Emotional support in face of climate tragedy

[updated 5th August 2020]

If you have come to recognise that climate change will lead to a near term collapse in our way of life, or even worse, then this can be a very difficult realisation to process, integrate into our lives, or communicate to other people. It is normal to feel strong difficult emotions around these topic. These may include grief, anger, guilt, confusion, fear, or even numbness.

In my experience, the key thing is not to sit with these emotions on your own. If you have a trusted person or people in your life, with whom you can share openly about how you are feeling, then that’s ideal. This may be family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues, or a GP or mental/emotional health professional. If you seek help from a professional, remember it is not your responsibility to ‘protect’ her/him from the reality of the climate emergency as you see it. We have heard lots of anecdotal reports from people whose psychotherapist or counsellor sought to pathologise their fears around likely societal collapse. This is becoming increasingly less likely as the urgency of the global situation is becoming more openly recognised, and ‘climate psychology’ is emerging. However, if you experience this, you may consider finding a different source of therapeutic support.

If you’re feeling wobbly and like you can’t cope right now, here are a few things you can do if you’d like to help shift your emotional response.

If you feel suicidal, or if there is any risk of harm to yourself or others, seek professional help right away. Mental and emotional health professionals really are there to help, do trust their kindness and skills. You can find some emergency contact numbers and websites in this document, or search online for organisations in your country.

Many people feel very lonely in their experience of facing the reality of climate emergency and its unfolding impact on people and planet. Therefore, here are some links to resources that I have found helpful, as they enable you to get in touch with others.

Death Cafe movement  is an umbrella movement providing support and resources for local face to face community death cafes.  You can find out if there’s a cafe near you, or even start one.  This movement is not overtly about climate grief, but the meetings are absolutely open to anyone, and anything that they might bring.

The Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook Group. This one focuses on sharing ideas and information on how to live well after acceptance of likely (or unfolding) societal collapse. You won’t see posts saying we can stop a catastrophe nor on how bad things are getting, but ideas on how people and organisations are responding positively… Even if that just means how to reduce suffering. This one is my initiative and connected with the Deep Adaptation Forum (see below). You can find a range of free online gatherings on the ‘events’ page which aim at providing a space space for people to connect and support each other through their journeys towards deep adaptation.

The Human Near Term Extinction Support Group on Facebook. I have not concluded that we are going extinct but the people on this group offer useful support to people struggling with that possibility in their awareness. There is also a similar group, same topic but mentioning love in the title, and I’m not sure what the difference is.

The Deep Adaptation LinkedIn group is more of a professional focus, and less sharing of resources and support for emotional processing, but still offers the possibilities of connecting with others who are considering the implications for their own lives of climate crisis.

The Deep Adaptation Professions Network is a place for deeper engagement and collaboration.  Again, this platform is aimed at different professional perspectives.

The Deep Adaptation Guidance website has been created by volunteer members of the DA Professions’ Network, and aims to help people find the support the need, from guides across the world who are experienced in integrating ‘collapse-awareness’ into their work with people. Some offer free or low cost support.

Climate Psychology Alliance is aimed mainly at the psychotherapy profession, but has some useful resources. In addition, in the UK this group has launched a network of therapists to provide support. For info, email CPAtherapeutics@yahoo.com

The Reframing Collapse Facebook Group also can provide helpful feedback.

The Dark Mountain network is also beginning to put people in direct touch with each other

In addition, there are a variety of sources for reading and listening…

Islands of Sanity podcast

Any books and articles by Caroline Baker

Video casts by Deb Ozarko and her book Beyond Hope.

Roy Scranton’s book Learning to Die in the Anthropocene and another book of the similar title, reviewed here.

I write up some of my own reflections on how I have been trying and wobbling to integrate this awareness into my life and work, in this rather long reflective piece called “After Despair.” I also explored some of the emotional aspects of this topic in an hour long interview here.

Ultimately, I think we will best supported by activities that support our emotional resilience so that we are better able – individually and collectively – to integrate and be with difficult emotions in a mature, grounded and loving way. That way, we can learn to move through the paralysis of grief, fear or uncertainty, and begin to make choices that can help reduce harm.Whether these activities are spiritual or agnostic, these forms of grassroots, diverse, non dogmatic, collective inspiration and support will become more important. If you have suggestions, please enter them in the comments below.

If you want to attend events to discuss these issues with people, then you could click ‘follow’ underneath this article to receive blog posts by email.

If you are still thinking whether it is wise to further explore your acceptance of this predicament, perhaps because of ideas it might be irresponsible or counter-productive to think we can’t prevent a breakdown in our society, then I recommend reading my post on forms of collapse-denial.

My academic paper on the latest climate science as well as the many forms of denial about our situation is available for download here.


