It seems that feeling anxious, distressed and fearful is our collective new normal.
I have been feeling some degree of this distress for several years. And I know I am not alone. The level of anxiety and depression and danger that many are feeling right now about the coronavirus pandemic are what some have been experiencing for a long time — about the climate emergency.
People may think, “That’s impossible. Coronavirus is much more dangerous.” Maybe, but for me, the feeling of internal, existential fear feels like an extension of that other thing — that thing that I wake up thinking about and I go to sleep thinking about every night. It’s a feeling of descending calamity.
You see, coronavirus likely transferred from an animal to a human, and part of the reason it did so is because of the changing climate. Bats apparently have an internal temperature of 105°, much warmer than that of humans, so they are carriers of pathogens that can live in warmer bodies.
When the same pathogen attacks humans, a typical fever doesn’t effectively kill off the pathogen and the carrier might find themselves in a fight for their life.
That’s the thing about pathogens. It’s also the thing about bacteria and tick-borne and mosquito-borne illnesses. Infections and illnesses are increasing.
Species and organisms and viruses are mutating and evolving to be able to survive warmer temperatures, and because we have no immunity to survive novel pathogens, we are all susceptible.
Yes, coronavirus is a devastating threat, but it is also a symptom of a sick planet. And infections and illnesses are just part of the tsunami that is coming.
Until quite recently, people outside the environmental movement often looked at activists with suspicion, as if concern about the environmental emergency was the purview of radicals, not reasonable people. For the most part, people didn’t feel the threat because the danger didn’t feel immediate.
How does one wrap one’s mind around the fiery deaths of 85,000 koalas? How do we accept that people had to walk into rivers and lakes and billabongs and the ocean to escape fire in Australia? That was just a few months ago. How do we accept the idea that a massive city in India completely ran out of water? That was last summer.
How do we accept that droughts, hurricanes, fire and pandemics will be a yearly occurrence?
This is what climate angst feels like, however. It is a feeling of anger and upset and helplessness and frustration. Inescapable, like a dark shadow, a deadly threat, that can appear out of nowhere, targeting your own children, or coming from them directly.
Hysteria is known as an emotion that is excessive, exaggerated, or out of control. Is it irrational to feel fearful that the future of humanity is at risk?
After we conquer coronavirus, which we will, something else will come along. The only hope that we have is to stop the warming of the planet.
Despite what our president tells us, our task now is not to get our economy spinning again; it is not to get industry up and running again. Doing that would be feeding the illness. The cure is exactly the opposite.
So when we are at home engaging in social isolation, we need to begin to think about how we can transfer what we are doing now, to what is coming next. We must also recognize that for many, there is no engaging in social isolation because many are working on the front lines.
People who work in hospitals, doing every imaginable job, those working in grocery stores, and the millions of others working all the essential jobs that are keeping us alive, these people are our last defense.
For many, there will be no second chances. But for many more, there will be second, third and fourth chances.
We must drastically reduce carbon output, stop toxic emissions, and stop the warming of the planet. If we do this, we may have a chance to reduce catastrophic climate events and curtail pathogens from infecting us with diseases that we have no immunity to fight off.
We also have to preserve hope, because hope resides in all of us, silent and powerful.
Diana Bray is a clinical Psychologist, Mom and Climate Activist who is running for US Senate in Colorado