January 10, 2022

Over the last 8 years working in the environmental space, I’ve seen (and felt) climate and environmental despair up close. It hung in the air in my grad program. It showed up in the gaps between words; in the heavy silences that came when we discussed “the future” – the world’s or our own. It threaded through the activist communities I studied, animating action with a kind of desperation, and generating a heavy sort of burnout.

How do people deal with climate and environmental despair? Some deny it – try to outrun it through the busy-ness of research and work, or overcome it through marriage to a particular “climate solution.” Some try to drown it in the dopamine of outdoor sports, or in the sedative of alcohol and weed. Some succumb to it, turning in on themselves and others in bitterness and fatalism.

Fatalism is dangerous. Fatalism says that terrible loss, destruction, harm is unavoidable. Fatalism says that environmental protections and climate mitigations and social aid are insufficient (too little, too late) to prevent terrible tragedies, and that there is almost no point in trying. Fatalism is laced with complicity, with guilt, with rage. It produces a self-destructive kind of despair. It can be deadly.

And, as with all extremes, it is attractive. Read more…