Dealing With Burnout And Facing The Global Emergency

Image by CS Sherin, WildClover.org

CS Sherin, June 6, 2019, edited October 2019

First of all, did you tune in to watch Juliana vs. United States yesterday? I did. If you missed it, check out my Twitter feed for some of the highlights.

As for me, I have been dealing with a bit of burnout when it comes to facing our environmental and climate emergency. The amount of loss and destruction involved is hard to deal with day in and day out. I have been turning to and leaning on my creativity and spirituality especially at this time, while processing grief and pain associated with our current crisis and reality, which includes a terrible increase in suffering of various life forms, including, but not only, humans. Taking a break from this platform and focus on sustainable living (and all the systemic, connected issues) from time to time is essential for me. At the same time, I am still here and keeping on.

In the past month I have been feeling a new grief. In the past month, I have only seen three bees. Where there would normally be plenty of bees upon flowers, there have been none. About ten years ago, I had noticed a decline in area bees pollinating flowers. Yet, in that time, there have still been bees. This year, they are absent. I am open to this changing for the better. Still, I know that the prolonged and severe winter we experienced caused a lot of hardship. Perhaps the area bees were hit hard. The winter before this last one, it was a very dry winter and cold, then ended with very late snow. That Spring many robins were dying en masse due to the snow and lack of food at a critical time. That summer revealed that many plants and trees were beyond stressed by that winter. My lavender, plum tree, and most of the cherry tree died.

After this last winter, we have had plenty of rain and moisture through the winter. Plants are thriving. And bees are sorely missing. There is a certain heartache to realizing loss and suffering on the grand scale on our planet. This is a part of it.

Meanwhile, I came across an article today that I think can be extremely helpful at this time. The article is: “12 excuses for climate inaction and how to refute them. Using moral clarity to counter defeatism around climate crisis,” by Eliza Barclay and Jag Bhalla (Vox.com, May 24, 2019). I am going to summarize the main points in the form of shorthand notes from the article here, in order to highlight the core thoughts, and to add my thoughts to some of it. In the article, the twelve excuses are something like this:

  1. Talk of human extinction is alarmist
  2. It is too late to prevent a catastrophe
  3. The situation is extremely depressing
  4. It is impossible to escape fossil fuels
  5. One person’s choices probably don’t matter
  6. I have a right to enjoy meat and air travel
  7. Rich and powerful people are at fault, not me
  8. I want one easy thing to do
  9. Our political system is broken and bought out by special interests
  10. Change is too expensive and will harm the economy
  11. “Zero sum” mistakes
  12. Inventions and technological advancements will rescue us

My holistic approach to sustainable living in Recipe For A Green Life addresses every one of these excuses in many different ways: activism, spiritual and emotional self-care, logic, facts, troubleshooting, pep talks, needed perspective, recipes, stories, etc. In my book, some of these are addressed as emotional challenges, some as common pitfalls, and others as realities that block us, which we can find our way around (in some way or another) in order to keep cultivating a sustainable lifestyle on all fronts, and for the long haul. Nevertheless, I appreciate the responses provided in the article, and also, how Greta Thunberg’s work and pivotal quotes were used to highlight and support the direction for “moral clarity.”

The answers to these excuses, from the article’s authors, go something like this:

  1. The consequences we face are real and scientifically verified.
  2. While the consequences we face are real, we can act now to mitigate and prevent ever-increasing levels of disaster. It is not too late to act.
  3. We have a duty and moral impetus to face the pain and loss and disasters, and to act. We can minimize damage and suffering through our commitment to act.
  4. Much like the Civil War and the battle to eradicate slavery, we face a challenge to overcome the immorality of oil companies and special interests that promote destruction and harm.
  5. We all play a part and have impact. Demand for things impacts everyone. Altering our choices can alter the future, with a tipping point of collective actions for the better.
  6. Exploitation and over-consumption is “collective suicide and ecocide”. Many times in the past, ancestors and other benefactors deprived themselves for the betterment of their progeny, and out of respect for the sacredness of life and nature.
  7. This is true. And, those of us living an average modern life do consume too much, especially fossil fuel derived single-use items. In addition, many individuals have power and privilege that needs to be utilized, in order to help change things for the better.
  8. That is the kind of thinking that perpetuates our systemic problems and crisis. It isn’t easy. It is not a one action cure.
  9. This is true, but we must work to change our politics “or face catastrophe”.
  10. The article provides this quote by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: “it’s cheaper, and will do less damage to the economy, to let the Nazis win.” It is a good quote. Numbers used by economists are inaccurate and will be “meaningless in a climate-crashed world.”
  11. Economists use abstractions and do not work around a model of true sustainability, or with the mindset that understands that resources are finite. Excess consumption degrades and reduces resources. “”Win-win” growth often hides a very dark logic.” For example, “it means that poverty can only be reduced if the rich make money from it.”
  12. Invention that solves the entire emergency before us is unlikely, and a dangerous gamble to depend on. We have to change our pattern of consumption.

The biggest part for me right now is feeling the need to grieve, and connect to issues from a more spiritual dimension, utilizing my creative abilities over at WildClover.org. Good news is, while I grieve and take time out, I am still acting daily, and mindful of my daily choices and habits. I still make time for political action. Taking action, many kinds (creative, practical, spiritual and political) actually helps to alleviate grief, and gives practical expression to the need to make a difference.

What I really like about the Vox article’s responses is the perspective. It is true that we are in battle. It is true that it is as dire as fighting Nazis in WWII was, and as fighting to end slavery during the Civil War was. In addition, we don’t let ourselves or anyone else off the hook because: there is still time to improve the situation, each person plays a part and can make a difference, and we aren’t going to believe the lies of economists and fossil fuel moguls.

In addition to all of this, there is a need to make space in life to breathe, to dream, and to connect with nature, not just to ground and center ourselves, but to reach out to nature and the beings there, to see how we can be of help and comfort to it and them. Moreover, we need to understand that all that we may have depended on as “normal” and “stable” is no longer a wise or moral pathway for the future.

Lastly, the charge that we must change our politics is a big one, and it is already happening in many ways, but it is a knock down, drag out, dirty fight for this particular shift. Still, it can happen. Everyone has to get on board. The other half is activism through daily habits, choices, networking, and movements on all levels: personal, local, regional, national and global.

What are your thoughts on all of this?

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