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Light reading on Climate Change, Extinction, and Mental Health

Some links I’ve come across in the past week. General research themes are climate (a.k.a. we’re fucked!), the Psychology/Mental Health/Grief that follows, and sometimes the responses that might help keep us sane and decent through collapse. What follows is something of an annotated bibliography that builds on the themes initiated in my previous post on the mental health impacts of climate.

I’ve been working through the recent work of Dr Jem Bendall, whose blog revolves around the theme of Deep Adaptation, a process of realization and acceptance, followed by evaluation of the three Rs: Resilience, Relinquishment, and Restoration.

Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to
keep?” Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not
make matters worse?” Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help
us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?”

From Jem Bendall, “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” (p.23).

These three Rs offer a compelling framework for thinking about our futures, and the actions we will take now to make them as wonderful as we can. It’s a remedy for the thought that accepting inevitable climate disruption is equivalent to giving up. Giving up isn’t really an option; until you’re dead, you will be acting and making choices, and will be guided by something (if even nihilism is a something).

In “Deep Adaptation”, Bendall is thinking about how academics working on sustainability might re-assess their role and work in the face of inevitable disruptive impacts of climate change; how they might become more honest, and less pressured by institutional norms, in their work; and how this may benefit themselves and the people around them.

As researchers and reflective practitioners, we have an opportunity and
obligation to not just do what is expected by our employers and the norms
of our profession, but also to reflect on the relevance of our work within
wider society. I am aware that some people consider statements from
academics that we now face inevitable near-term social collapse to be
irresponsible due to the potential impact that may have on the motivation
or mental health of people reading such statements. My research and
engagement in dialogue on this topic, some of which I will outline in this
paper, leads me to conclude the exact opposite. It is a responsible act to
communicate this analysis now and invite people to support each other,
myself included, in exploring the implications, including the psychological
and spiritual implications.

Bendall’s thinking on these issues is deep and reflective, and well worth spending some time with. He outlines his personal and spiritual journey most clearly (that I’ve seen so far) in After Climate Despair: One Tale of What Can Emerge.

His exploration continues in this Dialogue on Deep Adaptation.

And there are some gems in this interview “Acceptance and Evolution in the Face of Global Meltdown” on The Future is Beautiful webcast.

Lecture: “How then shall we live?”

Dahr Jamail, a journalist I remember well from the early 2000s when he was writing on Iraq, is now reporting on climate impacts and something very like deep adaptation, on a local scale. A recent lecture he gave, in which he lays out the facts all too clearly, leaves the viewer with plenty to chew on.

Lecture: “Shed A Light: This civilisation is finished: so what is to be done?”

Prof. Rupert Read from the University of East Anglia spoke in Cambridge. Over a year earlier he had addressed incoming students with the uncomfortable message, “I fear for you“. He looks to be severely impacted by his message, and embodies depression at the opening of the lecture, but then soon comes into his stride as he envisions the civilization that may replace this one after it collapses. It’s got to be a hard job, in the circumstances.

Interview: David Suzuki December 2018

Discussing the real prospect of human extinction, the ludicrousness of economic expectations of exponential growth, and asks “what kind of a species are we???” Brilliant and moving one-hour interview, in which Canada’s foremost environmental elder expresses his fury, and his sadness, at the mess we’ve made.


“Our species possesses inherent value, but we are devastating the earth and causing unimaginable animal suffering.” So it seems a tragedy that art and philosophy will perish with us, but from a non-human perspective it wouldn’t be so sad at all. Mr. May is a professor of philosophy at Clemson University. (New York Times, Opinion, December 17, 2018)

Climate Change First Became News 30 Years Ago. Why Haven’t We Fixed It?

Andrew Revkin, National Geographic Magazine, July 2018. The title belies the depth of the article.

‘Climate grief’: The growing emotional toll of climate change

Extreme weather and dire climate reports are intensifying the mental health effects of global warming: depression and resignation about the future.

The Uninhabitable Earth

Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think. By David Wallace-Wells, The Intelligencer, July 2017

By “sooner” the author holds out the end of the century, without teasing out the implications of the gradual progression through the decades that precede it. That is to say, he neglects that if 2100 is to be uninhabitable, 2050 will be really really bad, and 2030 might be noticeably awful.

Risks of “domino effect” of tipping points greater than thought, study says

“It’s a little depressing knowing we are not on a trajectory to keep our ecosystem in a functional state, but these connections are also a reason for hope; good management in one place can prevent severe environmental degradation elsewhere. Every action counts.” (Jonathan Watts, Guardian, 20 December 2018)

Provides considerably more depth on the state of current research on interconnectedness of climate impacts.

