Many of us in the climate community were bracing for last week's release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Sixth Assessment Report - not just because of what it contains, but because of its possible impact on climate action efforts. With today's short-attention-span news cycles and plenty of competition when it comes to urgent challenges of the moment, would even such a momentous scientific report translate to action in the real world? Does the IPCC report matter?
Coming from someone who works on climate issues day in and day out, this might seem like a sacrilegious question! So what do I mean?
On one hand, the IPCC report provides the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change. The findings are stark: it confirms unequivocally that it's real, it's us, and it's bad - and to make sure it doesn't get worse, we must make massive transformations across our society and economy very quickly. It's critical that leaders and policymakers have access to the best scientific data about the changes that are here and coming so their decisions are informed by reality, not wishful thinking. With this report, the stakes of our policy choices couldn't be clearer.
At the same time, during a summer where increasingly extreme climate impacts surround us everywhere we look, the grim headlines prompted by this report can be hard to take in. Not because the vast majority of people don't care - but because we care too much! So many of us are feeling the heaviness of all that's going on our world and personal lives, it's easy for even those who are already climate concerned to feel overwhelmed and tune out - or let our fears paralyze us.
So, how can we respond?
The data and science in the IPCC report are valuable, but more science and data are not what will help most people bridge the gap between caring about the climate crisis and actually doing something about it. Thankfully, there’s been increasing attention to the social and psychological dimensions that can help us link care and action, in our own personal lives and as we seek to help others engage with the climate crisis as well.
A recent article titled bluntly, "How to live in a burning world without losing your mind," contained this piece of wisdom:
"The way out of this confusion is neither feel-good solutionism nor submitting to the apocalypse. Instead, we need to learn to make space, in our conversations, activism, and media, for feeling grief, anxiety, guilt, and fear about climate change, no matter how difficult or dark. Where many of us rush into the role of town crier—a Paul Revere shouting out warnings--we may be better off...becoming a guide, helping those around us work through difficult emotions and figure out how they can take action." (emphasis mine)
So, back to the IPCC report. Does it matter? Yes! But how we choose to respond matters more. The scary headlines and sense of urgency can feed our anxiety – but we can’t let our response stop there. We can recognize this anxiety and the valid feelings of fear and grief that fuel it, offer ourselves and others compassion, and bring our full selves – including our range of human emotions – to the work that needs doing.
More suggested reading and resources on navigating these issues:
We’re all in this together – let’s work on bringing our whole selves to the work of healing and transforming our world, because as the IPCC report makes clear, every fraction of a degree of warming matters. By taking care of ourselves and others, we can turn our emotions – fear and anxiety, but also love and wonder for our incredible planet – into tools for action for the long haul.
-Abby Huseth, Outreach Director