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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Actions You Can Take to Tackle Climate Change

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the Sixth Assessment Report, detailing the latest scientific understanding of “the current state of the climate, including how it is changing and the role of human influence, and the state of knowledge about possible climate futures, climate information relevant to regions and sectors, and limiting human-induced climate change.”

Here’s a quick summary:

  • Climate change is bad, and it’s going to keep getting worse
  • Human activity is unequivocally causing and worsening climate change
  • Weather extremes will continue to increase in frequency and intensity
  • If we don’t reduce emissions to net-zero, and fast, we will render the planet uninhabitable for countless species, including ourselves

UN secretary-general António Guterres summarized it perfectly: This is “code red for humanity.”

Chances are, this report made you feel anxious, depressed, scared, angry, panicked, hopeless, and numb. I felt all of these emotions to my core, after having clung to naive optimism the last couple of years that maybe Covid-19 shutdowns were enough to get us on the right track, or maybe enough world leaders would finally recognize the urgency of this crisis and act accordingly.

Alas, neither Covid-19 nor the words of world leaders has resulted in a course shift, and we continue full speed ahead, racing toward impending climate collapse.

In our world of omnipresent crises and the continuing barrage of dire news about climate change, it often feels easier to just go about our days, hoping and praying that some smart scientist somewhere will figure out a way to deal with it in time.

But the reality is that we are out of time, and it’s everyone’s collective responsibility, no matter how small an impact we think we might have. It is more important than ever for us to find ways to stay engaged, rather than losing hope.

Climate responsibility extends far beyond our individual actions, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything. But what? How can we help, when the scale of this problem is so enormous and the reality so depressing? Where do we even start? Our brains are not designed to function in constant survival mode. It’s overwhelming to feel like nothing we do will be enough, knowing it’s nearly impossible to make “responsible” climate choices in our current society.

“Climate anxiety” and “eco-anxiety” are fast becoming household phrases, and not in a good way. The American Psychological Association defines eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” The Climate Psychology Alliance notes that “eco-anxiety is an inevitable and even healthy response to the ecological threats we are facing,” and “paying heed to what is happening in our communities and across the globe is a healthier response than turning away in denial or disavowal.” Grist even named climate anxiety the biggest pop culture trend of 2019.

Fortunately, there are some awesome resources and tools that can help you manage climate anxiety, increase your personal resilience, and take the guesswork out of meaningful climate action. I personally use many of these tools to keep myself from slipping into resigned apathy.

There are high-tech and low-tech ways to take care of our hearts and our world. It doesn’t matter which or how many you choose, only that you find something that works for you.

Apps and Tools to Make a Difference

Public pressure can be an impactful way to drive change. We Don’t Have Time (iOS, Android) is a social network “for everyone who wants to be a part of the solution to the climate crisis.” We Don’t Have Time leverages social media influence to hold politicians, decisionmakers, and companies accountable for climate change. The app connects users directly to companies and organizations to collectively push for more sustainable and climate-friendly behaviors, and it calls out companies for damaging practices. Users can review company initiatives and send climate action suggestions and petitions to decisionmakers. The news tab provides global climate and energy news to keep users informed.

Understanding our own actual impact on climate change can also help us identify behaviors we can change and reduce our climate anxiety.

The Earth Hero app (iOS, Android) helps you calculate, track, and reduce your personal carbon footprint, and it connects users to climate action groups. You can set emission-reduction targets for yourself, browse suggested actions based on IPCC recommendations, track your progress, and join a community of climate activists. Each action includes an explanation about its relevance and importance, along with tips for various levels of implementation.

Good Empire (iOS, Android) is a new social app whose mission is “to gather, unite, and empower an empire of good humans to save the f**king world.” Good Empire features challenges that highlight direct actions individuals can take to help reduce their carbon emissions and plastic waste, address hunger and poverty in their communities and around the world, and empower women and girls. Actions must have measurable impacts and are aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Good Empire just launched in September 2021.

Brightly.eco is a community platform with the mission to “empower conscious consumers around the world.” Brightly features news about zero waste, sustainable fashion, circular economy, clean beauty, conscious consumerism, DIY, and eco-friendly recipes. The Brightly app (iOS, Android) offers monthly eco-challenges and community chat groups. The Brightly Shop connects users to verified ethical and sustainable brands and small businesses to simplify the guesswork of conscious consumption.

I’m not saying that the best way to alleviate climate anxiety is to rush out and buy a bunch of eco-friendly products, but we are all consumers, whether we like it or not, and our purchases have a direct impact on climate change. If we can choose brands and products that are truly ethical and sustainable, it can help shift the culture toward more sustainable options.