43 thoughts on “Emotional support in face of climate tragedy”

  1. Thank you very much, Jem. Along with the books of Carolyn Baker, I would recommend the books of Marshall Vian Summers: “The Great Waves of Change” and “The New World (Both free at http://www.newmessage.org). These have been very important to me.

    1. Me too Jorge – vital for facing what’s to come! Very practical guidelines for how to navigate the current crisis and the transition we are already beginning to undergo. Thank you.

  2. Through science we have evolved a high energy technological system, which we put into the hands of economists and politicians for it’s operation. To operate a high energy technological system with the political economic agenda ,could never have been seen to end well,especially when you add in the human ability to deny reality.

  3. Very nice. Thank you. For your scientific overview, you may have noticed many of the issues presented in this recent video and text from 2011:

    The 5 Big Climate Unknowns
    Climate State
    Published on Jul 26, 2018
    Climate unknowns include the rate of sea level rise, ozone loss, how the Gulf Stream will react and what it possibly means, the Earth’s response, and the potential for extra methane release from methane clathrates, stored at continental margins. There are many more climate unknowns, for example elaborated in this article https://thinkprogress.org/what-are-th

    0:04 #1 Ozone Loss
    4:00 #2 Rate of Sea Level Rise
    7:32 #3 Gulf Stream Slowdown
    11:18 #4 Earth’s Response
    17:40 #5 Methane Hydrates

    – – – –
    [classic from 2011]
    What Are the “Unknown Unknowns” of Global Warming
    JOE ROMM – OCT 1, 2011, 2:05 PM

    Accelerated release of the methane hydrates
    Rapid collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet
    Dramatic shift in ocean circulation patterns
    Runaway greenhouse effect
    The drying of the Northern peatlands (bogs, moors, and mires).
    The Amazon becoming a carbon source - see Science: Second ‘100-year’ Amazon drought in 5 years caused huge CO2 emissions. If this pattern continues, the forest would become a warming source.

    I’m talking about stuff that is not really explored in the scientific literature [2011].

  4. Jem, I, too, took an unpaid leave of absence (1975) to write an unpublished manuscript (Mission_2000; the publisher went bankrupt). Then, I anticipated eventual collapse (extinction came later with climate change). From then to now, my focus has been on significantly uplifting (more than simple educating) the whole global human population. Established orders would never help; UPLIFT would have to be a self-generating process.

    Larry Victor http://nuet.us/ nuet1370@gmail.com 2 PhDs: Physics & Psychology, long ago.

    It requires explanation: humankind has never contemplated uplifting itself, the global population, for all to have high levels of knowledge, competencies, and wisdom, with great diversity. This is my goal, yet I find no one interested, to even discuss the challenge. Uplifting Humankind to Humanity is taboo or beyond imagination.

    My current model of the process I call Up2Met. Persons OLLO (Organizing-for-Learning=&=Learning-for-Organizing ) to competencies where they are able to abandon trying to fix dysfunctional humankind. Instead they emerge a new humanity via a cultural/societal metamorphosis. For reasons (that led me to question our assumptions about “human nature”) I have yet to adequately share my conceptual schemes with anyone willing to join me in launching Up2Met. Many are very interested in individual insights.

    I agree that we should begin preparing for collapses. I expect the power elites to strongly resist, even when major collapses are frequent. Power elites have the resources to be resilient (although individual elites will go down). Indeed, some elites may already accept your projections and plan to ride on top all the way down. Some may act to gain time via population reduction to .5 billion.

    Humankind has the resources/knowledge/competencies for some humans to survive living on Earth, even if barren of all multi-cellular life. Maybe domes on the ocean floor. By my having wintered over in the Antarctic (1960-1962); I realized many humans could survive/thrive in/on “the ice” for many years. Temps will remain constant where phase changes are involved. We should now be researching under-sea and under-ice living. It may take millennia, but a new humanity could terraform Earth.

    There are possible wild cards. Our Sun might go into its expected cool period for a few centuries. A rapidly uplifted population may discover new routes to survival/thrival.

    Our primary crisis isn’t Earth Changes, but stunted, dysfunctional humankind – too far gone to be transFORMed. And, we are all locked into the only way to change is by transformation – the phenomena studied by science. An alternative to transformation, emergence, is talked about – but everyone reduces it to transformation. In emergence, a new FORM appears where there was no prior FORM to be transFORMed. Up2Met is a proposal for the emergence of humanity from humankind, via cultural/societal metamorphosis.

    In my model, only a few persons (a community of teams) could launch UPLIFT and Up2Met. I’m 83 and currently in an assisted living facility following cervical spine surgery. I hope to return to independent living in a few months. I hope to launch UPLIFT before I die.

  5. Greetings from Russia. I do not know English well, I use Google translator. I do not have academic titles, but I have long calculated that an extreme climate will destroy our civilization. You are not alone. I express my support and gratitude.

