Dear Zaria: how can I help my family members move from climate anxiety to climate action?

Dear Zaria: how can I help my family members move from climate anxiety to climate action?

I am a grandfather. My children – parents themselves in their mid 40's – know that climate chaos is upon us, but are too scared by it to take functional and adaptive action now.

I'd like to find a way to help them get past their understandable reluctance to face the reality, and get going with constructive, adaptive action. How might I do this?

Hi grandpa,

As you so empathetically said, your children are among the large group of people who find the thought of climate change, and the crisis that surrounds it, to be overwhelming and fear-inducing.

I would prompt you to explore this fear, and the emotions that surround it, with them. Become curious about what it is beneath the surface that they may be wrestling with, which makes the idea of taking action paralyzing.

The thought of a changing climate that we must race to address and correct is scary. It’s normal that we all live with a slight buzz beneath our skin that resembles the tick of a clock, constantly informing us that we’re running out of time to correct our humanly, fossil fuels-caused errors.

Some of us are, perhaps, most naturally inclined to be able to alchemize these uncomfortable emotions into action. Others find these emotions destabilizing and, as I said prior, paralyzing.

If you can, use the depth and understanding of your own emotion (and knowledge of climate change) to invite your children into a conversation — What emotions come up when you think of climate change? How do you feel, in your body, when you think of taking action? Have you felt any of these emotions before and, if so, how did you overcome them?

From this point going forward, you can offer yourself as a resource and guide when the uncomfortable emotions arise. They might now feel encouraged to come to you for space when they feel climate anxiety, rather than shutting down. Then slowly, perhaps even naturally, the emotions won’t feel destabilizing enough to prevent your children from taking action and they can begin to imagine the future with hope, instead of despair.

Remember to go at their pace, rather than your own. The expectation should only be to create space in your household and relationships to hold and understand their uncomfortable climate-related emotions, not force or coerce them into forming a relationship with the environment they may not necessarily want.

All you can do is try and listen and be empathetic and relate and plant seeds of activist curiosity that, hopefully, they will water later and grow and nurture on their own.

I also imagine that continuing to share your natural enthusiasm for addressing climate change might also pique their interest. I often find myself getting excited about the things that those around me are excited about and vice versa. This is also why it's so important to share the joy and highlights of the climate movement – the things that are going well, and worth celebrating with your community.

Don’t lose hope in them, but release any expectation as well, so as not to form resentment towards them or frustration with their inaction. They must want to choose to join the fight.

Your thoughtfulness and willingness to engage your family in these issues is thoughtful and refreshing.

Your efforts don’t go unnoticed, I’m sure, and thank you for being vulnerable.