Thursday, 18 August 2016

Climate change is depressing. Is there any point?

Yesterday, I got the email below somewhat out of the blue, in response to my writing about how I feel about climate change. I was actually really glad to receive the note, and that I had a chance to respond. In the off-chance that these words might help others feeling the same way out there, I'm posting them here with personal information removed.


Dear Professor Carilli,

So, this is rather weird. I am really sorry about sending you this random email, considering you don't know me, and I am sure have more important things to do [note from Jessica: this is, to me, the definition of really important!]. I just need a little help, and I saw something you wrote on, and I thought...I have no idea. So, I suffer from severe anxiety and depression, and my mind has seriously focused in on climate change. It scares the absolute hell out of me, and it has basically led me to think that there is no point in my being alive anymore. The world is so screwed, there is no point in me sticking around anymore, or possibly having a child who would have to live in such a terrible world. I know this is partially my sickness, but I also feel like there is legit idea. I don't want to die, but the last few days have hurt so terribly, and I am so afraid all the time, I just have trouble finding other options. This morning, I started googling about finding hope in climate change, and I found what you said online, and I guess I just wanted someone to tell me that there is some hope for the future. Because right now, I do not want to see such a miserable future. God, I really did used to be such a happy positive person, but these last few years...they just been really hard.

Thank you for reading my email and listening to my depressing rambling. I hope that you have a wonderful day


Dear [redacted],

Thanks for your email. I’m glad you found what I wrote, and I’m not sure if it was helpful or made you feel worse, but in any case I’m glad that you reached out. While I can’t pretend to know how you feel, I can assure you that you aren’t alone in this sometimes hopeless feeling.

When I was 18, I got a tattoo that says “Never Give Up.” This is a reminder to myself that I often think about in this struggle with “what’s the point, when everything is going to shit?” It helps me remember that although humans can be really destructive and thoughtless, we are also astoundingly clever, and have come up with some really amazing technological solutions for environmental problems. I sometimes flip-flop between thinking that yes, the earth would probably be better off if humans all just kicked the bucket – and then thinking, no: humans are animals, and we have just as much right to live on this earth as other creatures – we just need to use our intellect to live on this planet WITH the other creatures more fairly. I love when I hear about some incredible technological solution that has the potential to improve the lives of humans (particularly the disadvantaged) as well as the environment. Killing ourselves, not having children, or living in caves is just not a good solution for anyone…so if there are ways that we can invent ourselves out of catastrophic climate change, I’m all for it!
I also like to focus on personal choices that make a difference for climate change - like hanging my laundry.
I firmly believe that many small efforts do add up to matter.
There are so many cool examples of major scientific progress and optimism, and this gives me a lot of hope.
Here are a few examples that I like to think about:

Sometimes it seems like it would be good to just abandon ship and give up, but the flip side is that this world needs people like me and you to work hard to make a difference, and to keep shouting about the importance of science and the environment. So I hope you don’t abandon ship, or give up on having kids. I think the world needs more people like us, who care deeply and want to make a difference, and will raise kids who care deeply and will continue making a difference into the future. It’s definitely scary to think that in a few decades, things could be much different from how they are today – and it could be bad. But it could also be better – maybe soon we will make drastic changes to the status quo, and instead of spiraling into disaster, we will rise to the challenge, turn things around, and rise like the Phoenix! What do you think?

Thanks again for reaching out. I hope this helps a little bit.
Also, VOTE!