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Eight Tips For Staying Sane Amid the Climate Panic

Let us first get one thing out of the way — namely what I am not doing here. In writing of “climate panic” I am not denying, or even minimizing, the existence of climate change. Quite the contrary, I recognize that anthropogenic climate change is real, ongoing and very serious; that it is, in fact, proceeding more rapidly and with more complex and apparently threatening effect than was widely acknowledged even a short time ago; that the record of action on the problem (of which I have myself had something to say when examining the record of recent presidential administrations) has been consistently dismal; that there is, in light of all of the above, an urgent need for redress of the problem; and, accordingly, that anything which could appear to slight any of these facts would be irresponsible.

However, I also recognize that the discourse on the subject has seen misinformation, and outright disinformation, running rampant and interacting with the severely limited and flawed intellectual basis that mainstream thinking affords for considering issues like this one, producing extremely irrational responses, and indeed a well-substantiated mental health crisis, and that all this has been, as well as much else, exceedingly counterproductive from the standpoint of progress on the problem. The result is that it actually seems worthwhile to spell out something of what individuals, as individuals, can do to keep their sanity amid the insanity of the situation — and, hopefully, give us that much better a chance of not only surviving the panic, but resolving the crisis to which it has given rise.

#1. Remember That There Really Are People Out There Trying to Demoralize You.
As climate scientist Michael Mann has observed,”doom-mongering has overtaken denial as a threat and as a tactic.” The reason is twofold, it specifically being the case that denial, which was already a matter of contempt for the science well before the end of the century, has just gone on looking less and less credible (though not for lack of trying); while doomism and defeatism lead to the same result as denial, namely doing nothing, because if one believes the worst outcome is already unavoidable, why bother trying?

Naturally a measure of skepticism — actual skepticism, not skepticism as a euphemism for an idiot’s contempt of hard fact — is a must.

In practical terms that means you shouldn’t be too quick to believe everything you hear or read on this subject, any more than you should on any other, because as always there are people lying to you to get what they want.

#2. Remember That Even When Demoralizing You Isn’t the Agenda the Commercial Media Lives on Shock, Fear and Anger.
As those who have been attentive to the discourse on climate change know, not only have “inactivists” — that vast and powerful array of interests opposed to redress of the climate crisis — exploited doom-mongering the way they have denial, but the mainstream media has been very happy to aid and abet them in spreading the word (just as it has been ready to go along with the narrative that climate change was “debatable” down to the present). This is, in part, because of the combination of the media’s “ political economy,” and the ideology prevailing around and in it, leaving it relatively inattentive to important issues, uninterested in (or cowardly about) sorting out the truth, and extremely accommodating of the views of powerful interests, often from behind a veneer of (cowardly) bothsidesism (of which its coverage of climate change has been a textbook example).

As if all that were not enough (and it is, in fact, plenty) we know that the mainstream media is a commercial enterprise and that its commercial interests as read in the narrowest sense (as against, for example, the interests of its owners, which can be more expansive), take precedence over little things like fulfilling its role of informing the public by faithfully reporting the facts and endeavoring to explain them. They want you watching, reading, listening — whether you are being informed or not — and not only is it the case that surprise, fear and anger make people pay attention, but inducing and exploiting that emotional state has become a very sophisticated practice indeed, as Matt Taibbi’s appropriately titled Hate, Inc. makes clear. Climate doom-mongering on climate fits that bill very nicely indeed — while it says a lot that the mainstream media supposedly so intent on limiting the conversation to officially recognized “experts” has given such publicity to Jonathan Franzen, no expert on the subject of climate science by even the most generous measure (and in my estimation, not much of a figure in his own field of literature, except to the extent that the Midcult brigade makes him into one).

Again, since you have that much less reason to trust in them, you have that much more reason to make sense of things yourself.

#3. Remember That (Mainstream) Environmentalists Have Been Very Vulnerable to These Tactics — and Often Sucked into Abetting Them.
Contemporary politics being the gatekept thing it is the range of ideas that one can bring into anything like a mainstream conversation in contemporary America is exceedingly narrow — and mainstream environmentalism has reflected that, founding itself on what are, in the end, deeply reactionary, Counter-Enlightenment ideas, like Malthusianism. Malthusianism does not, as some would innocently claim, mean no more and no less than the logically sound position that, all other things being equal, a larger number of people living off the same resource base would mean less to go around for everybody, or a refusal of complacency about science’s ability to always deliver solutions when they are needed. As anyone who actually read Thomas Malthus’ book can tell you (for the full title of the work is An Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers), Malthusianism is also a doctrine of unswerving loyalty to the interests of the rich and contempt for the poor, whom it blames for society’s problems; hostile toward egalitarian values and any reform that might alleviate the lot of the have-nots; and, rather than refusing to be complacent about science, disdainful of the idea of science and technology possibly allowing for progress.

