The racial and cultural politics of climate anxiety + jokes
We've got a lot to offer this week
If you’re new to this corner of the internet, you can subscribe to free emails from me about staying sane in the climate crisis by hitting that nice yellow button right there:
This week there’s a bunch of things on deck:
How you can support my work and help sustain Gen Dread (not gonna ask you to pay a subscription)
A piece from the brilliant Sarah Jaquette Ray about the racial and cultural politics of climate anxiety
Becoming a Resilient Activist - Mindfulness and Resilience Training
A nod to some climate pods
Invitation to a Conceivable Future House party for anyone in the Toronto, Canada region who may be wrestling with the question of whether and how to have kids in the climate crisis
Gen Dread is hiring a content and engagement specialist
Lastly, jokes from a fav climate philosophy newsletter writer of mine, Spencer R. Scott
Let’s get to it!
How you can support my work and help sustain Gen Dread
Sometimes my readers write to ask how they can support my work since I’ve been doing this newsletter for free for nearly 2 years now, and I deeply appreciate the thought. While I have never accepted donations or payment, there is something you can do today that would make a big difference to my efforts - - - that is, you can pre-order my new book Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis. If you’ve enjoyed what I dish out in this newsletter, I can absolutely guarantee that this book will speak to you. They’re intertwined projects, but the book has way more depth, reporting, research, and vulnerability than anything I’ve ever published here. I’m so excited to share it with you. Pre-orders are crucial for helping a book find its readers, reviewers and making it onto any lists, which is why at this point, pre-ordering Generation Dread this week is the most meaningful way you can support my work.
Pre-orders are available now
In the UK and Australia, I’m told it will become available a little after the North America date, so will update when that’s ready.
Internationally in most markets, you can use the link here to find a retailer that ships to you. In all countries it is also available in E-book and Audiobook formats, which will come as immediate downloads.
I really can’t thank you enough, your support and this community of readers mean an enormous amount to me!
The racial and cultural politics of climate anxiety
Sarah Jaquette Ray, author of A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety, wrote a piece in the Cairo Review called Who Feels Climate Anxiety that had me nodding hard. Ray comes at climate anxiety with a perspective that’s rooted in climate justice and the humanities rather than mental health. That’s rare in this space, which often leans on mental health professionals to describe what’s going on when it comes to big environmental feelings that are costing people points in the wellbeing department. Ray made waves last year with her argument that climate anxiety is an unbearably white and privileged phenomenon in this Scientific American piece. In her newer Cairo piece, she squares that argument with findings from a global survey that my colleagues and I conducted, which found that significant climate anxiety (and functional impairment from it) is indeed reported by young people in many low-and-middle income countries that are typically non-white nations with high climate hazard exposure. Ray elegantly threads the needle through these seeming contradictions by employing affect theory, which she uses to show how climate anxiety is shaping culture and politics. I recommend reading Ray’s essay in Cairo Review first before reading my follow up with her below.
Photo by Praewthida K on Unsplash
I asked Ray to unpack how affect theory (scholarly work that focuses on pre-emotional stimuli or nonlinguistic intensities that are felt by the body and give rise to emotion as well as populations and politics) can help us better grasp the complexities of climate anxiety. She responded with this richness:
I lean on affect theory to help make the argument that climate anxiety is not just an emotion, it's a cultural phenomenon. Affect theorists like Sara Ahmed (author of many books, including The Cultural Politics of Emotion, The Problem with Happiness, and very recently, Complaint), Sianne Ngai (author of Ugly Feelings), and Lauren Berlant (who coined the term "cruel optimism") look at emotions from a cultural studies perspective, rather than from a clinical or psychological frame. Ahmed asks "what do emotions do?" rather than "where do they come from?" or "how can we change them?" For example, in discussing the emotion of fear, Ahmed argues that fear isn't just a response to a threat, a tool, or a symptom; fear actually "aligns bodies with and against others" (72). Emotions affect political realities and make worlds. Affect theory isn't interested in fixing people's problems or attending to inner suffering; it is interested in a critical analysis of the role of emotions in cultural politics.