And regarding tipping pints, David Roberts at Vox notes

We are rarely able to predict those tipping points. Relying on them can seem like hoping for miracles. But our history is replete with miraculously rapid changes. They have happened; they can happen again. And the more we envision them, and work toward them, the more likely they become.

What other choice is there?

Um, yeah. If you insist that we still have a choice. But humankind is not a super-organism with a single decision point; global governance is a mess; and a large portion of the seven point five billion humans alive today do not experience climate change mitigation as a priority.

Dan Gardner, Globe and Mail, December 21, 2018, notes the “psychological distance” of CC means our minds can grasp the facts, but our guts can’t feel the implications, the danger that would drive us to action.

Americans Don’t Understand How Bad Climate Change Is Or What They Can Do About It

Jeremy Deaton, Huffington Post, December 20, 2018. Seems to suggest that if more people knew how bad the threat is, they would do something about it – but doesn’t make much of an argument for what they could actually do, apart from advocating for better policy.

The Personality Crisis

John F Schumaker, New Internationalist, 14 December 2018, describes the psychological underpinnings of our inability to relate to and respect the planet. (Hint: We’re basically immature asswipes.) Reposted, with an incredibly fitting graphic and title (drawn from the text): We Are The People of the Apocalypse.

Well maybe. But there are a lot of people talking about climate grief. So while we’re too immature and short-term to address this, we still see what’s happening, and to some extent, we understand the scale of the loss.

“People talk about deep sadness”: Scientists Study Climate Change Grief

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press, December 13. There is ongoing interest in how people, especially in Canada’s North, are responding, mentally and emotionally, to the acute manifestations of climate change evident in their areas (melting permafrost, for one) and the implications for survival.

I wrote a bit more in a previous post, but am just beginning to develop this theme and this blog, so please bear with me. Feedback always helps.

BLOGS and Miscellaneous:

Guy MacPherson, Nature Bats Last.

Guy and Kevin Hester are now co-hosting a radio show under the title of “Nature Bats Last”. See the latest interview with Roger Hallam of Extinction Rebellion.

Paul Beckwith, Climate System Scientist

Latest post title: “Arctic Summer Temperatures Set to Skyrocket Like “Bat Out of Hell””

Climate and Economy: Weekly Updates

A collection of evidence of collapse, updated weekly!

Ecosophia – The Flight from Nature

Kate Marvel, On Being:

“As a climate scientist, I am often asked to talk about hope. Particularly in the current political climate, audiences want to be told that everything will be all right in the end,” she said. “I have no hope that these changes can be reversed. We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet.” In the face of climate change, she said, “We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.”


Climate change and mental health

It’s winter solstice, 2018, and I am acutely aware of my seasonally amplified dismay (SAD) at the state of the planet.

Of course I’m not alone, and grateful for that. In recent months I have seen a fair bit of discussion of the mental health impacts of climate change, the emotional responses of anxiety and grief, the pervasive sense of fear, and the hope that counters it, when thinking about the future. The love, for the planet and our fellow creatures, that demands that we not give up, or give in.

The same period has seen me finish my role helping to update the 2nd edition of Global Ecopolitics, written by my good friend Peter Stoett. The book surveys the landscape of environmental politics, and the numerous agreements and institutions that have been developed to address issues like transboundary air pollution, toxic chemical trade, trade in endangered species, and forests and land degradation. Peter has described the tone of the work as one of “cautious optimism”. After working on it for some months, that’s not what I feel.

Perhaps it’s the pace of change that has become so evident; or the damning news on biodiversity and wildlife loss, ocean plastics, and the grossly inadequate policy response at the global level, most recently evidenced by the pathetic conclusion of COP 24 in Kratowice, in the heart of Poland’s coal country. Closer to home the Canadian government nationalized the canard TransMountain pipeline and has committed $1.6 billion to prop up flagging fossil fuel companies.

Climate change of course dominates our environmental discourse, and the evidence continues to mount that at this point there are very significant changes already cooked in, and nothing we could do collectively would prevent us from reaching certain thresholds of temperature and resulting changes (ice melt, sea level rise, storms etc.) – but still every decision we take, individually and collectively, has some impact on the rate of those changes.

So here we are in the midst of an epochal crisis, at the beginnings of runaway climate change and some way into the sixth great extinction, and we watch with dismay as the mainstream press entertains us with sordid tales of the latest gaffes from Donald Trump or Theresa May. Politics, pretty much as usual, carries on.