Carbon Offset Tools

Carbon offsets are not a stand-alone solution for climate change: They’re basically a “pay to pollute” scheme that only works if companies and individuals are doing everything else possible to reduce emissions. However, they can serve a useful role in funding emission-reduction projects and raising awareness about climate change. For an individual, carbon offsets are a tangible way to supplement other actions. There are multiple apps that let you calculate and track your carbon footprint, pledge actions, and donate to emission-reduction projects.

The Klima app (iOS, Android) lets users fund science-backed projects that can be tracked in real time. Klima selects projects with the greatest impacts in accordance with Project Drawdown rankings, supports programs designed to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and verifies projects by an independent third party. Even if you don’t have a lot to donate, it adds up collectively.

Ecologi.com is a program that offsets user emissions from flying and travel. In addition to funding new emission-reduction projects like renewable energy, Ecologi.com plants trees for long-term impact. It offers a directory of climate-positive gifts, carbon awareness and education, and goal setting for low-carbon living.

Ecosia is a search engine app (iOS and Android) and extension for all major browsers that automatically offsets every internet search you make through the service. Ecosia plants a tree for every 50 searches. It is free to use and earns revenue through clicks on advertisements. Ecosia markets itself as a carbon-negative search engine, meaning it generates more renewable power than is needed to run its servers, and it exports clean power back to the grid. Ecosia built solar plants to provide 100 percent clean energy to power its searches.

Community Support Resources

Thanks to technology, climate anxiety support is available anywhere there is an internet connection. Pre-Covid, many support offerings were only available in person in urban centers or the home communities of organizations. Now, support circles and groups meet online, and we get to make friends all over the world.

This past spring, I was able to participate virtually in the Good Grief Network’s 10 Steps to Personal Resilience & Empowerment in a Chaotic Climate program. Each week, I joined 13 other amazing humans from across the globe to process our difficult emotions about climate change, examine our own privilege, and build individual and community resilience. This was hands-down the most helpful resource I’ve experienced to navigate climate anxiety.

If you need more direct support or aren’t comfortable in a group setting, climate-focused therapy is also a growing field. The Climate Psychology Alliance has a directory for climate-aware therapists, an Emotional Resilience Toolkit for Climate Work, and offers Climate Cafés and online discussions with climate experts.

EcoAnxious is an online storytelling community where you can share your eco-anxiety and transform anxiety into meaningful connection. It offers resources for mental wellness, anxiety tools and tips, and an eco-anxiety reflection guide. Read others’ stories, or share your own.

Climate Awakening is another organization offering a safe community by facilitating small group conversations about climate fears, rage, and grief. It is run by a clinical psychologist turned climate activist, with the goal of normalizing climate conversations.

TalkClimateChange.org is an organization fighting the status quo of climate silence and emboldening conversations about climate change. Its goal is to encourage 26,000 climate conversations before the upcoming United Nations COP 26 Climate Conference in November 2021. It offers resources for how to talk about climate change, ideas and conversation starters, and advice from climate leaders. Conversations are added to its global conversation map and will be shared with world leaders at COP 26.

Mindfulness/Meditation Tools

When we talk about climate anxiety, what we’re really talking about is mental health. Climate anxiety is the chronic cherry on top of our already overstressed lives. Mindfulness and meditation are scientifically proven ways to manage anxiety, calm the nervous system, and increase resilience.

One of my favorite “keep me sane” tools is the Calm app, available for iOS and Android. Calm has a plethora of guided meditations, breathing exercises, a Daily Calm reflection, sleep music, mindful stretching, and multiday meditation programs. The free version includes timed meditations, nature sounds, and mindfulness tools like breathing exercises and journal prompts.

Other great mindfulness and meditation apps include Headspace (iOS, Android) and Insight Timer (iOS, Android).

Good Old Low-Tech Support

Of course, there are always tried-and-true self-care activities like spending time in nature or journaling. Journaling is an impactful way to process difficult emotions. The Climate Journal Project “uses the power of reflection and journaling to create a space for self and planetary healing.” It offers a range of climate therapy resources, guided journal books and prompts (both digital and physical), worksheets, and events.

Even if you don’t have access to vast trail networks or the means to jaunt off to a warm beach or mountain lake, simply giving yourself five minutes outside can give your nervous system the breather it needs to reset and regulate.

While none of these resources alone will solve the climate crisis, taking care of our own mental health better equips us to continue our critical work to address climate change, and to hold corporations and governments accountable for their impacts, before it's too late.

Source Image: Getty Images

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