Climate Anxiety: Love, Rage, and the Politics of Emotion
Transcript of Remarks Delivered at the Rally for the Climate Emergency
Texas State Capital
September 17, 2023
Thank you, Katya.
And thank you, everyone, for being here, and thank you for coming out and fighting for our world.
Katya was telling us earlier just how common climate anxiety is among her friends, and as a psychologist who specializes in climate, I work with anxiety around the climate a lot.
How many people here have experienced climate anxiety? Let’s hear it, how many people? Climate anxiety, right?
Climate anxiety sucks.
Of course what they say is true: if you’re feeling climate anxiety, at least you’re not in denial. So that’s good.
But some other good news is: you don’t have to stay anxious.
If there’s one thing to know about climate anxiety—this is like the “one weird trick” of climate anxiety—it’s that there are always other emotions underneath it.
And if we feel those emotions, the anxiety gets better.
But even more important than that, those underlying emotions can manifest as action.
Because that’s what they’re for; those emotions are actually our action trying to rise up.
I want to focus on two specific emotions that you can actually look in, for yourself. When you’re feeling anxious about the climate, you can check and see: are you feeling something else? Maybe one of these two emotions.
The first one is love—and this is “love” in the sense of our natural, caring, nurturing, compassionate impulses.
A healthy human being is capable of tremendous love, for all things. We all have that potential within us.
Love is the emotion of solidarity.
And that makes it a threat to the powerful.
And so the dominant culture teaches us things like: “We’re supposed to be independent,” or “Human nature is selfish,” or “People get what they deserve”...all these messages aimed at making us close our hearts.
Because if our hearts were fully open, we would never stand for what they’re doing to our world.
And on top of this, love is painful when what we love is suffering… or even dying.
Love can be so painful that people will do horrendous, destructive things to convince themselves that they don’t love, to destroy their ability to love.
And love is even more painful when we’re complicit in harming what we love.
The dominant culture makes it very hard not to be complicit. And we need to fight back against that.
So this is how love for the world can lead to climate anxiety, and why it’s so important to embrace that love, even when it’s painful.
I mentioned earlier that I want to talk about two emotions. The first was love. Who can guess what the second one is?
I heard “anger.” I heard “anger” out there. Right.
And is anger really a strong enough word for it, or is there another word that might fit even better?
“Rage.” I just heard “rage.”
Any of these words would work, but “rage...” “Rage” grabs it.
Rage is the impulse to fight for what we care about.
It gets a bad rap, but actually rage is crucial. We fight for what we care about with our rage, including things like... a livable planet… and a future for our children.
While love is the emotion of solidarity, rage is the emotion of resistance.
And, just like love, it threatens those with power.
The dominant culture says it’s OK for the powerful to feel and show their rage, and for the rest of us to have rage towards the enemies of the powerful, or towards scapegoats.
The dominant culture is also perfectly OK with us turning our rage on ourselves, which is usually what’s happening when we’re self-critical or doubting ourselves.
But when it comes to our feelings towards the powerful, we’ve been taught—in our families, our schools, our workplaces… in all the hierarchies of our culture—we’re taught to respect... and be loyal… and obey.
And we’ve been punished when we’ve tried to push back.
Is it any wonder that rage towards the powerful makes a lot of us anxious?
And when it comes to the climate emergency, there are lots of powerful people to be enraged at.
Rage also gets vilified as dangerous, as out of control, but it only feels that way when we’re also anxious with it.
Rage without anxiety is energizing. It’s empowering. We can feel it rise up in us,
making us get ready to stand up for ourselves.
When we feel rage without anxiety, we can act from it using our heads... and also our hearts.
So the climate emergency is anxiety-provoking because of how powerfully it stirs up love and rage.
And the best thing we can do for ourselves, and for everything we care about, is to stay in touch with those emotions… because we’re going to need all of our power to win this fight.
But of course staying in touch with these emotions isn’t easy, but it’s like building a muscle; the more we do it, the easier it gets.
And we can help each other with this. That’s one reason it’s so important to do like people are saying; we need to talk to people about the climate emergency. We have to get people used to facing it, and to facing their emotions about it.
Even better, keep coming out to events like this. Keep being active in the movement.
Let people see your love and your rage.
Because the more we show how we feel, the more other people will be able to accept those feelings in themselves… to overcome the messages they’ve received about what we’re allowed to feel and not allowed feel, and the more their love and their rage can manifest as action.