Anger. Fear. Frustration. Grief. Hopelessness and helplessness. And shame.
They’re just some of the wide range of emotions people often feel quite normally and naturally, often subconsciously, when encountering scientists’ explanations of risks posed by a warming climate.
But keep in mind: Climate scientists are people too, and they too can experience strong emotional feelings in dealing day-in and day-out with what they see lying ahead for a warming planet.
In this installment of our monthly “This is Not Cool” video for Yale Climate Connections, University of Washington scientist Sarah Myhre and National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Jeffrey Kiehl share their perspectives on what each describes as the very human, reasonable, and to-be-expected emotions people feel in considering climate change. While interviewed and filmed separately and over different time periods, Kiehl and Myhre appear in this video almost to be addressing each other’s points.
Fearful “of the future, the consequences, and the chance that we just can’t get this thing right,” Myhre points to common reactions she sees in addressing climate change with diverse audiences. She asks rhetorically how she personally can deal with the “shame” she feels in considering the warmer world her son may be living in over the next several decades. And the shame she feels over her own air travel or her inability to wean herself more fully off fossil fuels.
“No, no, this can’t be true,” Myhre characterizes some as feeling when exposed to scientific evidence on the risks of warming. “I don’t want to engage this problem,” others lament, feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the concerns. Myhre says she often feels “anger that we’re all kind of backed into this problem,” and some end up as a result showing almost a “disregard” for sustaining the planet.
“Some of the most difficult emotions we have as humans,” Myhre finds among audiences he has addressed over the years. There’s a sense of personal blame too, Kiehl adds: “It’s my fault.”
“There’s nothing wrong with how you’re feeling” on absorbing the “traumatic information” about a warming climate, Kiehl says. “A lot of it is unconscious, it’s normal.”
“I bring it back to ‘solutions,’” in the face of such emotional outpourings, Kiehl says. He emphasizes that along with the “big choices” to be made to avoid the most dire impacts, it’s important that people recognize a range of promising “solutions” that can help them “build emotional resiliency” and also help avoid or delay the most serious adverse impacts.
In the face of unnerving potential impacts from a warming climate, Myhre and Kiehl agree, “there are solutions” and ways for audiences, and scientists speaking to them, to funnel their emotions into corrective actions, such as those involving energy conservation and efficiency, renewable energy, and vast numbers of actions at the state and local, and not just national and global, levels.