We often talk about Climate Hope on this show, but what about Climate Anxiety? Perhaps even Climate Despair? These are very real emotions that many of us feel when thinking about this planet we call home. We sat down with Dr. Sarah Ray, author of the book A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet. Dr. Ray shared with us some of her tips and advice on navigating the complex landscape of climate change related issues, and some things she recommends for moving past the anxiety and into a place of self-efficacy.
Sarah Ray’s website: https://sarahjaquetteray.com/
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Emile Elias: Climate anxiety is a term that we're hearing more and more in the news and in talking with people, especially our younger generations. The term which can be used interchangeably with eco anxiety or eco grief refers to the distress and worry people feel related to climate change and the state of our planet.
Health professionals are seeing increasingly more patients exhibiting symptoms related to climate anxiety. And again, we especially see this with our younger generations. Given that we recently received a request from a listener to discuss this topic, we thought it would be a good time to sit down with an expert and discuss the actions that people can take to cope with the distress that climate anxiety can bring.
My co-host, Sarah and I recently read the book, A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety, How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet, and we're talking with the author of the book today, Dr. Sarah Jaquette Ray. Dr. Ray is a professor and chair of the Environmental Studies department at Cal Poly Humboldt, and has over a decade of experience teaching environmental studies programs.
Thank you for joining us today.
Sarah Jaquette Ray: Thanks so much for having me.
Emile Elias: So my first question is, in your experience teaching and working with college students, how prevalent is climate anxiety?
Sarah Jaquette Ray: Well, that was a really good question. It is kind of a confirmation bias answer in that I would say it's everywhere. It's rampant. Everybody has it.
But that's a little bit because I'm focused on it and so I see it everywhere and I see it in many manifestations that might not necessarily on the surface look like climate anxiety or be reported as climate anxiety from people who are presenting those kinds of things. So I would even go as far as to say that denial and disavowal and apathy are forms of climate anxiety.
Right? So it's pretty prevalent everywhere. The most obvious forms of it that I see though are when it's becoming clear that the content of classes that students are learning about environmental problems or climate problems, they actually become sort of dysregulated in classrooms, right? They get, as Dan Siegel talks about with his, the psychologist talks about the window of tolerance.
When you're dysregulated, you either get kicked into your hyperarousal or hypoarousal, hyper meaning kind of angry and you know, maybe a little irrational or you know, not able to think straight on hypoarousal is this kind of numbing out effect. And I see this in my students all the time, frankly.
And on top of kind of a background noise of worsening mental health problems in youth, which is, there's a lot of research on that in general, that's a problem, right? So to, to sort of parse out how much of that is climate versus just life now, you know, is sort of a, an impossible task. And so I, I don't really spend much time parsing that out, but I would say that climate, because that's the content we're talking about all the time. And because people who come to me, meaning people who walk in my door for a class, tend to already be people who are really inclined to be thinking in pro-environmental ways. So there's a self-selective group that I see. So I'd say it's very prevalent.
But then if you look at the actual data in general of youth in particular, what you see is a real marked difference between how older generations feel about climate change versus how younger generations feel. And there's some pretty remarkable data out there from the Yale Center for Climate Communication or the Pew Research Center, or the wonderful report that my colleagues produced in The Lancet in 2021 which studied 10,000 young people across the world.
This is very prevalent. 67% of young people feel climate anxiety. And if you start including things like afraid and anger and other emotions, the numbers even rise further. Over half of them say that they feel that humanity is doomed because of the climate crisis, and four out of 10 say they don't wanna have children because of the climate crisis.
So generationally there's a huge difference. And then when you parse out among there, you see that the people who care the most, who have the highest in levels of climate anxiety are young women of color, especially black women. So you, when you start to look at more specifically who's really feeling this, it becomes a very interesting story.
Emile Elias: Thank you for that framing. And that leads into our next question. You write about different forms of climate anxiety, like solastalgia, eco grief, and pre traumatic stress disorder. Can you describe these for us?
