Living with/in Fear

There are more like you than you think.

Living with/in Fear
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor / Unsplash
"I think 3C is being hopeful and conservative."
- Ruth Cerezo-Mota an expert in climate modelling at the National Autonomous University of Mexico

A recent survey of 380 leading climate scientists conducted by The Guardian has revealed the profound unease these experts feel as they examine the ongoing damage humanity has inflicted on the natural world.

One prominent voice in the survey, Ruth Cerezo-Mota, a climate modeling expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, expressed her deep despair:

“Sometimes, it feels almost impossible not to feel hopeless and broken. After witnessing the flooding, fires, and droughts around the world—all consequences of climate change—and experiencing the fury of Hurricane Otis in my own country, I was hopeful that governments would start heeding scientific advice for the benefit of the people.”
“The turning point for me was a meeting in Singapore—it was then that everything made sense, but it plunged me into deep depression. It was a very dark period in my life where I was just surviving.”
“We continue our work because it’s necessary. It prevents those in power from claiming ignorance. They might say they don’t care, but they can’t deny they didn’t know.”
“I believe projecting a 3°C increase is both hopeful and conservative. A 1.5°C rise is already serious, and frankly, I see no clear commitment from any government to stay below this threshold.”

She is not alone. 77% of surveyed climate scientists believe we are on a path to at least 2.5°C warming this century.

What follows such a rise? Deadly heat waves, severe water shortages, crop failures, and mass extinctions. Some of these effects are already upon us, marking the onset of a terrifying global transformation.

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Climate scientists are scared. Those paying attention are scared. I fear for the future.

Yet, I look around - at work, at the grocery store, on TV - and it seems like everyone else is blissfully unaware. Upon reflection, however, I think this is a naïve view.

If I stepped outside of my body to view my own interactions, behaviors and communications, I would also appear relatively content. I only discuss the climate with like-minded people (and complete strangers on Twitter), and even then I temper my expression to one of general concern. Few know of my nauseating existential dread.

I suspect many others also quietly repress their panic. This isn't something people just bring up while sharing a cab, so to say one is alone in their dread is probably incorrect.

We repress our existential fears so we don't come across as lunatics shouting at the sky. We do so to be likeable. We hide our fears because they can't be addressed without breaking the system on which we - and our paychecks - depend. Many are paralyzed by the hopelessness of it all. Finally, many worry about the inevitable backlash from brainwashed/paid fossil fuel stooges. Nobody wants to express their vulnerabilities only to be attacked.

The unwillingness to discuss potential civilizational collapse is hurting our abilities to prepare for it. This shouldn't be a niche topic relegated to the dark corners of Twitter. If we outwardly expressed our fears, we'd realize we have the numbers to force change. When silent, we remain isolated and weak. Perhaps our silence is part of the fossil fuel industry's plan.

Some argue it's counterproductive to spread fear, equating it with hopelessness and inaction. While there's some truth to this, fear coupled with a mitigating prescription is extremely motivating.

My father smoked for decades. He admitted it was a filthy habit and worried about the deadly potential outcome. Yet, he wasn't compelled to quit until the consequences became tangible. When he was diagnosed with cancer and immediately stopped smoking. He eventually recovered and hasn't touched a cigarette in almost 20 years.

Spreading fear about our impending doom is like yelling "fire" in a crowded theater with no exit doors. So everyone just watches the flames spread. Fear is pointless when it floats aimlessly.

To be useful, fear must be clearly anchored to an outcome and a unquestionable mitigating action. My father didn't learn anything new when he was diagnosed with cancer. Rather, the abstract risk became real.

Perhaps this is why people don't share their worry about climate change and biosphere collapse. They don't know how to act on it other than shouting "something must be done". Not everyone is a protester. Awareness isn't a solution.

So what prescription does someone offer when expressing their existential dread? It's not as simple as "cancer bad - stop smoking". Every potential solution to the poly-crisis has its critics.

However, it's damaging to internalize the burden. Ideally, someone has a group of similar-minded people with which to commiserate. I've found that community online.

Despite my online persona, for the most part I'm not a walking billboard for collapse. I talk to colleagues, enjoy music, grocery shop...all without mentioning the potential for multi-breadbasket failure or mass migrations. As much as I feel like I should (and could), it is simply impractical, obsessive and unhealthy to go on about collapse.

I also must consider my motives for discussing collapse. Yes, people need to be made aware but spreading fear can be self-serving. Misery loves company. Do I want to share because I want others to learn or because I don't want to be alone?

Other than our cathartic collapse community, I dial-down my apocalyptic opinions to about a 5 out of 10. Without you as a reader and commentator, I, like most people, would have no outlet.

Internalizing fear isn't healthy, particularly if it doesn't lead to action. So I suggest people stop living with/in fear. Don't ignore the facts, but recognize the future exists across a range of probabilities.

Moreover, let the facts stoke motivation instead of fear. Do something to help the situation. The manifestation of action creates a sense of control, and lack of control is what often generates fear in the first place.

Finally, by focusing on fear you easily forget the gifts that surround you. Instead of worrying about what might happen in 5, 10, 20 years, embrace life today.