I’ll admit this lack of profound change, in the face of planetary emergency, gets me down. Having studied the politics of the environment for two decades, I’m pretty convinced that the response to climate change from human institutions is and will continue to be inadequate to stop these two great (and interconnected) catastrophes, or even slow them down much. Some days I feel like giving in, maybe giving up.

But I’m also pretty convinced that, even as these changes occur and human institutions become increasingly unable to impact these changes in our natural setting, or to deal with the overall impacts (like food scarcity, floods, human migration) – that there will still be humans and wildlife that compel our attention and our love. There will still be valued beings, relationships, even institutions, that will carry on through the demise of civilization. There will still be collective decisions to be made, even while the institutions we have developed to help us make those decisions may not survive, or may lose their capacity and even authority to make decisions. Others will step in; the decisions (how to distribute food among a community, where to concentrate medical expertise) will still be made. Even in anarchic situations one finds forms of ordered human energy and care.

Also, I’m not sure the collapse of civilization will be all bad. One can hope that the international arms trade will decline, along with the global trade in toxic chemicals, and perhaps the rapaciousness of the global fishing industry. Grossly polluting vacation and commuting patterns, as well as disposable goods, will likely decline. Localization trends will continue, more from necessity than consumer choice. Collapse will compel us to shed many luxuries – which may help us prioritize considerably.

But generally, I feel it’s going to be difficult to watch, and to experience, the next few decades.

Sooner or later, possibly within that period, we’re going to see a leveling of the human population, prior to a decline. That will require that the rate of death equals or exceeds the rate of birth – which suggests a fair bit more death. The four horsemen rear their heads: famine, war, pestilence, death. So how do I prepare my children for the future I envision for them? Contemplating this brings a sick feeling to my stomach.

Yet this picture is incomplete, because there are always ways and means to make a transition less disorderly, and there will be (there are already) innumerable people working on ways to maintain the things we value.

Charitable giving will continue. Family, love, literature, friendship, community… and taxes – these are certainties so long as a semblance of human society remains – and we can work together to enable and strengthen them, as they strengthen us. We can let go some unhealthy pastimes and industries as we size down and localize. We can even work to restore some of what we’ve lost, like diversity of skills and work, and community engagement, and forests. And we can do this even in the midst of catastrophic climate change, because that’s where we’re going to be.

I’m not sure the picture I’m building is about hope. Hope is not what I’m after, really, though it’s part of it. I’m just trying to come to terms with the emotional and psychological experience of a middle-aged westerner in the period of early climate change – my own especially. So hope is one among a multiplicity of emotions that I recognize, respect, and allow myself to feel. Some days, dismay is stronger than hope, and those days are harder.

But for whatever reasons, I feel that an honest assessment – even if it’s dismal – is more valuable than hanging onto false (unconvincing) hope. I’ve struggled to read the hopeful blogs and books, the repetition that “we only have ___ years to change”, the realization that we’re condemned, “unless!”

There’s no unless, in my mind. It’s pretty clear we missed the boat, and we’re fucked. Now that’s what we have to deal with, at a practical and an emotional level. As unreal as the world seems today, we need to deal with the realities around us.

And part of that reality is our emotional and mental well being through this time, and their effect on our interpersonal relations, and the effect of that on our ability to work together as life carries on under changing circumstances.


If you’re still reading, you’ll I hope realize that this is my personal journey. I’m not trying to convince anyone. I’m just trying to make sense of what is happening to me, and maybe others.

If you want to give feedback or engage in discussion I would welcome that very much, and want to respect it as yours, so please try to keep in mind that it is. Yours. I hope you’ll let me know if it’s similar or different than mine.


MCS WTH TED (Part 2) — Life in the City with a Future

If you’ve read yesterday’s post or have MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities) — you’ve got a good sense of how few people are willing to give up toxic chemicals whether in the form of their cleaning products, “fragrances”, pesticides…. Let me say upfront that when speaking in this post of other illnesses, I no way wish […]

via MCS WTH TED (Part 2) — Life in the City with a Future

Videos: What’s Making us Sick? The Chemical Erosion of Public Health — Seriously “Sensitive” to Pollution

If you prefer getting your research information by watching and listening instead of reading, here are a couple of video presentations by the esteemed Dr Stephen J. Genuis, who is one of the leading experts on environmental health. In these presentations he discusses the increases in chronic illness and mental health problems, chemical and other […]

via Videos: What’s Making us Sick? The Chemical Erosion of Public Health — Seriously “Sensitive” to Pollution

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