The result is that with Malthusianism in this fuller sense looming so large within the movement’s thought (even when the premises are not always acknowledged, or even understood, by its own members) one is not surprised to see an environmentalism which is absolutely uninterested in considering society’s makeup, unconcerned for equity, harsh in its treatment of people who do not have much, and inclined to pessimism about technology and a very great deal else — with the result that it is unable to imagine a better world (a thing in itself crippling for any would-be great movement), quick to alienate working people (more on this later), dismissive of any prospect of effective political response, or technological response (inclining to Luddism as well as Malthusianism), and given all that, naturally inclined to a doom-mongering that leaves many would-be activists serving the cause of inactivism (and making the situation they fear even worse).

Meanwhile all this is reinforced by another problematic tendency of contemporary environmentalism — to think that the reason there has not been more progress on the issue is that people are not “scared enough,” and to think that anything that scares them more must be helpful. Arguably the opposite has been the case — the emphasis on fear driving many to simply “shut down,” or look away, with environmentalists refusing to face the fact, not least because, in line with their aforementioned limits (the lack of social ideas, the disdain for technology) they can offer no real program for a public to get behind.

Give people coming at you from that stance no more heed than they deserve.

#4. Pay As Little Attention as Possible to Headlines. Instead Focus on the Actual Content of Articles.
It may sound strange to draw a distinction between the headline of an article, and the text of that article. After all, is it not the case that a headline is a title, and a title should tell us what an article is about? Yes, it should — and would, if writers were as competent and scrupulous as they ought to be. However, such writers are not what one finds working for the news media, who necessarily answer to its imperative of compelling the reader to, if nothing else, stop and look — with the result that we have probably all had the experience of being grabbed by some headline, reading the piece below it, and then thinking “That was not what I thought it was going to be,” what we were actually given not quite the shocker they promised many, many times.

I have found stories about climate change no exception here, with a good example those pieces that set some particular date as a deadline for some usually unspecified form of redress of some aspect of the problem (e.g. “If we don’t completely solve every last detail of this entire problem by 2040 then we are doomed, DOOMED!”). Of course the reality proves, if not exactly bright, at least more complex and less final.

And we are likely to see that if we do less headline-skimming, and more actual reading, before we react.

#5. Remember the Difference Between “May” Happen and “Will” Happen — and the Difference Between “Will Happen” and “Has Happened.”
As the prior example indicates, those who want to spread doom, or simply grab attention, treat the time element in melodramatic and irresponsible fashion, with this extending beyond tossing out arbitrary deadlines that give a false impression of countdown to some known point at which game-ending catastrophe will occur to a tendency to confuse what could happen with what will happen, and to confuse both those things with what has happened. Exemplary of this particularly atrocious form of reporting has been coverage of the Thwaites glacier (which, with characteristic irresponsibility, the press calls the “doomsday glacier”). As the situation stands the glacier is melting. Some scientists have told us that the glacier may collapse within a number of years. And if a complete collapse occurs one may see sea levels rise — perhaps by several feet — over the course of a couple of centuries. However, the hazy discussion of the matter one sees (and the tendency of many to skim) easily makes it seem as if that final collapse is ongoing now, and the maximal sea level rise practically imminent — which makes an already bad situation seem profoundly worse.

And that matters, not least from the standpoint of our keeping our heads about us — and perhaps even doing something about the problem (a possibility that, tellingly, those screaming “WE’RE DOOMED!” seem to have no interest in whatsoever when one would guess that people who really cared about an emergency would be ready to look at even desperate courses of action).

#6. Do Not Let Yourself Be Made to Feel Personally Responsible for a Whole Planetary Crisis.
In discussing the way we talk about major problems one should never forget the hypocrisies for which the conventional, conformist mentality stands — not least the discrepancy between the truism that “With great power comes great responsibility,” and the reality that society is always holding those with no power responsible for everything (or perhaps more accurately, using a rhetoric of “personal responsibility” as an excuse for vindictiveness toward the weak). We see it all the time in those who are always falling all over themselves to excuse undeniable, colossal, crimes by the powerful, but of the utmost severity toward the least privileged of us — as in the differing treatment of bankers who wreck a global economy, and a minor who shoplifts items of comparatively trivial value.

Thus has it tended to go with the problem of the climate crisis, with the result that, where the issue is overwhelmingly a matter of what governments and businesses do, the largest and most powerful governments and businesses of all, a great many environmental activists, in line with the Malthusian sensibility previously discussed, prefer to harangue the consumer — and then not even the super-rich with their private jets and their megayachts, but the working-class persons who eat burgers, for example, and indeed wildly exaggerate the toll taken by meat-eating (which, of course, also translates to their minimizing the toll taken by a fossil fuels-based energy-transport base). These efforts have, in fact, been so pervasive and so strident that they are in themselves quite literally contributing to the aforementioned health crisis — while the harangues about individual “carbon footprint” (a concept all too tellingly popularized by oil giant BP) has done much to divide and alienate the public from address of the problem in what has been yet another victory for inactivism.

