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Where is the global climate adaptation plan for human resilience?
A new, exciting, and crucial initiative launches at COP27
Welcome back to Gen Dread, where we explore ideas to help you stay sane in the climate crisis. If you aren’t already signed up, you can subscribe for free emails right here:
How battered we feel determines how well we can build a new world
We hear a lot about the need for climate adaptation. Scores of people around the world are figuring out ways to build sea walls to protect against rising waters, bioengineer drought resistant crops, finance vulnerable communities so they can more successfully deal with extreme weather events, and so on. The conversation often focuses on the buildings, infrastructure, and supply chains that people rely on out in the external world. But what about people’s internal worlds? It’s as if there is no recognition in grand dialogs about adaptation that having your house swept away by an angry superstorm, or losing your livelihood because the soil has nothing left to give, or being forced to relocate because of climate change, are in themselves traumatic events that erode human capacity. The growing focus on adaptation must also include investments in supports for communities and individuals that evidence shows strengthen psychological resilience when traumatic events occur, improving their ability to not just cope, but also act.
You see, we’re dealing with a dangerous and vicious cycle when it comes to climate change and mental health. It isn’t just that extreme weather events cause acute trauma, or that the chronic sense of insecurity that’s growing out there due to scary headlines and inadequate leadership (‘climate anxiety’) negatively impacts our mental health and wellbeing. Rather, the state of our mental health also directly informs how capable we are of taking on the challenges of our time: transitioning to energy systems that emit no carbon, intervening in the growth based economy so it doesn’t cannibalize what’s left of intact natural systems, regenerating how agriculture is done at scale, community organizing for progressive climate policies, and so on. We all know that the challenges we face are daunting and overwhelming, but meaningful change is possible and available to us. In order to push on those levers for transforming our world to something more livable and lovable, we need a certain degree of mental health and wellbeing. If we’re so depleted, depressed, or burnt out that the focus becomes day to day survival, well folks, we just won’t have much more to give. Of course, this is already the situation for millions of people around the world, and with the scope of psychological damage that the climate crisis is now sending down the pipe at our species, we need to do what we can to prevent that from spreading to millions or billions more. Thankfully, research and practice in global mental health and psychiatric epidemiology give confidence that we can do so in ways that teach the lessons of emotional strength training and post-traumatic growth, by seeding and nourishing communities of care all across the globe.
Photo by Alicia Mary Smith on Unsplash
Today, during Resilience Day at the United Nations’ COP27 Climate Change Conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, a very exciting and crucial initiative called COP² launched, with the aim of doing what I just mentioned. COP² stands for Care Of People x Planet, and is a rapidly growing network of 230+ organisations from around the world, bringing together activists, researchers, community leaders, and a wide array of mental health practitioners who focus on the intersection between human resilience and climate change. It also joins with those working on deeply intertwined issues, such as climate justice, social equity, sustainability, and the protection of Indigenous rights and culture. Fittingly, it is a collaboration with the Race to Resilience, a campaign by the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, to strengthen and nurture human resilience in the face of growing impacts of climate. Together, they aim to strengthen the psychological resilience of 4 billion people by 2030, so humanity can better navigate the grief, trauma, and loss that is baked into our climate changed world with more fortitude, connection, and spiritual resource. If our ‘internal hardware’ is preserved and protected, then the ‘external hardware’ we know we need to build will come online much more efficiently and effectively.
Chair of COP² and Director, Billion Minds Project at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Gary Belkin, said at the launch: “We are seeing growing attention, innovation and urgency to put social and emotional resilience and agency into the mainstream of climate policy and action. COP² came together to converge this into a global agenda. Today, at COP27, that agenda has been super-sized. Like everything else with climate change, we are playing urgent catch-up. It is indeed a race, and one we must win.”