Sarah Jaquette Ray: Yeah. This is a real fascinating thing that's happening in the English language with a lot of environmental philosophers and people are thinking about the lack of words or granularity in language to describe emotion states that have anything to do with the natural world or the environment. In other languages and in other times there, in other cultures especially, there are words, that are words to describe what happens when humans respond to, react to, interact with the more than human world. And in English we have very, very little along those lines.
It's just one example of this is that the English language turns all of nature into an object by just describing it as “it”. So, this is called “Don't It” on it, right? There's a, there's a real move happening in a lot of different environmental circles to improve the language. And I'm thinking here in particular about the book by Glen Albrecht.
He's an, an Australian philosopher and he's come up with a beautif.. a powerful lexicon or encyclopedia of alternative words in his book, Earth Emotions, New Words for a New World. And he, he's the one who coined the term, solastalgia, and he's trying to take the English language and come up with new ideas of describing new ways of describing human interactions with the natural world.
Especially not just, not just bad stuff, not just despair feelings, and not just lost feelings, but also positive feelings too. Like he has a, the opposite of, solastalgia, for example, soliphilia. And so, solastalgia is this sort of notion, he describes it as a nostalgia for a place that is degrading while you're there.
So it's like a homesickness in place, or wherever you are, wherever your place is, degrading under your feet, and you have, you have kind of a sadness or mourning or loss for that. And so that's solastalgia. Pre-traumatic stress. One of the concepts there is this sort of anticipatory sense of climate change to try to capture in these words, this notion that we have a bunch of feelings that seem to be about stuff that might happen in some abstract future.
Even the concept of anxiety is about, has an element of futurity kind of laced into it. And so for some people, a lot of there's a lot of push to say that is exactly the line between the people who are privileged enough to not be experiencing climate change right now, and the people who are experiencing it right now.
And they prefer words like climate distress or climate trauma, or even other words that don't even have the word climate in it. So there's a real debate or discussion, a lot of implications around the words that we use to describe these things. And the argument can be made that if we don't have language for certain types of emotions, we're less likely to feel them and, and therefore we're less likely to notice what's happening to the natural world.
So there's a sort of, this previous argument would've said that we have emotions biologically, and then we come up with labels for them and that those are sort of universal cross-cultural or whatever. But there's research that's very fascinating research happening in psychology that says that that's not in fact true.
And so it makes a lot of sense, therefore, to try to come up with more granular words to open up the doors for more concern for the natural world.
Sarah LeRoy: Thanks, Sarah. That was a great description of our use of language around this. I hadn't thought about that before. And it kind of goes into our next question about efficacy.
And so in, in your book, you note that when we think of ourselves as ineffectual in our ability to address climate change, that it actually makes us so it makes us ineffectual. And at the same time, you know, we're often hearing stories in the media that might diminish our personal feelings of self-efficacy or our ability to make a difference.
So how do you respond when someone finds themselves in a hopeless rather than efficacious space?
Sarah Jaquette Ray: That's the real pith right there, isn't it? That's the, that's the big question. There's so many approaches to this, and it would, and it could be a whole, it's whole other podcast episode, and it's certainly the one I think matters the most, frankly.
So where do we even begin on this? Well, first of all, this self-fulfilling prophecy that you described there between where whereby if we perceive ourselves to be inefficacious, right, this psychologist called this pseudo inefficacy, or a sort of false sense of powerlessness. And this false sense of powerlessness comes from the perception that climate change is such a big problem.
That it would require huge amounts of action to fix it, right? So the, the solution has to match the scale of the problem, and that we are all individually too small to do anything about it. So pseudo inefficacy has to do with this notion that well, human beings, it turns out psychologists have shown that human beings tend to not even try to solve a problem if it feels too big to solve the whole, because the negative feeling of not solving the whole outweighs the positive feeling of even solving a little bit of it.
So they tend to just check out entirely. Well, you can see how this might be, create a self-fulfilling prophecy where everybody gives up because they can't solve the whole thing. And so the thing that we fear actually does come to pass, right? So the perception of the problem as too big. The perception of us as too small and too individual. Those things all collude to, in fact, in most cases, make the problem worse in reality.
