Knowing Your Boundaries: How and When to Engage with Climate Change
By: Alex Colvin
In June 2021, the ClimateActionWR collaborative announced the TransformWR strategy, our long-term and short-term strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Waterloo Region by 80% below 2010 levels by 2050 with an interim goal of a 30% reduction by 2030. ClimateActionWR is working with all eight Waterloo Region municipalities to enact our equitable, collaborative, and comprehensive strategies to achieve our 80% by ’50 and 30% by ‘30 reductions, in accordance with the Paris Agreement and Canada’s pledge to reach net-zero by 2050. You can find the details of the TransformWR strategy here.
THE NEWS NEVER STOPS
In our age of the 24-hour news cycle, complemented by the never-ending roar of a whole slew of different social media platforms, it is nearly impossible to run out of climate change news, essays, posts, rants, and opinions. Which is not to say all of the news about climate is bad. On any given day, you can watch new videos or read about extraordinary ongoing pushes for climate justice on local, regional, national, and international levels and different victories for climate action.
This is because, thankfully, there is an enormous amount happening around climate change at any given moment. From news and reactions to major climate victories in the form of new legislation or climate action; to the dire news of climate catastrophes and disasters affecting the most vulnerable. All the different news around our changing climate can be a lot to take in. It can certainly be overwhelming at times, and one very important thing to keep in mind is that unplugging or taking a break from climate news can be critical to pacing yourself and managing your own wellbeing in the face of climate change. And yes, you may be thinking, ‘kind of ironic that you’re saying this in a climate change blog full of hyperlinks to other content, isn’t it?’ Well, quite. But hopefully after reading this, you’ll still a) want to engage with climate change, but b) know when you need to take a break. What we’d really like to talk to you about is finding your healthiest balance.
CLIMATE CHANGE IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT
There are many problems that stem from climate change, but one key problem to keep in mind is that climate change and its impacts are long-term. While the worst-case scenarios are now judged to be highly unlikely to ever come to pass, climate change will be measured on a spectrum of decades rather than days or years. This is not meant to be discouraging, but to illustrate that engaging with climate change means pacing yourself. It’s a cliche at this point to say, ‘climate change is a marathon, not a sprint’ but the reason that’s a cliche is that it makes a good point. Pacing is key. Plenty of marathon marathon runners walk during marathons to help manage their energy and prevent injury. Engaging with climate change is similar. Sometimes, you need to slow down or disengage.
You may have heard of ‘doomscrolling’ during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the phenomena of falling down dark and depressing rabbit-holes of social media posts and news articles about an ongoing crisis. Well, it is also possible to doomscroll through climate news, especially during episodes of extreme weather events. Many of us have probably given into doomscrolling on occasion and have ended up spending a morning or an evening diving into dire situations all over the world. While doomscrolling can provide some grim comfort of being up-to-date and aware of ongoing crises, it isn’t especially helpful for mental health or managing anxiety. A better idea might be to try and moderate your intake of climate news, good or bad, so that the struggles around our climate don’t consume you.
CELEBRATE THE VICTORIES, LEARN FROM SETBACKS
While the majority of climate change news explores the impacts and risks of climate change, it is also important to take stock of the progress, growing awareness, and climate action occurring at various levels all over the world. There are lots of organizations that release regular newsletters about climate action (you can start with ours! The sign up box is at the bottom of this page) that note their progress, goals, victories, and plans moving forward. These sorts of newsletters can be helpful and can counterbalance the firehose of dire climate news you can get from news outlets and online sources. And again, we’re not just saying that because we have a very cool newsletter. If you want to look, you can seek out the progress and action from climate-minded organizations for a dose of hope and inspiration from anywhere in the world.
Having said that, when bad news comes, which it sometimes will, how you engage with it is important for maintaining a balance between keeping informed and maintaining mental health. When a climate disaster strikes, or when climate action is faced with setbacks, things can feel dire. A thing to keep in mind with bad news is that major disasters and setbacks make for excellent headlines. Catastrophes tend to be large, grim, and to make future struggles all the harder. Disasters can be compelling and riveting, but they are rarely insurmountable. The efforts to overcome a calamity, the resilience offered by everyday people in pushing through, and the teamwork on a local or international level to provide assistance may not be seen as newsworthy and given the same coverage as the initial disaster. So however bad a week the world has with climate change, and even if you need to take a break from the coverage, the fact that climate disasters and climate change can be a front-page or trending event is critical for further engagement and action on climate change. But if that news and the conversation around it gets too heavy…
One of the most important elements of engaging with climate news is a simple one: take breaks from the news when it starts to feel overwhelming. However, you engage with climate change, whether it is traditional news sources, Reddit, social media, documentaries on climate change, take breaks now and then.
IN FACT… TAKE ONE RIGHT NOW
You know what, why not take the rest of the day off of reading or watching videos about climate change? You may be thinking, ‘wow, this is another incredibly ironic suggestion coming from a climate action group’ but we mean it. The rest of the climate movement can handle things while you recharge. Because climate change is going to be a part of our lives for decades to come. Like we said earlier, a marathon, not a sprint. But climate change is certainly a race we can succeed at, with each plan to reach net-zero, each commitment to reduced emissions, we make a little more progress in the race and push the needle towards a safer and more sustainable future. So take a break from the race for a bit, and we’ll chat again once you’ve recharged!
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