  6. This is THE most timeous and thorough study of the human predicament – thank you Jem, thank you! To overcome feelings of despair and loss I would highly recommend a strong daily meditation practice. I was lucky enough to stumble upon Vipassana meditation ten years ago and have been a disciplined practitioner ever since. There are many Vipassana Centres all over the world that offer regular 10-day courses for FREE and I would suggest that you get there asap. Once you acquire the tools to get to know your mind and understand the very simple truth of Life and the Human Condition you will find that you have nothing to fear. Despite the sadness these “end times” will be the most unique opportunity to live Mindfully (“to know what is happening when it is happening – moment by moment”) and to experience personal awakening as a rare privilege. My Metta to all living Beings:
    May you be filled with Loving Kindness
    May you be Well
    May you be Peaceful and at Ease
    May you be Happy

  7. We can already observe how they are dealing with the problem, mostly denial, obfuscation, and Gas Lighting. I wonder why none of these experts have not observed, how this was re-framed, and studied by the defense industry, using data they gleaned from Facebook. We should be looking at the effects that are already here, and the counter narratives that are already running, and reinforced by popular Psychologists. The psychologists have been Gas Lighting us all. Psychologists designed the programs, that were amplified by mass media, that allowed people to ignore the facts. Perhaps some psychologists should identify that. It looks like people still think that this is a marketing opportunity, a false narrative, also created by psychologists.

  8. Jem, I’m 64, permaculture lifestyle farmer in ON Canada, formerly business entrepreneur, chaplain and father of 2. Following abrupt climate change for 4 years. Convinced it’s not at all likely humanity will or can avoid social collapse. but it’s worthy of our best efforts.
    Saw your book list for 2016, are there any for 2017 and 2018?
    You ask in various places for collaboration on your efforts to frame D. A. Here are a couple of ideas.
    You did not quote Vaarki on his theory of denial, M.O.R.T. (mind over reality theory) anywhere I have seen. Do check it out if not already.
    You do not incorporate the thermodynamic model of energy/global economy fixed relation by Timothy Garrett. Would love to see how you take that into account. http://nephologue.blogspot.com
    You do reference Guy McP, (I brought him to ON for tour last year) in a cautious sort of way. Too bad he discredited himself; made it easy for detractors to ‘shoot the messenger’.
    John Michael Greer on Catabolic Collapse, Albert Bates on permaculture based drawdown, Suzanne Moser on climate Communication/Hope are other rich sources to integrate in a model of Deep Adaptation.

    1. For 2018, Ian: Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival, by Peter Carter and Elizabeth Woodworth. If we’re going down, let’s at least go down swinging.

  9. Thank you Jem for your work and continued persistence to wake up humankind to its own doing. Your writing is powerful and should be an inspiration for discussion – and action – in all corners of our worlds. Now if we could only learn how to work together?

  10. It seems to me that this deep emotional work is a necessary but insufficient response to what is coming towards us from the future. The sense I have is that in order to make myself available to respond fully I also need to inquire deeper than the uncosnscious and subconscious norms living in me that are actively shaping the my reactions to future that is coming towards us.

    If I don’t go this deep, as I can tell, these norms remain in place, and as a result the stress I experience as a result of emotionally engaging with what’s coming from the future, can increase rather than decrease. To really heal I have the sense that I need to become a new being, remade by my own willingness to open all of who I am to what I can see, feel and sense of this future.

    To arrive at this possibility I seem to need to get into an existential inquiry that includes my own identity, and how to free myself from who I told myself and others that I am, so that from the deep not knowing that opens through this kind of inquiry I can begin to find my way to unfold a new story about who I am and how to live, that is built out of my own struggle to metabolize and embody what I allow myself to see.

    For this I seem to need mutually free companionship, collaboration, new forms of collective intelligence and creativity. It seems to be too much and simply impossible on my own. But by helping each other to find our own ways, a more holistic response seems possible.

    I’m working with groups and indviduals in developing an approach to this kind of work and am happy to share what we’re learning with anyone who senses resonance.

    1. Mark, these are certainly exciting times! What you’re describing is likely what has to happen at all levels of human existence right now. But we have to be doing the extreme climate activism *at the same time.* We can’t put that vital work off in order to undergo spiritual / existential transformation and cultural / economic revolution. The good thing is that we *can* do the work at all sorts of levels simultaneously. (And I definitely agree that this is not work we can do well, if at all, alone.)

      1. What I’m noticing is that until I get underneath my own reactivity I can’t see what contributions are mine to make, towards the eye of the needle. Until we build a new normal in ourselves that can liberate forms of embodied creativity that align with the needs of the future coming towards us, we seem stuck with needing to manage our own reactions to the insanity of normal, and potentially fostering polarization. I feel like this is something we are all going through together, some facing towards it, some with eyes closed and ears blocked.

