WHEN MY KIDS WERE LITTLE, one of their favorite books for me to read was The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. In the story, the Once-ler destroys the beautiful valley where he lives by chopping down all of its Truffula trees for the sake of his business. Repeatedly, the Lorax, who speaks for the trees, warns the Once-ler about the danger of his actions. Eventually, the Lorax and all the other animals are forced to leave. But before he goes, the Lorax leaves behind a rock with the word Unless on it. In the end, the Once-ler gives the boy in the story the last Truffula seed in order to regrow the forest. The tagline of the story is: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
I thought of that story the other day when I opened my email and saw a message from Imago, a local environmental organization I have worked with. The subject line was: “Turn Climate Anxiety into Action.” Climate anxiety? I didn’t even know that was a thing.
Well, it turns out it is. And more anxiety is the last thing we need right now.
There is a wide range of definitions for climate anxiety. The one thing that all of the reports and articles agree upon, though, is that it’s real, and it’s not going away anytime soon.
In light of what I was reading, I now understood what I was feeling last year when I prayed for my nephew and his girlfriend while they kept track of the fires in California and prepared to leave on a moment’s notice. Suddenly, climate change was no longer an issue that I could neatly push away as a problem for someone else to deal with. Now it was becoming personal. I’m embarrassed to say that’s what it took.
It’s not as if I had an excuse. I had heard my kids and their friends talk about it and their fear of what is to come. I’ve even heard them question having kids and bringing them into such a situation. On the flip side, I’ve heard members of older generations gloss over the topic, saying it’s not their problem because they won’t be around. I read and reported on “Laudato Si,’” Pope Francis’ encyclical about the environment. In it, he called climate change “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
There is Hope
And while each of those things individually didn’t register with me, collectively they suddenly did. Apparently, all it took was an email subject line.
That’s not to say the anxiety has gone away. Given the state of things, that would be impossible. I do, however, feel better knowing that there are things that can be done, that I can do. St. Francis would encourage action on behalf of creation. Pope Francis has certainly called us to action. And thankfully those working on behalf of creation are offering help.
On their website, Imago offers hope and a path to follow, saying: “Worrying about the future of the planet can feel really overwhelming. It can be hard to think positively or feel like anything we’re doing is making a difference. But what if instead of letting climate anxiety consume us, we’re committed to building community and resilience? How can we learn to channel our climate anxiety into action and hope?” Those are good questions.