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Chatting about climate anxiety with Dr. Britt Wray (@brittwray)

Date: Feb 22, 2022, Twitter Spaces

Outline of the chat (about 30min total):

What is climate anxiety?

Can you give us a preview of your new book?

What’s one unexpected thing you learned since starting this work?

(All discussion paraphrased unless it's in direct quotes)

Eric Holthaus: I'm so excited to speak with you. Your work has been a source of strength for me, and your person-first writing on climate has really helped shape my own approach. Your TED Talk on climate change and mental health has almost 2.5 million views. For many people, you're probably the first voice that people find when they get up the courage to engage with their climate anxiety. Can you define what climate anxiety is in your own words?

Dr. Britt Wray: What we call "climate anxiety" is a bunch of co-occuring feelings that you can experience when confronting the climate crisis. There’s more than just anxiety: Helplessness, grief, fear, sadness, guilt, shame.

Basically, the definition about what it means to be human has changed. What we're seeing is people responding to that fact. We are facing synchronous crisis in nearly all parts of our world. People are experiencing extreme forms of discomfort at just being alive. It's normal to feel weird about all of it.

These feelings tend to affect younger people, but many older people feel this distress too.

EH: What suggestions do you have for folks who come to you and are in distress?

BW: I certainly didn’t intend to be one of the first people that people find in these situations.

When people approach me in crisis, I try to be very clear with them: I’m not a clinician, I’m not a therapist. When people come to me who are feeling suicidal, I try to show them they are not alone. They are reasonable for feeling this way. These feelings are a symptom of a very sick society that’s not built on care and partnership.

I tell them they should talk to a climate aware therapist, because that's a real thing now and it's a wonderful resource.

Also, I can't say enough about building community with other people who get it.EH: How did you decide to turn what you've learned having these conversations into a book?

BW: All this began for me when my partner and I were contemplating having a kid. And then as I started to learn more and more, it felt like my entire world was crashing down. I was that friend at the party who brought up climate change in every conversation. But basically, my climate awareness terrified me on an existential level, and I had to figure out: How alone am I? How many others like me are out there? What can I do with this rage?

Writing the book helped me.

My partner and I ended up having a child recently after a four-year internal struggle. He’s doing well. His birth reminded me of the preciousness of life. It also reminded me that all activism is not just external. I had a lot of work to do on myself, and since then I've challenged myself to have less black and white thinking and cultivate joy along the way.

EH: What advice would you have for yourself, five years ago, when you were just starting your journey with climate anxiety?

BW: I'd tell myself it's going to be worth doing the research, it's going to be worth changing your career, it's going to be worth finding a way of being true to this distress. It's worth finding deep wells of purpose.

Basically, it feels really good to pay attention to this stuff and brush the bullshit aside. Stick with it.