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Are you overwhelmed by climate change? Re-Framing Your Impact | Earth Focus | News & Community

Are you overwhelmed by climate change? Re-Framing Your Impact | Earth Focus | News & Community

One of the questions I most commonly hear from people who are concerned about the climate but don’t quite know what to do about it is whether their individual actions matter when such huge forces are doing damage at horrifying scales. In sociology, this debate even has a name – “structure versus agency” – while in social psychology, some talk about the “drop in the bucket imaginary.” I don’t care if you understand the jargon, but you will feel powerless in the face of such massive destruction. As Sisyphus, who was cursed with rolling a boulder up a hill forever, we may make personal sacrifices and feel helpless when we see the damage that is being done far away. It feels impossible to make a difference. We wonder where to start. Or worse, why bother?

In my book A Field Guide for Climate AnxietyThis impasse is what I call the “apathy catch.” We are what Holocaust scholar Michael Rothberg refers to as “apathy trap”.Subjects implicated“: we know we are participating in the harm (even while being harmed by climate change), but we don’t know how to stop. This trap is one reason I studied the role emotions play in climate advocacy. Many Americans are worriedThey are unaware of the climate change and continue to live as if it doesn’t matter. We’re caught in what some psychologists call “cognitive dissonance,” where our feelings about the issue are in conflict with our actions, but we can’t find a way out. I am also part of this group. Denial isn’t always nefarious, nor is apathy always lazy; these are cognitive solutions to a problem we feel we have no control over.

I believe that the notion that we can’t control a problem that is too big to be solved is a figment our imagination. We need to reduce the problem and make ourselves more important in order to dispel this myth. Reframing how we think is a large part of this work. See more things. It is not the earth, but Big oil that benefits the most from the public’s perception that the problem is outside their control.

Yes, climate change is a serious problem. But my lifestyle choices don’t make any difference. When we perceive ourselves as small, and the problem as big, it has a psychological effect that makes us give up before we try to do anything. This perception is dangerous for the planet, regardless of how much we care.

This is what psychologists call the “Psychologist’s Rule.”pseudoinefficacy effect” — we are less likely to try to tackle a problem if we think we can’t solve it. Put another way, if we believe a story about climate change that tells us it’s too big to stop, we are not going to make an effort. Our perceptions are the basis of our actions. Perception is important.

We are both complicit in the climate crisis and powerless to change it. This is the story we hear day after day. This doomsday story, despite the good intentions of those who believe it, is rigged against justice and the planet because of the pseudoinefficacy effect. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more serious the problem, the less likely it is that we will attempt to solve it. And the more likely that the forecasts will come true.

Making the problem smaller

So, what’s the solution? There are many solutions, but one simple answer is to “make the problem smaller” and “make ourselves more powerful.” First, we need make the climate change problem smaller in our society. PerceptionWe can make it smaller by using these techniques Reality. Let me explain. Climate change, by its very definition is something we cannot perceive. That is, it occurs at such expansive scales of time and space that the human body’s sense organs cannot register it. What are we able to detect? can perceive are climate change’s effects: increased heat, rising sea levels, reduced ecosystem resilience to natural disasters. Of course, we can also perceive the ways climate change compounds other human-made inequities – how it widens the gap in access to medical resources, or stirs up geopolitical conflict. If it is true that climate change exacerbates existing human-made problems, and that climate change is in turn exacerbated by those same problems, then the places where we experience climate change– the places where we can touch, smell, hear, taste, and feel it– are almost everywhere. Climate change is literally right outside your door. The field of climate change action is therefore as small as and as proximal to our bodies, our homes, and our communities. This is the spatial-temporal scale of the human, not the climate scale. So that is the area we already live in. It is absurd to think that climate change will be any larger than that.

Climate change is something that affects all of us, regardless of whether we are a stay at home parent, a farmer or a barista. Start there. Whenever we work on any number of issues– reducing inequality, improving relationships in our family or community, or healing the trauma in our own bodies so that we can do less harm to ourselves and the world– we are doing the work needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Every little thing we do counts, just like every little bit of carbon put into the atmosphere can reduce the suffering of some creature or ecosystem. If we fail to try, the inevitability narrative will be unavoidable.

Re-Sizing our Actions

Let’s also imagine that small steps are bigger than we imagine. When we think about “Nudge” Theory in behavioral psychology teaches us that small changes in behavior can lead to big changes in our lives. The feedback loop of behavior that can lead to better cardiovascular health starts when vegetables are placed at eye-level in the refrigerator. Like the movement of a sailor, who changes the ship’s course by one degree, tiny changes can land us in a radically different place over the course of our lives. The psychology behind this is that big change is hard to tackle, so we don’t even take the first step. If a goal is broken down into small pieces, it is easier to take the first step and it leads us to more.

This means that climate actions should be viewed as a feedback loop. eudaimonia kick in. Psychologists and leaders in social movements say that we must defend pleasure, joy, hope and laughter, love, imagination, and a desire for an enjoyable future. Do everything you can to cultivate ThoseWe are doing climate justice by taking responsibility for the things that we have in front of us. We need not defer responsibility to corporations or political leaders – they will most certainly disappoint us. Instead, pay attention to the things you love by even one percent. Your body’s chemical reactions of pleasure and desire will drive you to continue doing it. You will be more motivated by the carrot of what it feels like to work at the closest scale than the stick of the apocalypse. It will keep your coming back for more.

