Using art to process climate anxiety, grief and rage
Creative projects from the Gen Dread community
Welcome to Gen Dread - a newsletter about staying sane in the climate crisis by me, Britt Wray.
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One of the things I love most about this whole newsletter hobby is hearing from readers. Since starting Gen Dread last summer, a number of you have reached out to share creative projects you’ve come up with for processing your own anxiety, grief, dread, and rage that the climate crisis stirs up. Today’s edition shines a light on artistic projects from the Gen Dread community that are designed to help us process what is happening, find purpose in how we respond to it, and live meaningfully - dare I say even a bit more comfortably - in the face of it all.
Music by Daniel Schlosberg, libretto by Amanda Quaid based on her play, directed conceived and developed by Louisa Proske, music directed by Jacob Ashworth.
A young couple is trying to have a baby. Ice caps are melting. Brooklyn will soon be underwater. Upcycling is the new recycling. The Woman wonders: What if the only way to protect her future daughter was to not have her? What if she could save the planet from unspeakable future destruction by sterilizing herself ... by becoming the very first "Extinctionist”? In this dark comedy, a Woman’s body becomes the battlefield of our political anguish, conflicting desires, and individual responsibility.
In Quaid’s words:
The Extinctionist is an opera about a woman's decision to sterilize herself in the face of her mounting anxiety about climate collapse. It’s about the fallout in her marriage and friendships, and the loss of control over her own body. At its heart, I think it’s a story about control—the search for control in the face of so much instability.
It was originally a play, which premiered in 2019. I wrote the play when I was pregnant with my daughter, probably as a way of exploring my own fears. My friend and collaborator, Louisa Proske, one of the artistic directors of Heartbeat Opera, saw it and encouraged me to turn it into a libretto.
That really excited me, because I think opera is in some ways an ideal container for the size of the emotions these questions bring up. A singer can sometimes convey more with a single vowel sound than a speaker can in a monologue, and music cuts right to the heart.
I hold that everybody, on some animal level, is feeling this anxiety—even if it’s deeply repressed. Storytelling is one of the primary tools humans use to know themselves. At the moment, we don’t have a lot of stories to help us access and articulate these complex emotions around climate change. So we don’t know what to make of them—or even what to call them—because we’re given very little framework.I see that as part of my role as a writer—to tell stories that help people articulate their own experience, and to make them feel less alone.
In terms of how people receive it, it’s still in development. The most heartening thing is when singers come in and express how much the story resonates with them. But it’s a challenge writing about these topics, because I’ve found that people pigeonhole works about climate change very quickly, and if you’re not careful, they tune out. People assume you have an agenda, and if they become defensive in the face of that, they don’t see what the piece is trying to say as a whole.
Another challenge of writing compelling climate stories is the sheer scope of the threat. There’s no “antagonist” in the traditional sense. We ourselves are both the perpetrators and the victims. The “antagonist,” the climate, is both our mother and our killer. So it’s hard to write a traditional story about climate where there’s a clear conflict, climax and resolution. I’ve found myself looking for the story within the story, in a sense, and writing about it more indirectly.
Saturday, May 29 at 7:30p
Sunday, May 30 at 3p
in person at PS21 Chatham, NY
and streaming online
The Renegades: Arctic Meltdown
Created by Jeremy Brown, Katy Jakeway, Ellenor Mererid, Libby Reed and David Selby
A superhero comic that begins with three young people who meet in a group therapy class for severe cases of eco-anxiety - called 'Apocofear Anonymous'. On hearing news of a terrifying methane monster, two of them escape to a survival bunker in eastern Africa. But as they soon discover, fleeing from fear is not the answer. To become true heroes, they must instead join activists from the Global South in an epic struggle to defend their community, the permafrost, and the fate of the entire planet.
The comic was co-created by a group of students at King's College London along with external illustrators. Brown came up with part of the plot out of his own battles with eco-anxiety in 2018, and has since focused his studies on how comic books may help inspire a new generation to take action themselves! He hopes that fictional comic stories may help teenagers navigate the difficult cycle of shock, anger, and sadness that are often part of a healthy journey towards a lifestyle of climate activism.
The Renegades: Arctic Meltdown is currently on sale and you can snag a copy here!
As a bonus, below is Jeremy Brown’s own interpretation of the 5 states of climate grief:
THE SHAPE OF US
Created by Anna Mauersberger, HeartWire – Laboratory for Soulful Civic Education (Germany) and the game studio Monobanda (Netherlands)
THE SHAPE OF US is a full body VR ritual that immerses travelers into one of the biggest ontological questions of our times: our relationship to Nature. Guided by the voice of Mother Earth herself, the players are led through the wastelands of modern human civilization, where only glimpses of "what was" or "what could be" are left: lush, buzzing natural worlds as sad reminders of what we have lost. Travelers are asked to confront their worst (inner) enemy; they are invited to leave their old Selves behind and to open up for the New to emerge. At the end of their journey, they are rewarded with the discovery of an awe-inspiring “Land of Interbeing”, in which they become one with Nature, are finally able to truly connect, interact, and rejoice. Developed for the Oculus Quest, its main game mechanisms and features are body motion, cable-free hand tracking and binaural audio sound as well as conscious moments of intention setting and stillness.