So it's not, it's not just in our heads, it's, it actually affects reality. So, yeah, this is the real alarm bell that I was trying to ring, and, and where to go from there. Well, first of all, what I like to say to people is backward design this thing, right?
We, if what we care about is solving this problem of the climate crisis, then what is needed? Well, what is needed is that we don't feel pseudo inefficacious. We simply have to feel efficacious because the psychologists show that when we feel efficacious, we tend to do more work for it. Okay, so then where do we go from there?
We have to then see what it is in our lives is making us feel inefficacious, and oftentimes, yes, it's the news. It's also the individualist culture we live in that tells us that we are the only ones trying to fix this problem. It is, it's all kinds of things, right? The list goes on, and I detail a lot of that in the book, but what are all the things making us feel inefficacious and who benefits from all of us individually feeling inefficacious? Right. So who’s, what’s served by that?
So there's a sense of once you get kind of a critical meta lens or, you know, shift your mindset about maybe I'm not alone, maybe it doesn't serve the things I love to feel this way. Maybe in fact, you know, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once you start going down these paths, you realize that you know the planet, the stuff you value, the stuff you love simply can't afford for you to be in that story.
And this is where I draw on the work of Joanna Macy, of course, whose work on sort of, you know, thinking about the work that reconnects is her, is a primary topic of her work. And one of the aspects of the work that reconnects that she comes up with is this concept of the stories of now and the stories of now shape very much what we act and do in this world.
And she says the story of the great unraveling - this sort of story of everything, you know, going towards apocalypse is simply just one truth. And in fact, the story of the great turning where everyone is getting rid of these hostile, extractive, violent systems and moving towards a regenerative society, that story is also happening.
It just doesn't make the news because the negativity bias of the news simply doesn't cover it. And so how do we create, how do we help ourselves counterbalance the negativity bias in the news and in our brains? Cuz our, you know, the reptilian part of our brains also focuses on that, right? So this is, this is just not a reality that the planet needs us to live in, or a story I should say, that the planet needs us to live in.
And so my answer to that question is sort of a backward design. You know, where do we need to be in order for us to feel the most empowered to do the work that's required of us? And it's also fundamentally a critique of individualism, right? That there, this notion that we're all just individuals solving this problem is just false.
Sarah LeRoy: Yeah. I, I really appreciate that. Especially that last piece that, that, you know, we are all in this together. It's false that it's just individuals working and, and you mentioned the news a couple of times and, and the negativity and the negative stories that appear in the media. And I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about solutions journalism that you refer to in your book.
You know, what is that and how is that helpful in recrafting these stories?
Sarah Jaquette Ray: Yeah, so unfortunately the entire machine of news media really forces and pushes the need for eyeballs, right? So we have, we've come up with a news source and social media algorithms and a business model that's entirely based on ads, right?
And so as a result of that, getting eyeballs and getting attention is the only form of doing news production now. And as a result of that, the implications there have become that the negative stuff gets the most eyeballs, gets the most circulation, gets the most viral spread, and that therefore creates this sense that we live in, that the world is really terrible, right?
That we get, and we're getting it from 24/7 from all all corners of the globe in a way that we, that's unprecedented in the last 10 or 15 years. So we're living in a new media landscape that we haven't even begun to think about the ethical implications of, and it is very, very dangerous to the planet.
So Solutions journalism, for example, the Solutions Journalism Network or something like Yes Magazine. There are many examples of this that are trying, that see the problem and recognize all of this and have tried, are trying to carve out a niche that's different, that's doing something different. Because what they're basing their hopes on is that, the vast majority of people because we're, our brains are pleasure seeking machines, are going to try to find positive information in order to survive this crisis, right?
The notion that there are positive things happening, that the great turning is in fact happening, while it doesn't make mainstream media, it is the concern, it is the interest of these solutions, journalism networks. And there, here's two reasons for this psychologically, and I'm always asked these questions: What's the psychology of this right?
