Coping through climate change
Sometimes numbers just knife you in the gut — 78 per cent of young Canadians report that climate change is impacting their mental health.
Small wonder, since half of them (48 per cent) say humanity is doomed. Those are just a couple of findings from new research out of Lakehead University surveying Canadians aged 16 to 25.
If you’re in that age group, or have young people in your life, the results probably echo your own experience. No matter your age, if you’re tuned in, some degree of dread probably is your experience.
Sweltering under the Pacific Northwest heat dome, I certainly felt panic rise in my own mind. It’s not just the impacts themselves but what they portend.
Growing up, my generation’s great fear was the possibility of global thermonuclear war. Young people today are faced with the inevitability of planetary impacts. Our minds have to grapple with that knowledge on top of pandemic disorientation and the other looming unknowns (what jobs will our robot overlords permit us?), all while glued to devices generating algorithmic angst.
Seventy-three per cent of young people told the Lakehead researchers they find the future frightening.
- 71 per cent feel angry about the government’s response to climate change
- 69 per cent feel abandoned by the Canadian government
- 40 per cent say their feelings about climate change are negatively affecting their life on a daily basis
- 39 per cent are hesitant to have children
It truly is Generation Dread, the title of Britt Wray’s incredibly useful book. If you’re looking for resources to manage your own mental health, or to help others in distress, her book and substack newsletter are real gifts — a rare blend of open-hearted reflection and scientific precision.
Born and raised in Toronto, Wray worked as a science journalist for the CBC and BBC, and her own experience with dread and questions about having children motivated her to research mental health amid climate disruption. She’s now at Stanford as a fellow in human and planetary health (she also works with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, among other connections).
It’s not a question of mental illness, Wray told me last year. Ecological distress is a perfectly sane response to our predicament.
“Maybe the problem is people who are not feeling eco-anxiety,” she says.
She warns against leaping too quickly towards antidotes like positive thinking or joining in collective action — both can be very important but they can also be used to bypass authentic experience, as many burned-out activists can attest.
No amount of climate optimism can erase the mental impacts of actual floods and fires. Australia has given us a stark case study. A whopping 80 per cent of Australians say they’ve lived through extreme weather in the last few years. Three-quarters of those say it’s caused anxiety; half report depression. Nearly one-third report symptoms of PTSD.
Distilling years of academic research and her own experience of distress, Wray recommends a two-fold approach: connecting inwards to transform oneself and connecting outwards to transform the world.
The step inwards acknowledges the psychological impacts. This step might include therapy with climate-aware therapists and mindfulness practice. Both help to validate our experience and expose the forces buffeting our minds. Simply learning that “eco-anxiety” is a recognized thing can bring relief.
But Wray emphasizes that this inward journey shouldn’t only be solitary — distress is much worse when suffered alone and we need to break climate silence in day-to-day life. Two-thirds of the young Canadians in that Lakehead survey say they don’t talk to others about climate change or feel dismissed if they do. Metaphorically speaking, “We can stand in the fire together,” Wray says.
The second step is connecting outwards. Here, too, Generation Dread is admirably honest. We need to engage with others in the work of transforming the world while recognizing there is no short-term fix. There may not be a “fix” at all. But there is a lot we can do.
Despite their fears for the future, 71 per cent of young Canadians still believe that “together we can do something” and half of those believe they have something to contribute.
The explosion of youth climate activism has already reshaped global climate politics. Organizations like Future Majority aim to mobilize the largest group of voters into a force in Canadian politics. Non-profits like the Good Grief Network help individuals find communities to lean into painful feelings, to “metabolize collective grief” and orient towards meaningful action. The Climate Emergency Unit is organizing for a national Youth Climate Corps, modelled on a successful grassroots pilot around Nelson, B.C.
Ecological anxiety is a thoroughly sane response to planetary crisis, it may also be necessary to finding a way through the climate era. In fact, one way to understand the rise in eco-distress is a measure of breakdown in our defence mechanisms. “We won’t make uncomfortable changes if we’re feeling comfortable,” Wray says.
“Dread is a resource floating freely in the air, and it’s this generation’s job to capture it.”
David Suzuki, never one to mince words, called out bullshit in an interview with David McKie.
We learned that Canada’s spies are spooked about climate change, warning it’s a grave and growing threat to national security and prosperity.
Matteo Cimellaro profiled Arlyn Charlie’s film Dèeddhoo Gòonlii and asks, “What will happen to culture and heritage if climate change ruins the land?”
Marc Fawcett Atkinson detailed how “White men are the super spreaders of climate denialism.”
“Researchers have found a tight relationship between harmful forms of masculinity, right-wing extremism and the refusal to deal with the climate crisis. Fostered by the fossil fuel industry, this confluence has been dubbed ‘petro-masculinity.’”
The nine-month silence
Steven Guilbeault called out the nine-month silence over spills of toxic oilsands effluent:
"It is very worrisome that for over half a year, the Alberta regulator did not communicate with (Environment Canada), nor did they communicate with the Indigenous nations."
Alice Rigney, an elder from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation downstream from the oilsands, told Canada’s National Observer “we are still being lied to.” Elizabeth May called it “an outrageous act of environmental racism.”
Apparently keen to show some spine amidst the accusations, the Alberta Energy Regulator issued an order to stop production for a different oilsands facility — it turns out the company was found to be out-of-compliance 93 times between March and July 2022. Strangely, the order was issued in March 2023.
Meanwhile, it was revealed that oil companies in Alberta owe communities $268 million in unpaid taxes despite booming industry profits.