  11. Thanks for this important discussion. I have worked with this theme especially in Finland and have written a book about it (“Eco-anxiety and Hope”). Here’s a practical piece that several people have found useful (http://ecoanxietyandhope.blogspot.com/2018/10/10-recommendations-for-people-with-eco.html):

    Ten recommendations for people suffering from eco-anxiety

    Don’t feel weak or unsuccessful if you experience eco-anxiety.
    It’s understandable to be embarrassed by difficult emotions, because our society is afraid of these feelings. However, difficult emotions are actually a sign of health and strength rather than weakness. Being concerned about the scope of global problems means that you’ve made a healthy analysis of the situation.

    Appreciate and respect your eco-anxiety.
    Successfully retaining your sensitivity to the world’s pain is something to be proud of. It means that you can also experience more joy, because you haven’t become numb. However, do remember to respect that anxiety by keeping it at a suitable distance. Allow yourself to experience the sea of emotions, but don’t become completely submersed.

    You’re not alone. Don’t remain alone.
    It’s comforting to know that a lot of people experience eco-anxiety. So far, we just haven’t found each other because it’s been difficult to acknowledge these feelings in our communities. Now the door is open. Look for or create your own peer group where you can share emotions and activity.

    Take action, but not all the time.
    Action is an essential part of processing eco-anxiety. Everyone can improve the world within the scope of their own resources. But dealing with your eco-anxiety only through actions can easily lead to exhaustion.

    Look for balance.
    What kind of things keep you going? And what drains your energy? Try to build a balance. If you’re active, allow yourself to get some rest and recreation. This is a continuous process: don’t feel guilty if you’re unable to find a balance, just keep going and try again.

    Practice self-regulation.
    It’s difficult to cope if you’re constantly monitoring the world’s problems. Learn about self-regulation methods and gradually build your own way of living so that you can be open while still setting limits. Examples:
    1) Morning. Start slowly. Then find a suitable state of mind for reading the news: “I’ll show that I care but I won’t get emotionally involved in all the world’s misery.”
    2) Evening. Turn off your electronic devices well before going to sleep. For example, the climate change news can wait until the next morning.

    Make friends with your emotions.
    We often try to hide difficult emotions. We have the challenging but ultimately very rewarding task of getting reacquainted with those emotions. This relationship requires time and mutual respect. It can’t be forced and can only be invited. Friendships require a lot of different things from us, such as patience, but they enrich our lives in a very important way. As we become friendlier with our emotions, we learn more about our self as well. At the same time, we gain tools for richer interaction with the world.

    Listen to your body.
    Our feelings live not only in our mind but also in our body. Western culture has a long history of questioning the importance of overall physicality. Listen to your body and provide time to meet its needs for movement. What part of your body feels which emotion? And how does movement help with the flow of emotional energy? Our body is also a bridge to nature, and spending time in nature helps to ease eco-anxiety in many ways.

    Listen to your dreams.
    The dreams we experience while sleeping are the way our body and mind tell us what’s happening in our subconscious. Examining those dreams can teach us a lot about our emotions. We also need dreams in the sense of conscious visions for desired futures. Our times are plagued by “radical futurelessness” and a lack of visions. How could you participate more in envisioning a better future? Our society has a great need for visions of the future that take a serious approach to both problems and opportunities.

    Accept the seasons of the mind and practice the skill of seeing on two levels.
    No one will ever be perfect. Just like in the natural world, the human mind also has seasons. Sometimes you just have to accept and live through a period of dark melancholy while waiting for the spring. Difficult emotions are also a part of life. Seeing on two levels means regularly focusing on difficulties and good things. A paralysing bout of eco-anxiety can often hide the many signs of hope that exist in the world. Remembering the good things and being grateful allows us to cope better.

    – Panu Pihkala, Helsinki, Finland

  12. I’d be pleased to facilitate free group or individual inquiry on fearful thinking. I use The Work of Byron Katie. A fearful mind is rarely a creative mind.

  13. What the world needs now is an “army” of trained “End of Civilization Hospice Workers”. When the craziness begins in earnest, clear heads and open hearts will be necessary to alleviate the suffering

    Here are a few resources:
    “A Year to Live” by Stephen Levine
    “No Death, No Fear” by Thich Nhat Hanh
    “Being With Dying” by Joan Halifax

  14. In your paper you mentioned using another place to communicate these ideas with non-academics (like me). Does something like that exist? I got through the paper, but it was a bit challenging for me, and I’d also like something less academia-like to share with my peers. Thank you with all my heart for your work

  15. Thank you for your Deep Adaptation work and effort in compiling this great resource, Jem. What I have found an invaluable practical and emotional guide for navigating the difficult times ahead, is the work by Marshall Vian Summers, notably, The Great Waves of Change (http://www.greatwavesofchange.org). Take care 🙂

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