Psychologically, we, human beings, in general need to see other people doing great things in order for them to want to feel motivated to do the similar kinds of things. So there's a, there's a sense in solutions journalism. There used to be this notion, especially in climate discourse, that if we just bombard everybody with how bad things are, this is also called doomism, right?
The doomism approach. The assumption there psychologically is that if you bombard people with how bad things are, that that will kick them in the butt to change what they need to be changing and get to work on the fixing the problem. But we're seeing all of this research say that that's not true. That's actually backfiring and that's having the opposite effect.
That's what we saw, why we saw David Wallace Wells and various people kind of, you know, go off on this sort of tangent about should I be doom and gloom? Should I be an optimist? What's the middle ground? You know, this sort of debate that's happening in the climate spheres. But solutions has this effect actually, on the contrary, of motivating people, because it makes you feel like you're not alone, right?
So that's a critical, that critical point there. Oh, if it's just me, what's the point? But if it's me and this whole community of people, what Paul Hawkin calls the blessed unrest, then yeah, maybe I, maybe my efforts do matter, right? And so that gets you up in the morning and gets you to. Maybe my little bit, throwing my shoulder to the wheel in my little way is actually gonna help because there's so many other people doing it.
So that is maybe a counterintuitive thing, but that's what the researchers are showing. And the second thing that having solutions does for us is it gives us models of how to do it. So part of the problem here is a crisis of the imagination of what's possible. We know that Kari Noregard and her work in sociology says that the vast majority of Americans can better imagine the apocalypse than they can imagine a post fossil fuel future.
So this is a crisis of the imagination. If we don't have news that shows us how people are building that other future, then of course because of a availability bias, another psychological term because of availability bias, where we recall, we think that what will happen in the future is the thing we can most easily recall in our brains.
Right. Which is probably Don't Look Up or something I just saw on social media or some TV show, right? Or some cli-fi, climate fiction, dystopian situation. So whatever I can recall in my brain as an image that's most easily retrievable is what I think will happen in the future. No wonder the apocalypse is more easy to imagine than a post fossil fuel future.
So we need all of those solutions to give us the imagination for what's possible. So it does those two big things. It's really critical.
Sarah LeRoy: That's a great segue into my next question. When we're, we're thinking about, you know, these, these possible futures and imagining what that might look like, because in your book you wrote that the first step in responding to climate change really is to imagine a future that we hope to live in.
But like you said earlier, this is very difficult. You've heard from your students that they have a hard time imagining that future. And it is, you know, a very immense thing to envision and I can see how it'd be very difficult for a lot of us. So do you have any suggestions for people to help them imagine that future in which they would like to live?
Sarah Jaquette Ray: That's a great question. One of the things that I like to do is walk folks, this sort of an experiential visualization, exer exercise, which I describe in the beginning of the book actually, which is to help think, have people embody what it would feel like? I mean, actually close your eyes and cast yourself into 20 years from now when everything that you desire has come to pass.
That's the first moment of shock for most people. Cuz they think, well, I'm gonna go down this path of dystopia. You know, because that's where everyone's inclined to go. When I ask people in book talks to tell me in the chat or to just shout out words. When you think of the future, what do you think? 75, 80, 90% of the words that come up are, are bad words, right?
Like uncertainty, turbulence, scary, afraid. All these words that are are, would cause us to go into some sort of immobilization, paralysis kind of thing, right? So that's of course the desire of a lot of people for us to feel that way. And so I often, I have this kind of personality trait where I think, well, despair is a legitimate response to what's happening in the world, which is not untrue. That's true.
However, while that is a legitimate emotion to be having, it is not a strategy. It's not a strategy to solve the problem that's causing the, the feeling in the first place. Right. So there's a real distinction between what we need to do with those emotions to process them and what we need to do in the world to address them, right, and to create different conditions.
Those are different, different answers to that. But yes, so there's a visualization activity that takes us into this utopian future and asks this question rather than asking what do we fear about the future? We can all come up with lots of answers for that. The question is, what do we desire about a future?