What does this have to do with climate emotions? For me, it means that rather than just ask, "how can we cope with climate anxiety?" (which of course, I'm also interested in asking!), an affect theorist would ask, "what does the phenomenon of climate anxiety say about this historical moment?" and "what kind of political or cultural work is climate anxiety as a thing doing in the world?" Affect theorists see emotions as political and cultural phenomena. The "affective turn" has happened in environmental fields: one of my favorite environment/affect scholars is Jennifer Ladino, who has written a book on nostalgia, one on the political emotions of memorials, and edited a book called Affective Ecocriticism. Heather Houser (Ecosickness), Kari Norgaard (Living in Denial, and Salmon and Acorns Feed My People), and Nicole Seymour (Strange Natures and Bad Environmentalism) are three more scholars (of literature and sociology) who rely on affect theory in their arguments for a more effective and inclusive environmentalism. I'm really loving Maggie Nelson's new book, On Freedom, which I also see as an exploration of the emotions of care, shame, and desire through the lens of affect theory, among others, and to boot, she weaves climate change throughout! To put it simply, if emotions determine our actions more than reason does, then studying them is not just about mental health, it's about politics. Drawing on feminist theory, affect theorists take as a basic premise that emotions are never private; they are always political. Even the privatization and feminization of emotions is political! Silence and shame are great tools of oppression, indeed.
In this sense, affect theory is really helpful in getting us out of the therapy room and into the realm of political change. Affect theory helps us attend to collective emotions, and their mutually-constituting relationship with decision-making, voting, policy, and media. By "mutually-constituting" I mean to say that affect theory shows how these material realities make emotions, and how emotions make those things-- it goes both ways. In most psychological discussions about emotions, there's a sequence of events that we assume happens, which makes emotions seem like they are a priori, they come from some biological place, they're raw and unfiltered. In this view, emotions happen, then we make meaning of them, try to change them, or put them to some use. In affect theory, by contrast, emotions don't come before the meaning-making; as Ahmed says, "whether something feels good or bad already involves a process of reading" or interpreting the stimulus of the outside world (6). In other words, stimulus happens, we make meaning of it, then we feel an emotion. To me, this is a radical insight-- emotions aren't just universal, or pre-linguistic, or raw. They are shaped by our view of the world before we even feel them. They are part of a cultural ecosystem. Our background, our histories, the stories we live in, the language we speak, our identity-- all of these shape which emotions are available to us in the first place, which ones are "safe" or not, and whether they are "positive" or "negative" or pleasant or unpleasant. This is why whole books are written on the racial politics of anger, and why it matters that there are words for much more granular emotions in other languages besides English. In the jargon of academics, what affect theorists show us is that emotions are situated, they are culturally constructed. Our emotional lives are so much bigger than we are!
This insight is held up by the work of Lisa Feldman Barrett's lab research, which she described in her book How Emotions Are Made. If it's true that our conditioning shapes our emotional lives, then all kinds of things become possible to imagine, and it reverses the commonly held assumption that emotions are just biological responses to stimuli. What we make of the stimulus varies depending on who we are. Pleasure means different things to different people in different cultural and historical contexts. Inversely, depending on your context, a particular stimulus may result in very different emotions than it would in another person's context. On a collective level, this means that our task is not just to address the epidemic of mental health crisis-- what I'm calling the "mental healthification" of climate anxiety--but to become adept at seeing how emotions can leverage political and cultural change. Emotions are not just relevant to the world of mental health. They are a political tool, and they can shine a light on inequality and oppression, and the structures that cause them. - Sarah Jaquette Ray
I don’t typically say amen but I feel like I should right now! Big thanks to Sarah for sharing her background thinking with us. It’s very educational.
Becoming a Resilient Activist - Mindfulness and Resilience Training
An offering to the Gen Dread community from our friends at The Resilient Activist.
With the most recent IPCC reports, we know that many activists are experiencing burnout, grief, fear, frustration, and more. Numerous studies have clearly demonstrated the need for interventions to support activists' emotional well-being. This new study opportunity from The Resilient Activist is designed to meet that need.
Becoming a Resilient Activist - Mindfulness and Resilience Training, and to invite you to an Informational Meeting on Zoom on Tuesday, May 10th, 6:30-7:30 pm Central.
This meeting is open to anyone who identifies as a climate activist - whether professionally or as a dedicated volunteer - who might be interested in participating in a trauma and resilience research study and intervention.
This course will incorporate resilience training, trauma and grief support, mindfulness practices, body relaxation, breathwork, and nature immersion.
May 10th's event is an opportunity for participants to evaluate whether they would like to make the commitment to participate in the 9-week research study that will be held on Tuesdays on Zoom from May 17th - July 12th, 6:30-8:00 pm Central.
There is no cost for either the informational session or the research study.
You can find all the details and register for the informational session at this link.
