If you’re feeling off-balance these days, or as though you’ve woken up in a dystopian future, you’re not alone. A recent article by Mitchell Beer talks about the “mental health minefield” stemming from the latest report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (aka the “code red for humanity” report).
It’s normal not to feel okay after learning that we’re rapidly closing in on 1.5°C of warming and that the situation is about to get a lot worse unless we immediately put the brakes on greenhouse gas emissions.
How are we supposed to go about our lives as usual, knowing there will be more towns like Lytton going up in flames or devastating floods like the one we saw in Germany this summer? Even if it isn’t happening in our backyard just yet, a simple trip to the grocery store and the sticker shock of rising prices reminds us that the climate crisis is coming. Perhaps you’ve wondered if you should be stocking up on food in anticipation of shortages brought on by extreme weather, including drought?
Yet, somehow, fear of what lies ahead isn’t the most distressing part. What’s harder, I find, is the cognitive dissonance and gaslighting that goes with it.
What do I mean by cognitive dissonance? Let me give you some examples:
- News outlets only covering the “Code Red” IPCC report during a single 24-hour news cycle and dropping “the story” after that
- Politicians sticking with the “net-zero by 2050” mantra (or even 2030) after learning that the clock has run out for gradual emissions reductions (only drastic action can save us now)
- Parents telling their kids to study hard and do well in school, when deep down we know that most of what they’re learning won’t prepare them for this crisis
- TV weather forecasters cheerfully reporting on “unseasonably warm temperatures”
It’s enough to make you question your sanity: Is it possible I imagined the latest IPCC warnings? Was there a silver lining I missed?
Then there’s the gaslighting
- The big power utilities tell us we can’t get off fossil fuels quickly because relying solely on clean renewable energy would result in a handful of days when we’d have to ration our power usage. It’s the old scare-mongering refrain: “What happens when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine?” The implication is that we—members of the public—aren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices to our lifestyle for the sake of a liveable planet. Shouldn’t the question be: “What happens when it’s too hot to go outside or grow food?”
- Politicians remind us that many Canadians work in the oil and gas industry and they need those jobs to put food on the table for their families. They accuse “environmentalists” of not caring about oil and gas workers (omitting the fact that those same environmentalists are pushing for a Green New Deal to transition workers to better jobs and pay them more fairly). Politicians and industry leaders also wildly exaggerate the impact of the oil and gas industry when it comes to employing Canadians. The truth is that the fossil fuel sector accounts for less than 1 percent of all jobs in Canada.
- We’re told that we (the public) got ourselves into this mess and have only ourselves to blame. But that’s another lie cooked up by the oil and gas industry and corporate elites, which have done everything in their power to undercut decades of warnings about CO2 and climate change, and to prevent a swift transition away from fossil fuels (Check out this BBC article: Who is really to blame for climate change?)
So, yeah, if you’re feeling out of sorts—like the ground is trembling beneath you—that’s because it is. This feeling is a healthy sign that you realize that what’s happening around you is not okay.
So what are we going to do about it?
Perhaps it’s time to get a little creative, since business as usual—including elections and environmental activism—isn’t bringing about the change we need quickly enough.