Jennifer Uchendu, Founder of SustyVibes and member of COP²’s global leadership added, “With COP², we have a structure that is really dynamic, contextually relevant and culturally sensitive...we can feed in dialogues and opinions from people from every part of the world that can support policy formation. COP2 is what we need now, these are the kind of conversations we need to be having, and this is how change happens.”
Find out how you can get involved with the initiative here.
Climate Fiction - Solutions in Storytelling
I’m going to pass the mic now to Steve Willis, Director of Herculean Climate Solutions, who has co-written a new anthology of fictional climate stories for COP27 that address climate anxiety and climate solutions called No More Fairy Tales. Below is my back and forth with him about the project.
Why do you think we need climate solutions stories?
SW: People love stories, they are part of how we understand the world. The current narrative of climate news and climate fiction is mostly doom laden and apocalyptic. If we are to reach a positive future, we need to describe it, visualize it and write stories about it, so people can imagine themselves contributing to the journey to get there. These stories aim to do exactly that.
And why solutions? Huge endeavors need to be completed to change our course, remove gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere, refreeze the arctic and many other things. These tasks, these solutions, will be some of the biggest endeavors in human history. We need to be getting on with them.
How is this connected to the growth in climate anxiety and grief?
SW: People feel powerless and fearful when they are dipped in a narrative which does not have a positive outcome. The endless round of bad news about climate and other intermeshed issues makes people feel sad. To manage this, and reach better outcomes, part of the narrative needs to show how the desired goals really can be achieved. And to encourage people to go out and do them. Fictional heroes for people to follow and emulate.
What is the outcome you’re hoping for with this anthology?
SW: One of the aims of this collection is to inspire action by COP27 delegates, attendees and followers. For them to say, ‘I like the sound of that story. It’s a bit different from the situation in my country, but I can go back and get something like that started. And the role described by character ‘X’ is the role I would like to play. The role I want to dedicate my whole career to’.
A character in one of the stories says; ‘For individuals, ask yourself ‘what is the biggest thing I can do to help deal with the climate crisis?’ Then do it, ask yourself again, and do progressively bigger things. You are not passengers on this voyage, you are crew. You are handlers, not baggage. Do your utmost to contribute’.
The enterprises that deliver the climate solutions will be numerous, varied, and need to be everywhere. There will be productive roles for most types of people. Find one that suits, and do it with pride.
How did you come to be involved in this project?
SW: I am a chemical engineer, working on large scale climate solutions. The projects themselves are fun and engaging, but the larger scenario, the whole, huge, climate crisis is very daunting. I started writing short stories to explore, imagine and identify what it would take to fix the whole problem. Fiction is a fantastic tool for this.
The Makers and Shakers Society
Lastly, this audio drama called Makers and Shakers Society from Clarke Mackey delighted me this week. It’s a serialized drama that tells the story of young activists today figuring out the climate apocalypse of tomorrow, told retrospectively, with lots of love and youthful drama woven in. As Mackey explains it, “What if someone who is twenty-two this year were to come back from the future — say it’s 2075 — and speak to those of us living now? What would they say? What story would they tell? What would their world be like? How might ordinary, flawed people — our children and grandchildren — come to grips with the great upheavals of the century? Topics explored include the climate catastrophe, youth activism, colonialism, racism, social class, migration, incarceration and authoritarianism.” Mackey is a 72-year-old Canadian producer-director of activist features and documentaries going back 5 decades. He directed famous TV shows like Degrassi High and is Professor Emeritus of filmmaking at my alma mater, Queen’s University. Most delightful of all for me, he made this series at CFRC 101.9 FM in Kingston, Ontario, the campus radio station that gave me my start in media when I was 19 years old! I hosted a trip hop music show there called The Tympanic Eclipse. LOL. The sweet nostalgia of it all, now circling back via climate storytelling. Could not love it more. I realize audio drama may not be everyone’s bag, but for those who want to be swept away into another person’s imagination for how to share human experience in a warming world filled with political turbulence, it is worth a listen.
That’s all for this edition
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‘Till next time!