Save the Trees (And My Sanity)

Words by: Mia Deans
Art by: John Macatol 

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has been released and well, things look even less optimistic than in the last edition. This is the sixth assessment of its kind by the IPCC, the results of which are momentous to our understanding of and response to climate change. Naturally, the reality of the most recent report is nothing less than confronting.

Even as a student at the School of Earth, Atmosphere, and Environment, I tried with little success to avoid the findings for several days. Yet, the findings always end up finding us, one way or another. For those of you who are willing to revisit, or have otherwise been spared up until now 一 let’s go over the details:

  • The report (known as AR6) weighs in at a daunting 3949 pages. This handbook to climate chaos has been written by 234 of the world’s best (volunteer) climate and environmental scientists, so we can be sure it’s credible stuff.
  • For the first time, the IPCC has been able to conclude, unequivocally, that human activities are responsible for virtually all global warming (read: 1.07 out of 1.09°C) since the industrial revolution (but we knew that already, right?).
  • Perhaps most significantly, despite the ambitions of the Paris Agreement, 1.5 degrees of warming beyond pre-industrial levels is inevitable just past 2030 unless we cut all emissions by, well, yesterday.

It is not unexpected that in light of these irrefutable results, many of us have been struck with a profound sense of grief. I feel myself sharing my anguish with a deep sense of hesitation, having an acute awareness that the losses that often feel so personal are in fact a symptom of collective trauma on a planetary scale. It is only now that I will admit I have found myself sobbing preemptively over losses that are sure to come.

There is another face to this disfigured coin, that of eco-anxiety 一 a feeling which has become so widespread that it has been defined by the American Psychology Association as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. Not unlike a thick smog, eco-anxiety twists its gritty fingers around our chests, all the while many Australians try to come to grips with the airtight AR6 from the discomfort of lockdown. Though it makes the experience no more comfortable, this anxiety is recognised as a rational response to the reality in which we find ourselves.

While there are several impacts of climate change that are now deemed irreversible, we (as in, humanity) still get a choice in how much damage is done. If we’re able to sidestep paralysis, eco-anxiety may just propel us towards action and adaptation. Taking action is not just good for tackling climate change, but also climate anxiety. We can attribute this to two important reasons: empowerment and connection 一 the very things that give our hope a fighting chance.

I will save you the speech about using a KeepCup or eliminating your carbon footprint (a notion put forward by BP, no less). I also won’t encourage you to fly less 一 in this economy, that just isn’t relevant. We’re not going anywhere fast, so what can we do exactly where we are?

1.     Change your Super account. Whether you are made privy to it or not, many funds funnel money into fossil fuels, alongside things like weaponry (the same can be said of banks). If that doesn’t sit right with you, there are some great Australian alternatives out there. Assuming we’ll get to our retirement before the planet not-so-spontaneously combusts, several ‘ethical’ Super funds are also very well-performing.

2.     Do the things we all know we should be doing. While I refuse to place the blame on individuals, you know better than anyone what is within your personal capacity (and privilege) to support collective actions. In my mind, a significant element of pursuing climate action is reducing the gap between what we believe and how we act 一 it’s up to each of us to pursue those actions which get us a little closer to the world we’d rather live in.

3.     Vote. Dear reader, I have no doubt that when the next election rolls around, you will vote for a party who gives a shit about our environment and the changing climate, just as you did the last election. But if the last election taught us anything, it is that we need more people with us, to get us all over the line. Next election, share your urgency with your older relatives, your unsure friends, and of course, vote with your heart (and your anxiety). 

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