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The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Talking About Talking: On Being a Climate Change Burnout



“The struggle for action will no doubt be difficult and hard-fought, and no matter what it achieves, it is already too late to avoid some serious disruptions of the global climate. But I would like to believe that out of this struggle will be born a generation that will be able to look upon the world with clearer eyes than those that preceded it; that they will be able to transcend the isolation in which humanity was entrapped in the time of its derangement; that they will rediscover their kinship with other beings, and that this vision, at once new and ancient, will find expression in a transformed and renewed art and literature.” – Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement

This summer, climate change inconvenienced me: at Pitchfork Music Festival, it rained hard and fast and everyone had to evacuate. I escaped to a McDonald’s where many other people were congregating, wearing their damp festival outfits. I was thinking about something I had learned recently: heavier rain is falling now than ever before because of climate change.

To quote, “A warming atmosphere causes more evaporation, meaning more water is available for precipitation.” The result? It is raining harder and faster than it used to.

On the street to the McDonald’s from Pitchfork Music Festival, there was a billboard that FEMA put up that said “Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make your emergency plan.,” paired with an image of a house partially underwater. This was next to Union Park, in Chicago, where Pitchfork takes place every year.

The way I was seeing it, climate change had rained us out of Pitchfork. I was wondering how I could start a conversation in that McDonald’s about what was going on in the world: more flooding, worse climate catastrophes, difficulties growing food.

I wrote a note on my phone that said, “The weather pattern you just experienced was due to climate change. Increased moisture in the air is making rain happen harder and faster. Please use this time to reflect and talk about climate change.”

I AirDropped that note to 20 people. 20 people declined the AirDrop.

How do we start conversations about keeping ourselves safe when it’s so hard to think about an uncertain future or talk about the future without sounding like a crazy alarmist in a tinfoil hat predicting the apocalypse on a street corner? We are facing something difficult to prepare for on any level. So how do we begin to communicate about it?

In preparing to write this column, I asked my Instagram followers a question in my story (self promo moment: I’m @_kelly_m_p!): “do u ever talk with ur friends about climate change?” Then, a follow-up question “if so what do u say?”

No one voted “no” to talking about climate change, but only 18 people out of the 134 who viewed my story felt moved to vote “yes.” If you don’t talk about climate change with your friends, I understand— it can be really, really difficult.

What some of my followers said they talk about when they talk about climate change:

· Dread

· What should we do// what can we do// what will the future look like// will we have kids?

· Fuck huge corporations that don’t take enough environmental responsibility + blame it on consumers

· Do you all think we’ll live past forty?

· Southeast Asia’s going to be under the water sooner than most people think. 30 years?

· How are we going to alter our government to support climate refugees?

· We have to elect a presidential nominee who will create revolutionary legislation

· What can we do on an individual level to help, with the goal that more people join

· Ahhh I feel so helpless

· How can we change our habits to make a meaningful impact in the climate catastrophe?

I don’t talk about climate change every day, or even think about climate change every day, because it feels really bad to constantly be conscious of it. Last night, I had to put down a reading for my postcolonial lit seminar about climate catastrophe, lay in my bed, play Candy Crush and fall asleep. In that moment, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I’m seeing a lot of people writing about “climate change burnout” these days, which is when the awareness of climate change becomes overwhelming for people. I’d say I’m starting to feel like that. Back in 2010, film producer Gillian Caldwell wrote a piece for about how she deals with the emotional weight of climate change consciousness. She offers tips like self-care, exercise, connecting to nature, connecting to other activists, and even going to therapy.

Here’s where I draw comfort from, an idea I took partially from Amitav Ghosh’s fantastic book The Great Derangement: focusing my energy on envisioning possible futures that I can feel hopeful about. Futures where we help each other survive.

I often think back to an episode of the podcast On Being where host Krista Tippett interviews the writer Rebecca Solnit, who wrote a book called Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, which asks how we can possibly find hope in these uncertain times. If you feel burnt out by the realities of climate change, I recommend giving it a listen.

From the On Being website’s transcription of the episode:

Ms. Solnit: Hope, for me, just means a Buddhist sense of uncertainty, of coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know what will happen and that there’s maybe room for us to intervene… And we live in a very surprising world, where nobody anticipated the way the Berlin Wall would fall or the Arab Spring would rise up, the impact of Occupy Wall Street. Obama was unelectable, six months before he was elected … Oftentimes, the people who do the really important work in disasters, which doesn’t get talked about much, are the neighbors. Who’s going to rescue you when your building collapses, when the ice storm comes, and the power goes out? It’s probably going to be the neighbors.

Instead of spending my mental energy worrying about the many worst-case scenarios easily accessible on the internet, I’ve started to think: how can I connect to my neighbors? How can we envision a future for humanity?

Another spot of hope: six days ago, Time Magazine published an article entitled “How Climate Change in Iowa is Changing U.S. Politics.” To paraphrase the article, so many people are concerned about increased flooding in Iowa that candidates for the U.S. presidency are almost required to have a comprehensive platform to deal with climate change.

This story is constantly unfolding. Talk to your neighbors. Be a part of the changing world. And maybe buy an umbrella.

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