And that opens up all kinds of things. So when you actually ask people to smell it, taste it, hear it, feel it, see it in their mind's eye, their, the imagination does open up, you know, and now you have something you can build on, right? So someone says, I hear children laughing, or I taste this kind of food or what, you know, whatever it is.
There's all kinds of things that come up when you do this activity with people. And that's how you really get to this thing of, okay, there's some kind of love underneath all of that fear, anger, anxiety. The anxiety, the fear, that's always anybody who studies emotions will tell you, aside from climate, anyone who studies emotions will tell you that those uncomfortable emotions are always secondary emotions to something like love, right?
That grief is a, is love without its object, for example. So underneath that fear, if we do the work on ourselves, this is why I think the inner transformation work that folks who do mindfulness and climate work are really onto something. The inner transformation calls us to say, okay, what's, where is that love?
What's the thing I love? And instead of resisting fighting, you know, being against that, which I fear, which often makes us not be able to even move forward, what is it that I can do to nurture that, which I love, which is the underneath thing of the fear. And there's all kinds of directions for us there, right?
When we start to look at the love thing, all kinds of stuff we love, and there's all kinds of things we can do to build and nurture that stuff. You know, the fear of those things being hurt stops me in my tracks. I don't know how to stop capitalism, but I do know how to grow a garden. You know? I do know how to cultivate relationships. I do know how to call my mom every day.
Right. I mean, there's, there's, there's, I do know how to sit and try to figure out how it is that media is working on my brain and causing me to feel powerless, right? So there's, there's all kinds of work we can do once we, we do this other thing. And I think those are the steps. There's, there's probably more to your, to your question, but I think I'll stop with that.
Emile Elias: Yeah, I really appreciate that. I appreciate the framing and, and sort of saying that despair is a legitimate emotion. That's what brought us to you as somebody saying, which we often talk about climate hope, saying, well, what about climate despair? And so now that, that brought us to this conversation with you, and I like the next part about, despair is not a strategy. And following back on those things we love. And you mentioned mindfulness and the place for mindfulness in this, so, I'm curious about being mindful about where to devote our time and energy as a way to preserve ourselves in the long haul. So can you talk a little bit more about what mindfulness can bring to the climate movement and a few ideas about how to begin in our mindfulness journey?
Sarah Jaquette Ray: Now you're asking the deep question, right? This is beautiful. I, I highly recommend if anybody wants to really dive into the scholar, the sort of biggest, most effective, powerful white paper on this that you can find. I, I would suggest looking at the mindfulness initiatives, recent sort of handbook, you can get it online free download, PDF called Reconnection.
It's really effect, really outlines the exact answer to your question. But this goes to this sort of part of the point, which is that the urgency of the climate movement, the urgency of the climate emergency, I should say, causes people to go into what psychologists called amygdala hijack. And this goes back to this question of the window of tolerance, right?
When we ourselves are not in our window of tolerance, we tend to act out of impulse or self-protection or survival, and not necessarily in service of larger matters like something like the long-term multi-generational work of climate change, right? I mean, it's, it, the climate problem and how long it's gonna take to address it does not match the scale, the temporal scale of a human lifetime, much less when we're in a fight, flight, or freeze moment, right.
So it is critical to match our, our resilience, our stamina, our inner capacity to the, the scale, the time scale of the work of climate change. And not to mention the larger global scale of it, climate mitigation really. So mindfulness. What can mindfulness do about that? Well, mindfulness in itself has been shown to do a lot of things, including expanding the window of tolerance.
So for one, You know, when we're acting from a place where we're feeling open-hearted, when we're acting from a place of compassion, flexibility, adaptability, these are the places that the climate crisis needs us to be acting from.