So when you consider this issue, remember — you are one of only eight billion people on the planet, among whom power is very unequally distributed, and with it, responsibility. If you are in a position to alleviate the problem then by all means do so. However, the odds are quite good that, unless you are a high-ranking corporate functionary or large shareholder in a relevant firm, or a senior government official, or in some other way in a position to affect the larger picture, you are probably not in a position to do much as an individual as things are — with this especially likely if, in contrast with the folks who own Gulfstream jets you are unsure how you will manage to pay the rent on your one-bedroom apartment this month there is not much you can do even as an individual consumer, precisely because 1. You are not really consuming all that much, and 2. You simply couldn’t consume very differently if you wanted to because, like almost everyone on Earth, there is just not much choice to be had at your socioeconomic level as a member of an industrialized society who must survive within its parameters.

Indeed, you should probably take to heart what Dr. Mann had to say about this side of the matter — that making you personally out to be the villain in the story is a deflection from the real, systemic sources of, and solutions to, the problem that neither the inactivists, nor the confused carbon footprint-flogging activists, want to talk about.

#7. Ask Yourself: How Much of My Time, Thought and Energy Do I Really Need to Give to this Issue?
If your responsibility is limited, then, arguably, so is the good that you can do by following the crisis. That is not to say that it is wrong to stay informed — but one can ask just how much detail you really need about a situation you can do virtually nothing to address yourself.

These days we hear that many irrationally “doomscroll” through the news, and this may well be significant. However, I also suspect that many find themselves engaging in similar behavior for quite another reason — that they react to pieces of bad news about the issues they care about (like climate change) the way they would a worrisome diagnosis from a doctor — they seek out a second opinion, hoping that the first was incorrect. In my experience this rarely goes well, again, because of the generally abysmal quality of the media’s reporting. Read one article, and then go through the next ten, and you will likely find just the same content over and over and over again, merely arranged a bit differently, with any new piece of information, any meaningful difference in analysis, likely to be rare — the more in as the search engine you are likely using to this end favors a comparative handful of mainstream resources which tend to be awfully alike in their “sourcing” of their stories and their treatment of them. Ironically, this poverty of effort and insight works out in the favor of the cynically attention-seeking media. By not giving you what they want the first time they keep you looking for it — and so going on to pay attention to them. But in the end you are likely to come away not only empty-handed but that much more depressed having seen the same bad news over and over and over again.

To put it simply — do not look to the traffickers in doom and shock and fear and anger to make your feel better. They are far more likely to make you feel worse instead, taking their toll on you even if you do recognize the propaganda machinery and the corruption of the conversation for what it is. Accordingly just pay as much attention as you have to — and if you find yourself falling into the kind of pattern described here, stop at once and do something else. (As it happens those simple yet quite effectually distracting games everyone seems to have on their phone these days can be fairly good at getting a person’s mind off of nasty shocks.)

#8. Be Wary of Touching the Issue on Social Media.
Just as reading about the problem will not make it go away neither will talking about it to others — either at the scene where you read the bad news, or on social media, use of which you should be wary about. Web sites like Twitter, after all, are an extraordinary vector for negative emotion where those feelings of shock, fear and anger, invariably “what’s trending,” are apt to prove extremely contagious.

Moreover, while in spite of their numerous flaws many can and do have positive interactions with others on social media web sites, including with people whom they would never have otherwise got to meet, the fact remains that most of social media is a sewer from this standpoint where, in contrast with climate inactivists and those who help them put a lot of effort into demoralizing everyone collectively, many people will try and demoralize you personally and individually. I will not go so far as to say “Don’t talk to strangers.” But it does seem reasonable to say “Don’t argue with strangers” precisely because you don’t know who they are — and because the kind of person who would pick a fight with a complete stranger online is automatically suspect as acting in less than in good faith. They may be bots. They may be paid trolls. They may be the sort of sick individual who trolls without pay, for the pure pleasure of making people they don’t know feel pain. And of course they may be just plain idiots — alas, very, very common in this world, probably more common on social media than elsewhere, and ever-ready to confirm the adage that “You can’t win an argument with an idiot.”

In fact, if you find yourself running into bots/trolls/idiots a lot, you are probably spending too much time there anyway. Take a break from it all — maybe even the kind of break that doesn’t exactly end. (Believe it or not, a lot of us have done it, after all, and found ourselves happier and healthier for having done so.)

Originally published at https://naderelhefnawy.blogspot.com.

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Nader Elhefnawy

Nader Elhefnawy

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Nader Elhefnawy is the author of the thriller The Shadows of Olympus. Besides Medium, you can find him online at his personal blog, Raritania.