A stick figure with a speech bubble coming out of their mouth that has a picture of the earth in it. Other speech bubbles with other assorted topics (e.g.
Hi there

Happy almost-Earth Day! How’s your existential dread doin’?

I just ask because statistically speaking, you’re probably at least a little freaked out by climate change. In 2021 alone, searches for the term "climate anxiety" spiked more than 500 percent. In the U.S., more than two-thirds of adults report feeling some level of eco-anxiety. And another study, which surveyed more than 10,000 young people from 10 countries around the world, found that 84% were at least moderately worried. Research on the prevalence of eco-anxiety is still in its early days, but it seems highly likely that soaring levels of climate concern will be found in other populations as well. 

But most of the time, you wouldn’t know how ubiquitous these feelings are — because we’re not talking about them. Sure, we talk about adjacent things, like sustainable energy and net zero emissions and which plant milk is best for the planet. But what about the icky emotions? What about the hard conversations?

Nobody likes feeling uncomfortable. But if we want to have any hope of meaningfully addressing climate change, we need to get better at sitting with all of that discomfort. The question is, how do we do that?

In today’s newsletter, we’re tackling that question. Why is it so hard for us to talk about climate change? And what can we do to get better at having those conversations? We’re exploring the research below. 

Happy Earth Day, and until next time,
Katie and the definitely-not-uncomfortable team @ TDL

📧 Do you enjoy being forced to confront your deepest darkest fears? No? Well, you should sign up for the TDL newsletter anyway.
Today’s topics 👀
🌎 Deep Dive: The Barriers to Honest Climate Conversations  
🎙 Podcast: Keeping Cool in the Face of Eco-Anxiety  
🔨 Viewpoints: A Climate Emotion Toolkit  
🌎 The Barriers to Honest Climate Conversations  

+ We’re wired for avoidance. When the going gets tough, we’ve evolved to make like the proverbial ostrich and stick our heads in the sand. Most often, it’s just easier to ignore the bad stuff than it is to address it.

+ We feel hopeless. When it comes to the climate, many of us are trapped by learned helplessness. We’ve come to believe that there’s nothing we can do about climate change — so we don’t try, even if we’re worried about the future. 

+ We underestimate how worried others are. We tend to think of climate action as a hot-button issue. But it’s not. As many as 80% of Americans support major climate mitigation policies. This false belief has us locked in a spiral of silence: nobody talks about climate change because they assume nobody else wants to hear it.

+ We’ve pathologized climate emotions. Often, the conversations we do have about climate change frame our difficult feelings around it as something that we need to resolve, ASAP. Feeling eco-anxious? Do some meditation about it. Stop reading the news. These suggestions, while well-intended, only help us to reduce our discomfort in the short term, and can be invalidating to those experiencing some pretty intense emotions.

PODCAST: Keeping Cool in the Face of Eco-Anxiety
ICYMI: Last year, we were joined on the Decision Corner podcast by Britt Wray, whose research focuses on climate emotions. She told us about why it’s so difficult for us to face the ecological crisis, the psychological impacts of climate change on vulnerable groups, and tools we can use to better process everything we’re feeling. Listen on the TDL website, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Britt wray podcast
🔨 A Climate Emotion Toolkit

It’s clear that we need to normalize having uncomfortable conversations about climate change. But on a more basic level, we also need to practice working with difficult emotions.

That might sound like woo-woo nonsense, but it’s actually the core of exposure and response prevention (ERP), an evidence-based treatment for OCD and other disorders. Research shows just building our tolerance for unpleasant emotions can change our brain functioning to alleviate anxiety.

Below are a few things you can do to sit with your climate emotions. You can also take a look at this shortlist of resources for more climate-specific tools.

+ Get curious. When tricky climate emotions start to bubble up, your instinct may be to do something to alleviate them: change the topic, crack a joke, enter a mindless social media scroll. But what happens if you resist that urge? How do the emotions play out in your mind and body? Try to simply observe them non-judgmentally.

+ Start with some structured climate conversations. More and more organizations are creating spaces for the eco-anxious to gather and talk about their climate emotions. I myself participated in a conversation through Climate Awakening a few months back: I was matched with a few strangers, all from different parts of the world, and we spent the better part of an hour responding to conversational prompts prepared by the organizer. As distinctly not-fun as that may sound, it was actually a wonderful and validating experience.

+ Learn how to take breaks without disengaging. Just to be clear: all of this is hard stuff to process, and it’s okay to step back when you need to. The challenge is stepping back without slipping back into denial. This edition of the Gen Dread newsletter shares some tips for striking the right balance.

Two graphs visualizing young people’s anxieties about climate change. Key insights: 62% are either very or extremely worried about climate change. 68% feel sad and afraid.
Results of a survey of 10,000 young people about their climate-related emotions. Source: Thompson, T. (2021). Young People’s Climate Anxiety Revealed in Landmark Survey’, Nature, 22 September.
Social Norms:
Research shows that people are more likely to initiate environmental conversations if doing so is aligned with their community’s social norms. Learn more about how social norms govern our behaviour — and how to reshape them — on the TDL website.
Opportunities in behaviour science
TDL is hiring! We’re hiring for a number of positions, both remote and based in our Montreal office. Some open roles include: 
  • Associate Project Leader
  • Summer Research Fellow

Find out more by visiting our careers portal.

Want to have your voice heard? We'd love to hear from you. Reply to this email to share your thoughts, feedback, and questions with the TDL team.

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