The big oilsands companies aren’t being silent in their advertising. You can’t have missed the Pathways Alliance ads and big promises. Marco Chown Oved reports they “collectively booked a record profit of more than $35 billion in 2022, but spent only $500 million on a plan to capture emissions from the oilsands, pipe them across Alberta and pump them underground by 2030.
“Meanwhile, the companies have asked for public funding to cover more than half of their $16.5-billion climate change mitigation project.”
We should include the oil and gas industry in any investigation of foreign interference in our elections, argues Gordon Laxer. The industry’s front group has repeatedly engaged what it has called “paths to federal election victory.” Laxer writes:
“My research shows that the Canadian-ness of large oil corporations operating in Canada is an inch deep. None are majority Canadian-owned. Of the 48 corporations on CAPP’s 2020 board, 30 were fully or majority foreign-owned. Seven more were very likely majority foreign-owned. That makes 37 of the 48 (77 per cent) CAPP’s board members wholly or majority foreign-owned and influenced. CAPP gets approximately 97 per cent of its revenue from them.”
The aptly named tropical cyclone Freddy is about to hit Mozambique — for the second time.
Freddy, formed over a month ago, has set the record for the longest-lived tropical cyclone as well as the record for the highest accumulated cyclone energy — as much energy on its own as an entire North Atlantic hurricane season. It’s been a nightmare on the Mozambique Channel, careening back and forth between Madagascar and the African coast.
Terrifying #climate extremes at 1.1°C of global warming... https://t.co/cxT9ws6sBM— Harjeet Singh (@harjeet11) March 7, 2023
New research has pinpointed 55 “methane bombs” — huge gasfields around the world where methane leakage from production would cause over a billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent. The Montney Formation in Western Canada ranks third:
A key part of the Montney formation lies under the territories of the Blueberry River First Nations, which won a major legal victory in 2021.
Enbridge is arguing that court decision constitutes an “emergency” and is asking the B.C. government for an emergency override to prevent the expiry of its permission to build a new pipeline — the Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission Project.
“B.C.’s NDP government is already struggling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions amid a flurry of new fossil fuel projects,” writes Kai Nagata. “Approving another mega pipeline would only deepen that contradiction, with an election coming next year.”
Let’s turn to a rundown of some better news.
Beyond oil and gas
The government of Tuvalu has formally joined the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) — an alliance of governments committed to phase out oil and gas production co-chaired by Denmark and Costa Rica.
It has been such a great journey to support Tuvalu and seeing this partnership come to life! #BOGA @BilleHermann https://t.co/yQ2sxqUVU3— Ngedikes Olai Uludong (@nuludong) March 7, 2023
We may be past the peak in the global market for internal combustion vehicles. Bloomberg New Energy Finance announced it is now “confident the global market for internal combustion vehicles peaked in 2017 and is now in structural decline.”
“This may seem self-evident to those watching the market closely, but is likely still jarring for others. Forecasts for oil demand issued just a few years ago still assumed steady growth in sales of these vehicles well into the 2030s.”
For those wondering about China, the trend there is “even more pronounced.” BNEF is expecting vehicles with plugs to make up about one-third of all passenger vehicles sold in China this year.
Bigger in Texas
You might expect California would be the U.S. leader in renewable energy. It’s actually Texas — by a huge margin.
The U.S. is the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas and Texas is the centre of the industry. But the Lone Star State also produced 136,118 gigawatt-hours from wind and solar last year. California was the runner-up at 52,927 GWh.
It’s adding up to real progress in our neighbour’s power grid — climate pollution from electricity has been falling for over a decade.
If you're looking for the good news in the US energy transition, this is it. A large preponderance of the new generating capacity being added to the grid is from renewables (and look, geothermal's starting to show up!). https://t.co/m3SPlnhlyO pic.twitter.com/E3tNYlsEH0— David Roberts (@drvolts) March 8, 2023
Catching the sun in Australia
Remember all the naysayers claiming no grid could integrate more than a few per cent of renewable energy?
It took less than a decade for South Australia to transition its electricity grid. Wind and solar accounted for 80% of state demand from December 2022 to February 2023. https://t.co/5fwBOK9ZMY— Canadian Climate Institute (@ClimateInstit) March 7, 2023
Electric special delivery! The U.S. Postal Service is planning to buy over 9,000 electric vehicles and 14,000 charging stations this year. https://t.co/nIJAAFwCjj— Rewiring America (@rewiringamerica) March 6, 2023
Last year, coal demand in the U.K. dropped to the lowest level since 1757 — that’s earlier than historians date the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Analysis: UK emissions fall 3.4% in 2022 as coal use drops to lowest level since 1757 | @DrSimEvans— Carbon Brief (@CarbonBrief) March 10, 2023
Read here: https://t.co/3Iwxm1hz1l pic.twitter.com/cGrj89oiQ1
High Seas Treaty
I’ll leave you with this account of the “excruciating” negotiations to produce an unprecedented global treaty to protect the high seas by Rochelle Baker. It’s a pretty rare day that an agreement is cheered by everyone from the U.S. and Chinese governments to Greenpeace and Oceans North. But the goal of protecting 30 per cent of lands and oceans (agreed at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal last December) is one step closer.
“Without an agreement to establish rigorous protections for marine conservation areas, it’d be near impossible for the international community to meet its promise to protect 30 per cent of the world's lands and ocean by 2030,” said Susanna Fuller, vice-president of Oceans North.
That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading Zero Carbon. Please forward it along and always feel free to write to me with feedback or suggestions for future newsletters at [email protected]
Support for this issue of Zero Carbon came from The McConnell and Trottier foundations and I-SEA.