When we are in a mindful state, we also tend to be not just sort of self-regulated as psychologists would call what I just described, but we are also capable of better seeing the ways that culture, dominant culture, capitalist culture, all the different ways that an individualist culture, white supremacist culture, patriarchal, all these different ways that the water we're swimming in is having an effect on our choices and decisions and feelings about the world. And so coming to get that kind of distance from this fishbowl that we're all in, oh, I'm gonna get outside the fishbowl and see what kind of water I'm swimming in.
That is something that mindfulness really offers us, and then we can get to the right kinds of mindsets that are really necessary for the kind of long-term work we're needing. So much of what the climate crisis demands from us is very counterintuitive from a dominant Western perspective. So those are just two examples.
The, the fact is that there's a lot of people who may be from a different generation may think that the crisis is so urgent that we simply don't have time to take care of ourselves, right? Or the crisis is so big that taking care of my inner resources seems like such a petty, small thing, trivial thing to do.
And really what I'm suggesting is quite the contrary to that. And I think youth are getting this youth, the youth climate movement gets this. And of course this draws on ancient many ancient wisdom traditions, and especially I'm thinking here of the traditions of socially engaged Buddhism, for example, and the likes of Thich Nhat Hanh.
These folks are basically saying, Hey, we certainly cannot change the conditions of injustice, the structures of injustice, if we are in fact depleted and exhausted and uncritically thinking and all of these things, right? So mindfulness is the antidote. Because what that does is it emboldens us to be able to figure out how best to not just survive and live in these conditions, which we do need to do, how learn how to do, right?
How can we have these conditions stay the same and be the least depleted by them? That's mindfulness gives us that. But more so when we do this in a collective, we find ways to actually change the conditions of the suffering in the first place. So that's really the ultimate goal I think of, of engaged mindfulness.
Emile Elias: Excellent. And that leads so perfectly into my next question and kind of your answer swirls around this question. So I'll just start with I really like many of the quotes from your book. I pulled a lot of them out, but one I really like is:
“The ethos of sacrifice that underwrites so much environmental work is not a path towards effectiveness. On the contrary, it's disabling.”
And so you mentioned mindfulness possibly as a solution, but is there anything that you'd like to expand on or perhaps share some advice on how to avoid some of the pitfalls of self-sacrifice?
Sarah Jaquette Ray: Yes. This feels like a door opening to practices of gratitude. You're opening for me here.
Yes. It's a very common practice. Well, and, and this is the thing, is that the ways that capitalism has its, hold on. So many of us, deep in ourselves. Mine, I'll say mine, I'll speak for myself, is to constantly tell me that I'm not enough. I don't have enough, that I'm inadequate, that I need to change something or fix something, or the grass is greener over there, or I have to fight aging or whatever it is, right.
Money, stuff, beauty, you know, next car, I don't care, whatever it is, right? So this sense of always having a lack is part of that, right? There's a sense of there's scarcity, there's lack, and I need more. So that, that's one part of it. Then there's this dimension that has to do with scarcity in general around the environmental movement, which sort of this sort of underpinning of, there's only so many resources to go around and that causing panic, right? The tragedy of the commons kind of way of understanding lack or scarcity. And there's been very much a thread of both types of scarcity running through most of US environmental history and discourse.
And that's been something that in recent years, folks like adrienne maree brown, who's one of my favorite scholars and thinkers and activists on this, have really tried to turn on its head, to say: this scarcity thinking right, is causing the problem is part of the problem. And in fact, the scarcity thinking, around time, for example, is a great example of this, this wonderful experiment called the Good Samaritan experiment, where they did a bunch of stuff I won't go into now you can look it up. But this punchline, the conclusion was that when we perceive ourselves to be time scarce, just the perception of time scarcity, right?
I.e. busyness, right? Which we all feel all the time. Is really a product of this productivist culture that we live in that tells us that if we're really busy, we're valuable. The more busy we are, the more valuable we are. Right? That's our worth is how full our calendars are, right? Not just our closets, but our calendars have to be full with stuff, right?
So perception of time scarcity causes us actually to undermine, you know, damage relationships with other people. We see that in our families. We sit in our friendships, on the bus. But we can also say that that diminishes our relationship with the more than human world. So perceptions of time, scarcity undermine relationships, period.