A nod to a beautiful climate pod
To many, climate change feels so vast and unstoppable that its magnitude can be overwhelming. Presented by Wonder Media Network, As She Rises is a weekly podcast where stories from women poets and activists personalize the climate crisis. Join host Grace Lynch as she highlights stories of climate progress led by women to give us the hope we need to keep going. From the Pacific Northwest to the Samoan islands, As She Rises celebrates and acknowledges the incredible work it takes to move one step forward in protecting our planet, and the people on it.
Speaking of podcasts, here are some recent features with Gen Dread
David Wallace-Wells and I were on Climate One to discuss how we think about coping with climate and COVID fatigue, with host Greg Dalton. Listen here.
I was interviewed by host Alice Irene Whittaker on the Reseed podcast about facing eco anxiety and grief and my personal search for ways to do that. Listen here.
INVITATION Conceivable Future House Party Toronto, Canada (my hometown!)
More info about the event on Facebook (April 2022 exact date and time TBD)
For many of us, the decision of whether or not to have children, and how to parent, has been influenced by the threats of a changing climate. This painful cost of the climate crisis is a largely private one, and one that we grapple with alongside many other hopes and fears. Have you ever wanted to talk about it with other people?
Along with Conceivable Future, 90th Parallel Productions is organizing a small, intimate event in Toronto, in the last two weeks of April (date to come). All ages, genders, parents and non-parents welcome.
For a couple hours, it will be a space to express some of the more personal dimensions of the climate crisis: whether and how to raise children in an age of climate chaos. Expect a couple short presentations, a little free-writing, and group discussions. There will also be an opportunity to record a testimonial. Refreshments and snacks provided.
About Conceivable Future: This grassroots network is bringing awareness to the threat of climate change on childbearing. They believe that sharing these concerns can bring public perception of the climate crisis from “over there” in science/economics/politics into the heart of our daily lives, and spark more committed action.
This Conceivable Future Toronto Event will be filmed for a 90th Parallel documentary about the same topic. Due to rising cases of COVID-19, we are intending to keep this event small. COVID-19 testing and protocols will be in place.
If you’re interested in participating, please email email@example.com with your availability to assist in finalizing dates. Location will be Downtown Toronto. Feel free to pass this invite along to trusted friends and family.
Gen Dread is hiring
An illustrator: A gig to help bring my research to life in graphic / character formats for public presentations.
A short form storytelling maverick (engagement specialist): I’m looking for help with the translation of my work for online engagement. If you have a knack for translating information into intriguing and beautiful shareable ‘content’ (that dreadful word), and are passionate about the kind of work I do at the nexus of climate and mental health, this might be a good collaboration. Big plus if you have experience growing a community on social media. Express interest by filling out this contact form and more details will be provided.
+ We need more jokes about how we are dealing with the climate crisis!
The devastation that the climate crisis is causing is no laughing matter. But this crisis is increasingly our all-enveloping reality and we need to bring our full humanity to it, which includes levity and absurdity about how crappy our response has been.
Spencer R Scott is doing some of the freshest and most accessible philosophical writing on the climate crisis in an essay-focused newsletter that he pens from his solar punk farm (um, so cool). In a recent edition he included some jokes that rag on typical responses to the climate crisis. Here’s a couple:
Doomers have read the science and have concluded it's all hopeless, humanity is doomed. Besides, we're the virus; Earth will be better without us.
Pro: No way to change anything? No need to do anything!
Con: No one seems to invite you anywhere these days (?) Probably unrelated.
Pro: You can live guilt-free and continue benefiting from systems that caused this mess and comfortably know there was simply just absolutely nothing at all to be done! Ugh, if only there was something you could do :/ Alas,
Con: One day, many years from now, in a cold sweat you’ll wake from your guilt-free slumber and think, “Wait...”
Pro: It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, you win!
Con: It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, you lose :(
"Technology will Save Us" Hopefuls:
Everyone in the 70s was crying about overpopulation until scientists ushered in the Green Revolution. These Tech Hopefuls think y'all need to calm down, sit back and let the market move it's invisible, benevolent hand.
Pro: As a lover of technology, you love efficiency which is why you support the most efficient forms of transit: walking, e-bikes, trains, and busses.
Con: You don't actually support any of those things.
Pro: Buying carbon offsets is a lot easier than changing anything about your life.
Con: You find out those offsets helped kick indigenous people out of their own land, awkwarddd
Pro: You have hope because you know carbon capture tech will reverse climate change.
Con: No one could figure out how to privatize the tree.
Check out more in ‘Seven Normal, Unhinged Ways to Respond to the Climate Crisis’ on Spencer R. Scott’s Patreon.
For even more jokes, follow @climatechaplain on Instagram for some good ones, like this:
I am that penguin!
That’s all for this edition
Sending joy xx