Mindset, Self-Care, Community, and Persistence
Today I just want to share what I’ve been thinking about recently. It’s a little perspective on where we are and some things to keep in mind for the years and decades ahead of us. Hope you find it helpful in one way or another!
The road ahead
Despite positive momentum building, the world is still burning more and more fossil fuels every year.
When society starts burning less fossil fuels every year, the air will get cleaner, the water will get cleaner, and the number of people dying every year from the fossil fuel pollution that enters our hearts, brains, and lungs (8.7 million people) will start to decline. ¹
I believe every life saved is a huge win. And I believe we can start building a world that is safer, healthier, and more just right now. That’s why Crowdsourcing Sustainability exists – to help save and improve as many lives as possible!
But even as the air we breathe gets cleaner, it’s worth keeping in mind that the climate crisis will continue to get worse until we get to net zero emissions globally ². That’s because the impact of society’s greenhouse gas emissions is largely cumulative. Once emissions are in the atmosphere, they stay there for decades or centuries.
So as long as the net emissions in the atmosphere go up (even a little bit), the planet will continue to heat up. ³
The world is currently aiming to stop heating the planet by getting to net zero emissions by 2050 (we really need to aim for earlier though – as soon as possible).
All of this to say that, even in the best-case scenario with victories worth celebrating at every turn, global heating and the associated climate chaos will likely get worse for decades before we can turn it around.
And to make it through these challenging years, it will be absolutely critical we keep a good head on our shoulders, take care of ourselves, and keep stepping forward as best we can with community.
There’s a lot of good work that needs to be done. By a lot of good people. Working together. Over a long period of time.
Which is why I want to talk about the importance of mindset, self-care, community, and persistence for the journey that’s ahead of us.
I’ve always been drawn to the wisdom of the serenity prayer and the mindset it encourages:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
This is how I see it through a climate lens.
Accepting the things I cannot change
I accept that I am alive in an era defined by the climate crisis. I know that it’s here now, it will get worse for many years, and that it will change everything for life and society as we know it.
Accepting this reality is a critical first step for making good decisions moving forward.
Courage to change the things I can
I also know that there is a vast difference between the best and worst-case scenarios in the future. And that I have the power to change both myself and the systems I’m a part of to increase the chances we get the best future possible for everyone. A lot of things can even be better in this future if we do it right.
Wisdom to know the difference
This is obviously the key to the whole thing.
It seems to me that most people still aren’t accepting the situation we’re in right now. We need more people to truly accept the reality and gravity of how far down this road we already are and what is likely to happen in the coming years because of climate change. Many who know intellectually that it’s real and that it’s bad are still acting as if it isn’t really happening. They aren’t facing reality.
And we need more people to know that they are powerful and can change what the future will be like. We all change the future every day through the sum of our collective decisions. One way or the other, what you choose to do makes a difference.
I recently learned that the original version of the serenity prayer was a bit…different, in what I think is a meaningful way. In the midst of the great depression, Reinhold Neibuhr said:
Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.
As you can see, the courage to make changes is prioritized in this version. The focus is on “us” instead of “I” or “me”. And it doesn’t ask for the courage to change “the things I can” but for us to have the courage to change “what must be altered”.
It’s interesting to think about how these changes may lead to a slightly different mindset – one more geared towards large-scale collective action.
Here’s the bottom line. We have to:
- Accept the reality of our new and increasingly extreme climate. And accept that because of when we are in time, we’re the last people with a chance to turn this around.
- Understand what is in our control and how much power we still have to affect change.
- Find the courage to do what is needed, both individually and collectively, to change the systems we’re a part of as quickly as possible from the deadly and destructive status quo to systems that prioritize everyone’s well-being and the flourishing of all life.
And while this is challenging work, it doesn’t only have to be a burden. We can be changemakers in ways that bring us meaning and joy 🙂
This brings us to the importance of…
Self-care is crucial for everyone. No matter who you are or what you’re doing you deserve care because you are a human being.
I think people working on climate need to be especially mindful of this because as meaningful as this work is, it is also challenging and can be painful.
I know from experience how easy it can be to neglect your own self-care.
As you may know, it’s never worth it!
For those of you who are driven by the impact you’re trying to make, I encourage you to keep this in mind:
You won’t be able to make the impact you want to if you’re not taking care of yourself. You can’t give from an empty cup.
What taking care of yourself looks like will be a bit different for everyone, and I’m by no means an expert, but some things that help me personally are making time for meditation, being with family and friends, doing things I love, movement, getting enough sleep, and being in nature. Easier said than done of course – I’m a work in progress!
Finally, the climate crisis can bring up all sorts of emotions within us. Please know that this is totally normal. And that those emotions are there for a reason. They’re trying to tell you something.
“Honor your difficult feelings. You’re an animal whose life support system is in danger. It would be really weird to not be afraid or to not be furious about that. There’s intelligence in those feelings, feel them, but don’t let them paralyze. You let them move through and take them as information.” – Dr. Elizabeth Sawin
Here are some fantastic “Resources for working with climate emotions” I recommend checking out, thanks to The All We Can Save Project and Gen Dread.
We’re a very social species so community and relationships are always important. But they will be absolutely critical in the turbulent decades ahead.
Community helps to bring us:
- Less loneliness and more connection.
- More meaning by being a part of something larger than ourselves.
- Support from others when times are hard.
- The collective power needed to make the changes that need to be made.
- And people to celebrate all the wins along the way with.
The sum is greater than the parts.
We’re far stronger, more capable, more resilient, and more fulfilled when we work toward a shared goal or vision together.
“My most important talent or habit was persistence…It’s amazing what we can do if we simply refuse to give up. I suspect that this is the most important thing I’ve said in all my interviews and talks as well as in this book. It’s a truth that applies to more than writing. It applies to anything that is important but difficult. Important but frightening. We’re all capable of climbing so much higher than we usually permit ourselves to suppose. The word again is persist. – Octavia E. Butler
Given how quickly environmental and human systems are now changing, past experience and expertise are likely not as useful as they once were to base our expectations and predictions of the future on. The range of what is possible in the near future is much bigger than what we might currently imagine.
Yes, how much environmental systems are changing is scary. But it’s also true that it unlocks so much more potential for human systems to rapidly change for the better.
The ground beneath us is shifting. The beliefs, worldviews, and systems that got us into this mess are ripe for change. Possibility is in the air.
What we collectively perceive as possible regarding transformational changes to society’s systems, and how quickly they could arrive, are likely orders of magnitude off. When social tipping points are reached, we are capable of moving much, much faster in the right direction than we tend to think.
Let that give you hope for how much we can accomplish together if we are persistent, taking one step at a time in the right direction.
“We’re all capable of climbing so much higher than we usually permit ourselves to suppose.”
“It’s amazing what we can do if we simply refuse to give up.”
P.S. For brevity’s sake, some things in the first section are oversimplified. Here’s a bit more nuance for those interested:
¹ Fossil fuels make up most of the problem, but not all of it. Food, agriculture, and land use make up about 25% of global GHG emissions.
² When you hear “net zero” you are right to be on guard. But context is important. I’m using it here as it was initially intended – from the perspective of the entire planet. Today, you more often hear it from companies, some (or many?) of which are using it for greenwashing. They use net zero to make it seem like they’re taking action but it’s really a loophole for them to not focus on rapidly cutting their current pollution in the near term.
³ Global heating will actually continue for a bit even after we hit net zero because of the energy imbalance (think of how it takes some time for a pot of water to boil). It seems as though how long heating will continue after net zero is still being debated.