Right? So there's this sense of, okay, if that's really at the root cause, the, that's at the root of our ecological crisis. The separation of, of humans from each other and the more than human world, just the erasure of the value of relationships to keep the planet humming along. That reemphasis on relationships suggests that we need more time to do that.
We can't do that in the current system of, of busyness and productivism. And so this is where Adrienne Murray Brown says, basically, you need to have, you need to shift all of your energy towards appreciation, abundance, whatever way you wanna call it. Some people call it a gratitude practice, and I think that that's, that's one of the significant insights of a lot of the work that's happening right now around mindfulness and, and climate work.
Is that if everybody could see how great everything is, the beauty in all the things around us, the sheer miracle of everything, maybe we wouldn't buy as much stuff. Maybe we would treat each other more kindly. Maybe we wouldn't work so hard on the hedonic treadmill. You know, the one that gives us more dopamine hits by buying more stuff.
Right. We would, we would start to see and become more aware of how those things play and work on us and how we manifest or we exert even in small ways in all these behaviors and actions and thoughts, we allow this destructive system to do its work through us. And so, yeah, I think the graduate practice to be in a mindset of abundance and for the environmental movement in general to emphasize abundance over scarcity, right?
Abundance has to do with love and scarcity has to do with fear. To go back to that original point, you know, so, yeah.
Emile Elias: I really appreciate that, the gratitude practice in my own life as well. And I recently got to go on an amazing spring break trip with my family, but that required flying and that led to some eco guilt.
And you, you touch on this on your, in your book as well, so I wonder if you can explain eco guilt a little bit and how you suggest people can move past that in their gratitude and just in their lives.
Sarah Jaquette Ray: Yeah, eco guilt. Guilt is an emotion, if we look at, you know, all of the environmental arguments out there that we've ever heard since the sixties, you can sort of track the different emotions that they're designed to elicit in the audience. Right?
And the idea here is every environmental movement's been trying desperately and, and all the power to them, to try to get people to change their behaviors, right? To get people to vote differently or consume differently, or live differently or however. And guilt has been a really effective emotion.
And I don't mean to dismiss guilt as a totally ineffectual emotion we should get rid of entirely, but it has, it turns out that it's, lots of people have been studying guilt and most of what has the conclusion around the emotion of guilt is, is that it's not effective for long-term behavior change.
Whereas what, what we really need is long-term behavior change, right. What we really need is structural change, but short of that, you know, long-term behavioral change is better than short-term behavioral change, so right. What kinds of emotions make people do long-term behavior change? Pleasure. Feelings of fellowship and solidarity.
Responsibility actually is better than guilt. Right. On that level because that gives, that's, there's a sort of reciprocity to that. I love Robin Wall Kimmerer's work here on reciprocity. She describes it beautifully in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass. So there's all kinds of other emotions that she describes in that book that are available to us that are much more effective. If you wanna think about strategies than guilt.
Guilt does work in certain settings for short periods of time, and I don't dismiss it entirely as a tool, but it, it's not the, the main one I would recommend.
Sarah LeRoy: Thanks, Sarah. We've talked a lot so far about generation, the younger generation, other generations, and something that we found interesting in the book is that you maintain, it's important to organize along those generational lines.
Why is that?
Sarah Jaquette Ray: Well, I would say that there is it important to organize along intergenerational lines and generational lines, so it's important to organize, period. So I'm not gonna give up on all the organization. I love the intergenerational organizing that I'm seeing, and I love being invited to help build intergenerational relationships and, and coalitions.
That's really been a fun part of my work I didn't expect. And I would say that that's critical too, so I wouldn't want to dismiss that. But what I want to draw out by that statement in the book and my focus on generations, is that it is surprising to me that Gen Z is the largest generation that the US will ever see.
