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Concerns about climate change are so rampant and amplified that the American Psychological Association recently published guidelines to help mental health professionals deal with their patients who are suffering from increased anxiety in the face of it. Feelings of terror and helplessness when dealing with climate change have led politicians and civilians alike to proclaim the pointlessness of human reproduction, and to advocate for drastic, interventionist measures, in an attempt to delay the apocalypse. It makes one wonder if it’s climate change specifically that’s at issue or our broader penchant to look forward with fear and trembling to our own destruction. These guidelines are a symptom of a larger culture of panic as opposed to a cure.
To illustrate this fact, here’s an Associated Press article from 1989 warning of apocalyptic doom and destruction, claiming that we had ten years to act before entire nations would be underwater. The expert, Noel Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program, claimed that we had “…a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect before it goes beyond human control.” That turned out to not be super true. It’s not like we shouldn’t have concerns about the environment, it’s just that we shouldn’t lose our freaking minds over it and glue our breasts and butts to the ground. It’s this kind of batshittery that we need get as far away from as possible.
While of course there is scientific evidence to support the reality of climate change and the need for increased reliance on sustainable energy technologies, that truth doesn’t support the drastic emotional miasma that is being experienced by so many people. Positioning yourself to be impacted by a belief in impending global doom does not help either alleviate the doom, or enhance your own ability to deal with life. To elevate ourselves to the level of global problems being a direct influence for our private life choices is to internalize the self-aggrandizing importance of the Anthropocene Era, where we are convinced that our own impact is the driving force in everything from ecological to geological conditions. It’s not always entirely our fault.
In a new CNN article describing the new 69-page Guidelines, Penn State Psychology Professor Janet Swim told CNN that “anxiety is something people feel more and more when they get closer to an anti-goal, meaning a negative result, like the destruction of the planet.” A few years ago, we were freaked out by the singularity, before that, the anti-climactic Y2K thing, all the while, cults obsessed with imminent mortality brought it on themselves. Jonestown, Aum Shinriko, and Heaven’s Gate couldn’t take the suspense, and aimed for apocalypse before the natural conclusion.
Human beings have a penchant for anticipating their own destruction with a combination of relish and fear. We lick our lips and tremble with the certainty of our own miserable fate. Will it be sudden? Will it be prolonged? Will it be at our own hands, as in the case of nuclear war, or the impact of anthropocentric climate change? Or will we meet our end at the hands of an angry God? Noah and the flood? Sodom and Gomorrah? The apocalypse in both of these stories had people to blame. We were negligent, amoral, woeful humans, who brought devastation upon our own heads. Scripture tells us that Christ came to save us from ourselves. Now that we’ve killed all our gods, who will come? A cyclist, traversing Pennsylvania, raising awareness about our doom: will he be our saviour?
It seems like society right now is on the verge of becoming one big doomsday cult. The west is self-injurious, desperate to alleviate its own pain by bleeding. We tear ourselves down, belittle our achievements, proclaim the good work we’ve done to be meaningless, grovel at the feet of woke scolds, and declare that despite our best efforts, we are nothing but trash. Accepting that we do not suck is the way to move forward, not with hair shirts and self hatred. We can do better without damning all our accomplishments and prognosticating disaster at every turn.
Politicians go on CNN or MSNBC and confidently proclaim that we have 12 years left on the planet, and if you happen to express any uncertainty about that claim, then you are committing heresy and are cast out of the community. Zombified children are trotted out in front of cameras to murmur the exact same political talking points as their grown-up pundit counterparts. Their sweet, sad little faces are meant to elicit guilt and shame from us who simply haven’t managed to perfect the earth yet. It isn’t enough that we’ve stopped sending them off to mine for coal, stopped hunting whales for their oil, and found a fuel source that managed to increase the standard of living worldwide for millions of people.
We were supposed to do it sustainably, too, even though we didn’t know what that meant until sometime in the 1980s, by which time the next energy advancement, nuclear technology, had been successfully protested and pushed back in public consciousness. We need to focus on what we are capable of and shun all of this “The End is Nigh” nonsense. Alarmism never leads to progress.
When they are not being whipped up into panicked frenzies, humans are actually pretty good at adapting and making advances. And we will do that, but we have to believe that we can, and not predict certain failure. There is a great line in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode said by Guinan, a character played by Whoopi Goldberg: “When a man is convinced he’s going to die tomorrow, he’ll probably find a way to make it happen.” But here’s the thing, we are smart and resourceful enough convince ourselves otherwise. The guidelines we need are not how to cope with climate change anxiety, but how to recognize our success, and trust that human ingenuity will out.