Jorge Heredia spends time in his vegetable patch in a community garden near his home in San Bernardino, California.
Jorge Heredia spends his time in the vegetable garden in a San Bernardino community garden.Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles Times via Getty Images | Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

I’m not saying that we should let corporate polluters off the hook; indeed, we will need every ounce of energy and interior fortitude to fight them. This project will last us all our lives, and many generations to come. But let’s imagine for a moment that the apocalypse is Not coming. We will continue to experience discomfort, inequality, trauma, and other unpleasantnesses, some more rapid than others, some more acute, some less so, but all will continue to live our lives. Some days will be horrible, others will be great. We’ll experience love and community, laughter, and good food. Perhaps there are new ways to do things. Arundhati, an Indian novelist, wrote that “another world is possible” and is already on her way. On a quiet day, you can hear her breathing. What does this alternate story of the future have to do with your current relationship to climate change? And what kind of space does it open up for you, when apocalypse isn’t breathing down your neck?

We can make ourselves bigger

To make ourselves more powerful, it is important to remember that what we do, how we act, and what our intentions mean are far more important than we think. We can see them as small, but that is part of the problem. We diminish our impact by diminishing ourselves. We can reverse this by seeing ourselves as part and parcel of a larger collective effort, not just as individuals. The collective is where the magic is– not just for magnifying our impact, but for assuaging anxiety, cultivating social capital, and building climate resilience. The collective allows us to rest when we need it, and regulates our nervous systems when working together on a shared project. The solution to both the climate crisis and the mental health disaster in this country are the same– healed relations with each other and the earth, starting with ourselves.

Even small actions may seem small if you are only able to address one aspect of climate change. Some people might even say they’re not actions at all, and are therefore a waste of time given the urgency of our myriad crises. Culture has conditioned us to believe that only apathy is possible. TectonicShifts at globalScale and In InstantTimeframes will thwart the apocalypse. The fetishizing of spectacular impact, exemplified by Hollywood’s savior figures in films like Don’t Look Up Tomorrow’s Day, overshadows how even fast change, like the global zeitgeist on climate kicked off by Greta Thunberg’s school strikes, is made up of the unglamorous labor of a groundswell of nameless individuals. Their efforts include attending meetings, writing emails, publishing opinion pieces, and bringing people together. They also feed, care, heal, and heal themselves and one another. These small things can make a big difference. Ursula Le Guin said, “We live within capitalism.” Its power seems inexorable. So did the divine right to kings. Human beings can resist any human power and change it. We don’t have to wait for someone in power to do the right thing, or wait until we are in a position of enough power to effect change.

And then there’s a broader definition of power to consider. When we define power as the ability to influence, imagine a viable future, bring joy, take care, witness, comfort, heal, and connect– necessary qualities of any social movement– we have immense power at our fingertips. We have power when we share a story via social media. This is not to mention the time we influence algorithms with our attention (with “eyeballs,” likes, and time spent on a page). When we choose Not to fuel flames of outrage, when we choose nonviolent communication over the intoxication of righteousness, when we dream about a post-fossil-fuel future instead of the apocalypse, when we observe ourselves long enough to know how to regulate our nervous systems and act from a balanced state– we effect change.

If we ignore these tools and fail to tap into the power that we already have, then we use it mindlessly without awareness or skill, sometimes even irresponsibly. Neuroscientific research shows that we never experience the chemical feedback of making a difference. Let’s broaden our definitions of action and power to include the rhizomatic, fractal ways that just being alive in the world effects change.

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Focus on what you love

A focus on what we do is another way to completely reframe the debate structure-agency. LoveInstead of what we, FearDo the right thing for intrinsic, not extrinsic reasons. Following Indigenous botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer’s idea of “Practical reverence” and Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s notion of “interbeing,” we can try to walk around in the world doing the least harm possible, not because we think it’ll save the planet, but because it is the ultimate expression of our love for it. Instead of seeing the work ahead as a “sacrifice”, or an insurmountable task, we can see how it would profoundly enrich our lives and bring us closer to the world and the relationships that sustain us.

The mere act of putting our attention on that which we love – oxygen, pets, biodiversity, levity, innocence, soil, our beloveds – magnifies those things. Not only in our minds, it is also in real life. This approach doesn’t depend on whether or not our actions will lead to global results. It is all about enriching our lives and focusing on what we want to grow. Why let the 24/7 news cycle, which is designed for terror, eclipse what is important? IsWhat is the key to our success in life? This doesn’t mean turning away from reality; on the contrary, it’s about counterbalancing the version of reality we accept as “truth”, which both our brains and the media have distorted toward the apocalyptic.

To counter the pseudoinefficacy effect and to save the planet, we must choose to believe we can control the conditions of our lives as well as the lives of those we love (human and non-human). Only if we can correctly size the problem and our own senses of agency can we do this. It is crucial that we train our attention towards more carrot than stick, even though it may seem counterintuitive. To make the problem less and to make ourselves more, we must see our effectiveness in the collective. With the same medicine, we can heal our anxiety about the climate as well as the planet.



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