- Published: 15 November 2016 15 November 2016
Working on a book about climate change, the only problem I hadn’t foreseen...that it would be so soul-crushingly heart-breaking.
Did you know that you can ditch the shampoo, and have perfectly great hair without the chemicals (and the disposable plastic bottles)? Did you know that said it best on a simple stool while you poo saves you the pain of piles (and loo roll) along the way? More seriously, did you also know that these little things go a long way in shaping now we feel about this planet we live on?
Neither did I, until quite recently.
A year ago, I was working on a book about climate change. I was reading the latest published research day-in, day-out. I could quote you passages from the IPCC reports in my sleep. This wasn’t just any book. This was a re-working of the entire pantheon of climate science into a book of, and here’s the clincher, cartoons, that anyone could pick up and want to read.
The only problem I hadn’t foreseen? (There were many others that followed but let’s focus on this one.) That it would be so soul-crushingly heart-breaking. I mean, I’d worked on climate change projects for several years. I have a postgraduate degree in environmental studies. I’ve visited villages, factories, renewable power plants on the ground. I’m not an activist, but I knew what climate change was all about.
Learning we would lose around a third of all species at 30C? Before coffee in the morning. Multi-meter sea level rise this century that would wash away our humanity? Just after tea-time. How deeply climate injustice runs, when warming seas will drive half of all fish away from the tropics, straight into waiting nets in the high latitudes? In the wee hours before going to bed.
Day after day, I was focused on absorbing as many facts as I could. I didn’t anticipate how much I would struggle with holding the knowledge of it all. The more I struggled, the angrier I became.
Everyday seemed to bring a new article about known research published years ago, like just how fast our oceans are acidifying, how we’re in the age of the Sixth Extinction. How could people still not know? How was this still a surprise? I was indignant. I was hopeful. Maybe, all I had to do was to find a way for everyone to understand just what was happening to our climate. (In retrospect, hahaha! Ha…)
I threw myself into the book. I illustrated facts with funny cartoons until my forearm ached. The more I exhausted myself, the more I felt I was doing something.
But it wasn’t enough. Anger became frustration. Frustration led to powerlessness. I eventually became disenchanted, and detached. It got too tiring to give a damn anymore.
Then, I read about something called psychological denial. It talked about people who felt so outraged, that it was easier to avoid talking about it than to get mired in the exhausting emotion of it all. I never thought of myself as a ‘denier’; how could I? But, in those words, I recognized what I was becoming.
So how am I still here, talking about climate change?
Somewhere along the line, something in me shifted.
I used to scoff at people who made incremental change – what could one person do, when what we needed was the whole system to change? I was fixated on the big picture. But the big picture didn’t help me. Little pictures did. These little pictures asked little questions. Like, why was I eating from a disposable plastic fork made of fossil fuels, when I could easily bring my own cutlery? Why was I accepting a plastic cup for my drink, when I could use my water bottle? Why was I buying bottles of everything, when I could learn to make my own? Why was I eating a conventional meat-rich diet? What was I taking hot showers when cold ones weren’t that bad? Why was I generating so much packaging waste?
Little by little, I was starting to change. I mostly take cold showers now. I make nut milk in place of dairy milk. I don’t eat beef. I juice a lot more now. I have my own cutlery set, lunch box, water bottle and squishable marketing bag I carry with me. I re-use my glass bottles for home-made lotions. My hair has never felt better since I ditched the shampoo. I’m lucky to live in a place with amazing public transport, and I’ve never needed my own car. I’m still working on the rest.
Pope Francis said it best:
There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions…such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity.
We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread... such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile.
Does all this make me a better person than anyone else? Not in a million years. I do these for purely selfish reasons – they allow me to cope, if only to sleep a little easier. I feel a tiny bit more empowered, a tiny bit more in control. A tiny bit more able to push forwards.
Turns out, this tiny bit makes all the difference.
Climate change is a tough fight, and a long one! How do you manage your own eco-anxiety? Can you share any tips for others to overcome their climate depression, to gain strength for the long road ahead?
Suzanne Chew is the author of “Little Climate: We need to talk about climate disruption”, a book of cartoons with everything you need to know about climate change! She is the Founder of Little Climate, a social enterprise focused on building climate awareness in fun and unconventional ways. Read their latest satirical post, “Ten Reasons Not to Act On Climate”, here, and support them on Facebook!
She previously held the position of Director at Nexus, a non-profit scaling up low-carbon projects for poverty alleviation across Asia, such as efficient cookstoves for clean cooking, household biogas digestors for rural electrification and ceramic water filters for safe water. Prior to that, Suzanne was the Regional Manager of TFS Green, working to scale up low-carbon projects across Asia in renewables, energy efficiency and energy from waste. Suzanne started at McKinsey & Co. as a business analyst, and has a double Masters in Physics and Environmental Technology from Imperial College, London.