inside where I am big enough to have room to feel the strength of my anger standing beside the part of me, that’s afraid that I won’t be safe in an extreme climate world. My thoughts naturally drift to the multitudes who already are experiencing a real lack of safety because of climate change. As I breathe in, I allow myself to feel their vulnerability too and my heart goes out to them.
But before my despair rises again, I breathe out and follow the impulse of my anger’s outward energy, naturally moving away from collapse and towards empowered action. New thoughts arise. “Yes. I can ride the wave of this energy to take both individual and collective action that will make a difference. There are many actions I can take. Who knows what ripple effect they will create in the world if I come together with others? Maybe the time is right. Maybe the time is now.”
I breathe in and out a few more times, each time breathing in a shared sense of helplessness and breathing out collective, empowered action. When I am done, I feel grounded and more capable than I did before. My ability to act is no longer stuck in scared vulnerability nor caught in a wave of brittle, destructive anger.
Instead, I am rooted in awareness, compassion, and responsible action. I know I will not burn myself, or anyone else, up in the flame of my anger. I have tempered its energy with the softness of my and others’ vulnerability and channeled both of them to support me. Now I can move forward and take climate action again in a way that takes care of me and the world.
Like in the past, I will return again and again to this practice whenever I catch myself slipping onto either side of my emotional coin.
I’d love to hear how you deal with your powerful emotions around the climate change news and how you take care of yourself. If you’re feeling climate anxiety, I provide tips on how to deal with it in this article.
As I did in that article, I leave you with this quote from Adrienne Rich as inspiration. “My heart is moved by all I cannot save: So much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”
Let’s continue to support each other in taking sustained, compassionate climate action to reconstitute the world.
I wish you all the best in your climate action.