When my twins were two years old, I made the mistake of trying to talk about my growing climate anxiety at a moms’ group.
I’d read the 2018 IPCC report, which had been covered widely in the news, and had been learning more about projected climate impacts in the coming decades: Harsher heat waves. Stronger hurricanes. Rising sea levels, flooding, wildfires, drought, food insecurity, mass migration, vector-borne diseases… Visions of an apocalyptic future were stuck on replay in my mind. Surely, I thought, the other moms would understand; surely, they’d been reading the news too.
During the routine circle of check-ins in a room full of other newish moms, I spilled my fears about the climate crisis. Rather than being met with the affirming “me too” murmurs that other mothers’ check-ins had received, the room felt suffocatingly silent. (I made a mental note: Don’t talk about climate change in moms’ groups. Stick to easier topics, like postpartum sex.)
Since then, I’ve learned that though many of us feel profoundly alone in our moments of “climate awakening,” we’re not as alone as we think. Research suggests that worry about climate change is at an all-time high, but social taboos and very real fears about facing the enormity of the climate crisis can often hinder the meaningful conversations we need to cope.
But gradually, this is changing. One of the people working to destigmatize conversations about climate change and mental health is Dr. Britt Wray, a writer and broadcaster who researches the emotional impacts of climate crisis. For the last two years, she has written a newsletter called Gen Dread, which explores how to stay sane in the climate and wider ecological crisis.
This month, I interviewed Britt about her new book, Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis. The book is an accessible, personal, meticulously researched exploration of the ways climate change and environmental crisis affect our mental health. Rather than pushing climate distress away, Britt argues, it’s actually our ability to value and embrace our full range of climate emotions that will help us directly confront the enormous levels of collective denial that have led humanity to this point in the climate crisis.
Britt’s wisdom about the need to come together with others who understand the experience of climate distress will feel like a balm to anyone who has ever felt alone in their climate anxiety. “It’s amazing what can be shared and what can be survived,” she told me, “when we do it together. Working together in groups allows us to make meaning out of our suffering, make meaning out of our pain, and as long as we’re making meaning out of it, almost anything becomes something we can deal with.”
Listen to our conversation here:
In this 42-minute interview, you’ll hear us talk about:
- The role climate emotions play in our lives (and how making room for our full range of emotions is kind of like learning to be a good dinner party host)
- How we can build our own tolerance for climate distress by practicing self-kindness and compassion
- How we can find emotional support for navigating difficult climate emotions (and why we need each other to process our climate distress)
- What practices of “internal activism” can bring to our external activism
- How climate grief (and parenthood!) can help us reorient our relationships with ourselves and the world
- How motherhood changed Britt’s relationship to climate change, why she describes her decision to have a child as a “commitment to joy,” and what’s delighting her as a new mother
You’ll also hear birds chirping cheerfully in the background from Britt’s California home. I hope you’ll enjoy this conversation as much as I did, and if you’ve ever struggled with climate anxiety or grief, I hope you’ll find reassurance in knowing that you’re not alone.
Find out more about Britt’s new book Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis here.