How to Be When the World is Burning

Jul 26, 2023

Like most people who pay attention to the climate, including perhaps you, I’ve been twisted with despair these last months as I read doom-filled report after report about the climate disaster. I facilitate between wanting to simply attend to my own desires — to write my novel (with a climate change angle), work with my non-fiction book coaching clients, enjoy summer, and wanting to drop everything and work full time on the crisis.

Then I read this article by Jia Tolentino and this quote in particular by Leslie Davenport, a licensed therapist in Washington State, steadied me.

“When it comes to climate change, the brain’s desire to resolve anxiety and distress often leads either to denial or fatalism: some people convince themselves that climate change is not a big deal, or that someone else will take care of it; others conclude that all is lost and there’s nothing to be done. Davenport pushes her clients to aim for a middle ground of sustainable distress. We must, she says, become more comfortable in uncertainty, and remain present and active in the midst of fear and grief…”

I was struck by a number of thoughts and ideas that I hope will be helpful to you.

  1. Writing, creating and climate activism require the same flavor of courage — the ability to take action without knowing if what you are doing will work or matter to anyone besides yourself. Writing this newsletter feels exactly that way.
  1. Leslie Davenport used her own interests and skills to push for “climate-related training requirements and created programs for therapists similar to the modules that are mandated on such topics as elder abuse and self-harm.” Where within the writing communities can I do the same? Speaking of which, if you haven’t seen this great resource for storytellers and writers, check out this article in the Washington Post. And this resource by the writer behind Don’t Look Up.
  1. Always I return to the fact that action matters. We have the luxury of processing our feelings and we must, but we can’t wait to feel ready or calm to act. When we fall into despair, we believe the pernicious message that nothing matters or that we need the perfect solution and to see results now
  1. We need to help everyone identify as a climate activist. Because think about it: identity matters. If or when you are identified as ____ (fill in the blank for your life) how you saw yourself changed and so did how you showed up in the world. The simplest example I can share is how after attending my writing retreats, many people saw themselves as a writer for the first time and that radically changed how much they wrote and what goals they pursued. If more of us can claim being climate activists, it will become easier to fly less, eat less beef, participate in climate activism movements, and have gentle but honest conversations with our friends. 


Claim the identity of a climate activist.  Do it in a conversation with a friend, by adding it to your social media bio, by choosing a climate book to read with your book club or church group, by exhibiting your climate inspired art in your home and throwing a party to share it. 

You are a climate activist because you read this far! 


Cherry Jeffs has a glorious climate inspired series – just scroll down a tad to see it.

Watch Heidi Harmon’s TED talk. Heidi has been a climate activist for more than 20 years and did great work as the mayor of San Luis Obispo. 

Jessica Kovan is creating and exhibiting climate art and you can see her most recent exhibit here and an article about her climate art journaling practice here


Tell me how this post helped or what you would like to see in the future. THANK YOU for being in this with me.

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