Sarah Ray is professor of environmental studies at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, and author of “A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet”.
photo courtesy of Sarah Ray
Young people do not cope well with climate problems.
Sarah Ray, professor of environmental studies at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., Has a front-row seat on how climate change has befallen young people and, more specifically, how the weight of this concern has changed over the decade. more. East. For years she was a teacher.
Ray wrote a book on what he learned: “A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet,” which was released in 2020.
CNBC publishes a series on how climate watchers, leaders and others deal with the emotional toll of climate change and find a way to overcome their anxiety, and it is an article in that series. East.
The following are excerpts from Ray’s comments in a telephone interview with CNBC. They have been edited for brevity and clarity.
“This new generation is fundamentally different”
I had no tools to deal with the existential weight my students brought me, both personally and to each other in the classroom.
I noticed a huge impatience to make the courses work: “Why am I wasting my time in college when all this is happening over there?” Just like what we hear from Greta Thunberg and the youth climate movement. A feeling of impatience with the kind of activities we do in class, a real desire to take action, a real desire to get out, roll up our sleeves and do something and work it out. The emergency had completely taken hold. There was a paganism of action in thinking, speaking or reading.
Economics, politics, law, engineering, science were once places where students wanted to be interested in the environment. And they were mostly white, and they often came with a nostalgia for wanting to bring things back to nature, the kind of “bad things that happened to her.” And that’s how the field worked.
This new generation is fundamentally different.
Sarah Ray, professor of environmental studies at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., With her two children aged 10 and 7.
photo courtesy of Sarah Ray
There is a real awareness of the dimensions of social justice and the type of systems that are changing the way we think about climate change. The new generation just don’t see this as something that we need to go into science or technology to fix or engineering to fix or even policy or law to fix it. It’s a feeling of being a systemic thing that we need everyone on the bridge to tackle. We need all the talents, we need all the skills, from artists to creative types, imaginative people, writers of children’s books, teachers to parents – besides the usual suspects. Think about the main levers affecting climate change.
Previously, climate change was a bit imperceptible, abstract, difficult to manage. It was a communication puzzle. He removed all the risk assumptions, the checkboxes needed to make a good bad guy who people perceive as a problem – especially young people for whom the future seems far distant.
It is no longer in the intangible or in the future. It is now, and it is conceivable. And it was a huge achievement because by definition climate change is the least descriptive villain in a story.
And the younger generation doesn’t even need to change course. They think in my life I’m going to be the one who is going to be surrounded by this worst situation. And they know from the IPCC report, and all the successful science papers, that the next 10 years are the most important. So they see themselves coming of age, coming of age in the political and professional landscape of their life, entering adulthood, when the greatest impacts can be, the greatest responsibility rests on them.
They won’t fly that much. They will refuse things that my generation takes for granted, like plastic and single-use containers. They will slowly, hopefully, successfully change how infrastructure works, how their transportation works, how they raise families, how they build their homes, how they live on this planet and how do you walk on this earth. ? What my generation has generally accepted, their way of life will not accept.
There is going to be a real calculation around the denial of fertility. What is fascinating about this is that environmentalists have long chosen not to have children in order to reduce their impact on the planet, but this generation is choosing not to have children because they believe that ‘she can’t have any. The future will be liveable. It’s a very, very, very different reason for doing this.
The climate movement has always thought, “We will never replace capitalism, that will never happen.” This real sense of the futility of all efforts, and this futility is less, I feel like it has diminished.
The younger generation is like no, in fact the covid has shown us that we can change a lot. They feel politically more powerful than the previous generation before them, except maybe in their sixties. This has been the most powerful generation of emotions in the past 50 years, and they have good reason to feel it.
Necessity is the invention of the mother. Despair is the mother of action. These two things absolutely go together. You cannot have a politically organized generation and group without such a clear and present threat.
For a sustainable future: focus on what works
History is not already written. The main story is about inevitability. And that’s an excuse for inaction. And I am totally against it. My favorite book on this subject is Elin Kelsey’s “Hope Matters”, the latest book.
The story that we can build for the future should be the central story with young people. I don’t care if this rose is tinted. I don’t care if she’s Pollyanna to some people. The science is there to find out what happens to young people if they think their future is already written for them, and that is not good. This is not an option for me.
The future of climate communication, the future of climate psychology should just be an “both and-” orientation. It just has to happen, because we’re all going to learn at some point that living in catastrophic narratives is so ineffective, and it really makes us want to kill ourselves. It is very scary. We’ve gone from someone who cares enough about climate change to someone who cares so much that they are nihilistic. We increased the urgency, then we liked to exceed the target.
Not that instantiation is a bad thing. There is a rhetorical state of urgency and purpose and very effective listeners who need to be. And we need to keep using instantiation where appropriate. I therefore do not rule out the urgency from the outset. But for those who really care a lot, it’s not a productive thing to do.
We’re going to be in it for a while. Some urgency is needed, but we need to focus on the fears over which we are in control and act at a slow pace and in a way that is sustainable for us. And quite simply, there is a recipe for engaging in this work without exhausting yourself, without being overwhelmed.
We have to keep an eye on this. I’m not suggesting that we block out anything we can’t control. News, taking all of this information through social media we have 24-7 news feeds, in general, media negativity bias and negativity bias in our psychology and our mind is not equal to reality . And it’s similar to severe depression and anxiety.
We can realize how bad things are, and also how good things are. We can balance our own biases around excessive negativity and negativity of information by actively consuming and exploring the positive. And it’s not about being in denial or commuting. It’s about making sure that we consume, that we are in touch with reality, which is not so bad.
Also in this series:
Grief and concern over climate change prompted the 30-year-old to write a letter to her unborn child