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Saoirse McHugh: How to deal with the feeling of hopelessness in the face of climate change

The Green Party candidate says people must unite to fight against climate change.

Saoirse McHugh Environmentalist

In her new fortnightly column for TheJournal.ie, Saoirse McHugh of the Green Party writes about what we can do as individuals in the face of climate chaos. 

A FEW DAYS ago I read an article about the huge wildfires in the Arctic Circle and felt the familiar cold wash of hopelessness.

This feeling has been a regular companion of mine over the past few years. Often, it
passes over me for just a few seconds, but sometimes it stays with me for months.

It is the hopelessness of witnessing our planet hurtle towards catastrophic, irreversible change at an ever-increasing pace and feeling like I can do nothing to halt it. This feeling can be triggered by an article outlining some dire incident of unprecedented ecological collapse or a scientific paper predicting that we are already past the point of no return.

But sometimes it just sneaks up on me when I’m brushing my teeth or drinking coffee and I realise that every single aspect of my life is tied up in this crisis.

I believe that this hopelessness is felt, to some degree, by almost everybody in our society.

Some choose to deny the facts, others to ignore it and I understand why. Environmental collapse is a grave and horrible reality to face, but face it we must. Species are dying, children are striking, and scientists are calling for action – but nothing is changing fast enough and we continue drilling, making, buying, and burning our planet away.

We all deal with this feeling in different ways. For me, when I first started acknowledging the scale of the crisis, a type of frantic, puritanical guilt set in. I couldn’t enjoy an evening out and would wear a blanket around the house instead of turning on the heating. A trip to the supermarket would have me riddled with anxiety and I would leave with an unwrapped head of locally-grown broccoli and no idea what I was going to eat for dinner.

It was an uncomfortable time for me because no amount of organic, vegan food
and recycling was ever enough to lift that hopelessness.

How to cope

The day that I began talking about my worry and fear for the future was the day that I began to fight against that hopelessness. The grim reality of environmental breakdown is never a fun or comfortable topic of conversation and that’s why we don’t talk about it enough.

It is also the reason we need to talk about it. In my experience, most people share my concerns and talking about it can provide a form of therapy, but more importantly it creates solidarity and the sense that together we can – and we desperately want to – leave the world a better place.

While I still grow a large amount of the food I eat, recycle militantly, fly as little as possible, and buy new clothes only when necessary, I know that individual choice and guilt will not solve this; the market will not solve this.

This crisis is global and systemic and so are the solutions required. Public pressure is needed to bring about these solutions. That pressure is built by talking to your family, your friends, and to strangers, joining grassroots groups, supporting NGOs, attending protests, joining political parties, and demanding equitable and immediate action from those in power.

Every facet of our lives will be impacted by climate breakdown and ignoring it is – unfortunately -  not making it go away. If we are to respond adequately to this crisis, it will have to become the biggest global conversation we have ever had. By uniting our voices they become impossible to ignore. If we don’t imagine and demand a better future we will allow it to be shaped for us and old inequalities and injustices will be reproduced.

The road ahead will be tough but as long as good people practice courage and solidarity then there is room for hope. If and when environmental collapse causes you to despair, take the advice that activist Joe Hill offered as he faced the firing squad: “Don’t mourn, organise!”

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About the author:

Saoirse McHugh  / Environmentalist

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