My name is Frank Lunetta and I am a junior at Clark University. Lately, I have had deep anxiety and stress thinking about the future. Much of my fear, anxiety and worry comes from the impending climate crisis. This phenomenon, often referred to as climate despair, is seen increasingly among youth since a major CNBC article came out about its prevalence recently. Knowing that I am not alone in my feelings, I have decided to explain my struggles as a young college student and the best way to deal with the thoughts and despair as a result of climate change.
At its worst, the feeling of despair can be all-consuming. Oftentimes one depressive thought occurs throughout my mind all day as I ask myself, “Why should I do anything if climate change is set to destroy everything?” I question whether I even deserve to live, as the planet continues to lose resources every year. Oftentimes I struggle with these thoughts and despair, so I try to numb myself either with technology, menial distractions, or parties. I would think I was unique but this phenomenon has become a reoccurring experience for youth and at times it is something that my friends and I will talk about for hours. It is a constant struggle as more youth are coming forward sharing their stories of how doomed they feel. Our generation has earned the name “the doomer generation” due to this shared despair. The sad reality of climate depression is that it is impossible to rationalize many of the thoughts as they appear at times rational. Even in the best frame of mind, it would appear as if my thoughts get at some objective truth. In writing this I still feel lost like many of my peers, but I have found ways to cope with this thought and weight of the current situation.
The first step I had to combating climate despair was to accept reality. By doing this I had to get a better understanding of the current reality of our situation. When looking at the climate threat I believed that we were doomed, but that is an oversimplified explanation for a more complicated problem. Currently, in my research, I have found that there are over 200 organizations in the U.S. alone with prominent financial backing working to fight climate change. There are currently 195 countries working together collectively in hopes of stopping the threat after the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement. We have seen recently new innovations in the climate sector as well as pledges by businesses to reach net zero. We have seen an influx of plans like Project Drawdown which present comprehensive models of tackling the problem over time. The other reality is that the problem has accumulated over a hundred years. It cannot be expected that we will solve the problem overnight and that there won’t be consequences to past actions. Despite the recent IPCC report, there is hope but it will just take time and we may be forced to adapt to a new way of life.
The second step to really breaking the cycle of despair was action. After reading about activists like Xiye Bastida and Jamie Margolin activists who are prominent in the movement a message revealed itself. The best way to deal with and cope with despair is to act. As psychologist Susan Burke points out, “It’s great to take action on things that are worrying you because action is one of the best antidotes to despair and helplessness and hopelessness.” There is a benefit to action no matter how big or small. The major problem that comes from realizing that you have the ability to create change is the pressure that can be put on one self. As a full time college student and someone who hates crowds I have this expectation that I need to be like Jamie Margolin and Greta Thunberg, two young girls who are quite literally outliers. The main prevailing problem that I experience as well as others in my generation is the inability to be kind and accept limitations of one’s self. When starting something new I realized the best way forward was to incrementally change parts of my life. Currently, I am involved with a social group at my school and have emailed my hometown to work with the environmental committee. I have taken back agency from my despair by creating change. My goal going forward is to begin to be the change I want to see in the world by devoting time and resources to these causes either through things such as civil action and employment. My main goal is to contribute in a way privately and socially so that I feel as if I am making a positive contribution on this planet.
The problem with climate despair that I have accepted is that it never truly goes away. There is a constant struggle of preventing those dark thoughts from creeping in. However, as you work on a solution and develop community bonds, as well as a complete picture of the problem the natural tendency towards despair decreases. Each day gets easier when you have a better understanding that hope and optimism is needed to produce change. Yes, it is obvious if we do nothing, we will fail but what I learned in my experience is that you have to accept the problem and contribute in any way you can to fixing it. This mindset may never get rid of those bad thoughts but it will heal you and allow those thoughts to pass, just like all things in this world, they will pass.