It is going to be the least economically well off generation that America has ever seen. The first generation that's less well off than the generation before it. So the American dream is under, under threat here. Right. And it is also the generation that's called the climate generation because the IPCC reports that we've been seeing suggests that they're the ones who where this 12 year timeline is gonna run out. Right as they're entering their twenties, you know. So this is a coming of age, at the end of the world, kind of a moment. And I think what I mean by organi, the what's necessary about organizing in that generation is that that generation is going to have to develop real quick a set of tools that takes social movements years to, to build.
And it would be helpful if they saw themselves as having a lot of common interests around some of these issues. Young people also tend to be, and you can look at the relationship between youth and social movements and a lot of social movement theory and history. There's a reason why young people historically have often been at the head of and organizing most social movements.
We talk about anti-Vietnam. You can talk about Standing Rock. You can talk about the Pacific Climate Warriors, the movement for Black Lives, the climate movement we've seen. Youth have always been the people pushing this, this change. And in in va, vast majority of social movements. And why is that? Right? Well, part of it, and there's data to show this.
They're less attached to existing things. They're more happy to let go of the status quo. They're more happy to imagine alternative futures than the ones that, that they live in, because they haven't been living them as long and they haven't benefited from them as long. So when you're not invested in an existing system, it's easy for you to imagine change. Right, and you can see what would be better instead much more clearly.
We would not have the discourse we have right now around climate justice, but were it not for young people. So, we have them to thank for climate even getting on the map. I mean, 10 years ago, people who cared about climate were thinking, this is never gonna happen. Al Gore is not gonna be effective at making this happen. He's already said his piece, and this hasn't changed. So that's where we're at, you know.
I mean, I, I was less hopeful 10 years ago than I am now. Because of what youth have mainstreamed in climate discourse at the highest of levels. So yeah, I, I would like to see them embrace that power and, and, and use it even more.
Sarah LeRoy: So, we really appreciate you talking with us today and just we try to end each episode with this question. You know, what is the one thing that you would like listeners to remember from this podcast?
Sarah Jaquette Ray: The one thing I think it would be great for listeners to remember from the podcast is this thing about, do I matter as an individual?
I think when I look around and I hear from so many people over and over and over again, the main sentiment I hear is this kind of disavowal of responsibility that's rooted in this acceptance of my powerlessness, and I think that is really dangerous. I think that's, that's the core of the problem and I would say, If we want to, if we wanna see a better future, if we wanna desire instead of fear the future, if we want a planet that is thrive-able, regenerative, life-affirming, that's just not an option, right?
It's not an option to feel powerless if you take, if you look at all the steps, right? Like what happens when we feel powerless? Watch what, you know, what play that out, right? Play out how that goes and what the alternatives might be. And yeah, I think that's the main thing I'd like people to take home.
Sarah LeRoy: Thank you for that. And I, I appreciate that sentiment. And, you know, the work that we do here at Southwest CASC and that Emile's doing at the Hub, I think it really speaks to that, you know, working together, working with managers, you know, having this community working with tribes to, to address the, the issues where we can and prepare for the impacts.
And so it's really this large community that it's gonna make the difference. And so we appreciate you talking with us today. I think this was a very hopeful podcast.
Sarah Jaquette Ray: I know. Hope is there. Yeah. I hope it's hopeful. Yes, yesterday somebody asked me, Sarah, do you feel hope? And I said, no! And then I realized that's not quite right.
The, the an, the thing about hope is that it's not a, hope has this kind of instrumentalism thing like I will feel better if I know that my actions are gonna add up to something impactful. And that's, some people call it instrumentalist hope, and you know that, that I don't need, that's not any good. But yeah, we need to have some reason to get up in the morning. So, yeah.
Sarah LeRoy: Well, thank you very much, and your book was great.
Sarah Jaquette Ray: Thanks so much for reading it. I'm honored.
Emile Elias: Thanks for listening to Come Rain or Shine podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub
and the USGS Southwest CASC. If you liked this podcast, don't forget to rate or review it and subscribe for more great episodes. A special thanks to our production crew, Skye Aney and Reanna Burnett. If you want more information, have any questions for the speakers or would like to offer feedback, please reach out to us via our websites.