THE SHAPE OF US was created with the aim to enable meaningful conversation about the Climate Crisis. Developed by an interdisciplinary team of VR artists, coders, educators and therapists, the experience combines embodied practices (such as Gestalt therapy or Somatic Experiencing) with emotional storytelling and game design in order to wire heads with hearts and hearts with bodies. Its impact is currently being investigated by educators, teachers and psychologists in collaboration with the University of Cologne in Germany, who ask: Can immersive technologies help bridge the gap between intellectual awareness and environmental action? How do set and setting affect the learning experience? What kind of Onboarding and Offboarding are needed before and after the VR in order to let the experience sink a level deeper? Can a VR experience serve as “rite of passage”; can it become a game-changer instead of just another game? Its release in August 2021 (English and German) will be accompanied by material for Climate aware psychologists and educators as well as solo-players wanting to dive deeper.
THE SHAPE OF US was funded by Robert Bosch foundation. The makers are currently looking for Climate Aware psychologists and non formal educators wanting to test THE SHAPE OF US in their respective setting and contribute to the practical research – for those living in Europe, Oculus Quest headsets could be provided. If you are interested in collaborating or if you want to know more, please reach out to email@example.com.
Fur & Feather Stand Together
Written by Dave Griswold and Illustrated by Eliza Reisfeld
In 2009, Griswold left a job at Google to lead wilderness trips in Yosemite, feeling that the most important thing he could do with his time was help kids reconnect with nature. Six years ago, pondering what to do about climate change in the months before his first daughter was born, he sat down to write the tale of a penguin and a polar bear working together to save the world's melting ice.
With the help of folks ranging from climate scientists, to lawyers, activists, and friends, that story evolved to become Fur & Feather Stand Together - a picture book that aims to introduce kids to climate change’s overlapping environmental, racial, and social issues, while still retaining the heart, humor, and simplicity needed to make these issues accessible to the youngest among us.
Why focus a children’s book on climate change?
I think one of the saddest truths about climate change is that we already have so many of the answers to address and mitigate it. The limitations don't seem to be our technologies or capabilities, but rather the entrenched systems of White supremacy and extractive capitalism that promote competition, greed, scarcity, and fear. For me, an underlying shift needed to address climate change has felt almost spiritual in nature - an awakening of our consciousness to the lived experience of interconnectedness. I felt like if I could create a story that inspired this sort of consciousness in kids at an early age, I could be helping them pave the way for new answers we haven’t yet imagined.
My intention for Fur & Feather has always been for it to serve as a springboard for kindness, donations, curriculum, and action. My illustrator and I committed early on to not keep any profits from the book, and instead we chose to have all proceeds from book sales to go to the non-profits who inspired and guided us in the process: the International Indigenous Youth Council, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sunrise Movement. In this way, we hope the book itself can help to educate and inspire, while the act of getting a copy can support the work that needs to be done. Crowdfunding the book also gave us the flexibility to print on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper, which felt important given the nature of the story. - David Griswold
On sale now. If you buy a copy, feel good knowing that all proceeds are donated to the three non-profits Griswold mentioned.
I mean, what the heck! How talented are you people reading this? Clearly VERY is the answer. I’m so excited by these creative modes of processing and expressing the existential feelings that come with being awake to the climate crisis, and grateful to see so much artistic energy being thrown at this issue. Let’s keep it going! Apologies to the creators of artistic projects that arrived in my inbox or mail box and were not featured this week, there was not enough room for all of them this time around, but I’ll keep an eye on anything you send me!
More from Gen Dreaders
(Oh my gosh did you see what I just did? You’re Gen D(Readers)! - only just caught that now and as a lover of bad puns, I’m happy now).
Study on the emotional impacts of environmental work
Jo Musker Sherwood designed a survey to understand better the emotional impacts of working in the environmental sector, and how to develop better support for these impacts. It takes no will take between 5 and 10 minutes to complete and all responses will be kept completely anonymous. If you’d like to participate, click here. Sherwood will send a findings report to Gen Dread at the end of her study.
Lastly, the You Change Earth platform is finally launched!
Rising taxes, higher health risks, and lower food security. These are all preventable consequences of climate change. YOU have the ability to stop these from happening with simple on-off engagements and mindfulness. You Change Earth is a tool you can use to find impactful actions that suit your career, lifestyle, or spare time.
Begin your climate journey here - https://youchangeearth.org/
Reach out anytime
As always, you can reach me - and each other - by commenting on this article. You can also hit reply to this email or follow me on Twitter and Instagram. I get a lot of reader emails and I promise that I read each one, but it might be hard for me to adequately respond to every message. Thanks for understanding. And if you like, share this newsletter with people in your life who’d enjoy it.
Have a great week!
Fantastic set of resources and I've reached out to three of them this morning! Many thanks for all you do, Britt.