Although research is still lacking, some mental health professionals recommend that people who experience climate anxiety try to take action: make an emergency backpack, write a letter to a local politician or, if possible, join a climate group.
But even people who have centered their lives on climate action and social justice can sometimes end up feeling depressed and anxious. This is where Seth Bush comes in. He lives in Swissvale, east of Pittsburgh, and is a certified professional coach and a partner in the Radical Support Collective, which works with social and environmental change leaders.
They meet with individuals and groups to help people envision and start working to create the future they want. In an online session, he began by asking attendees to introduce themselves and provide a “delightful detail” of their vision for the future. One person imagined green spaces accessible to all. Another wanted a society where more people help each other.
Julie Grant of the Allegheny Front spoke with Seth Bush about his work, particularly in helping leaders in the environment and justice communities who might feel burnt out or overwhelmed.
Listen to the story or read the transcript below.
Credit: Seth Bush
Seth Bush: We talk a little bit about eco-anxiety, that on some level we all experience the pain of seeing wildfires and hurricanes and hunger and what humans can do to each other, you know, and get hurt with covid, right? All these crises.
I believe people really want to do something to make the world a better place, and the truth is, when you look at it, it can be a bit overwhelming. Where do I start? What do I do? What is my part in all this? Can I really make a difference?
I love working with those people who have seen in their hearts that they want to contribute to their communities and who might naturally run into that threshold, so to speak, between their vision of making a difference and actually doing it.
The Radical Support Collective website explains that while climate work is urgently needed, being overwhelmed and in a constant state of emergency gets in the way. Bush takes changing this mindset seriously.
Julie Grant: When I first contacted you this summer, I received an automated response saying, “I’m taking a month off in August and won’t be responding to your email.” Can you talk about the idea of a month off?
Bush: I want to live in a world where we’re not rushing from one thing to another all the time. I want to live in a world where our society is structured so that we’re not in crisis mode all the time, where we’re not running around exhausted.
So our team got together a few years ago and said, ‘Let’s actually practice this. We don’t know exactly how it’s going to go, but we’re going to commit to taking a full month off every year.
In fact, we structure our whole year to prepare ourselves to be able to take an entire month off. So we’re actually intentionally saying, “OK, let’s structure our programs, our income, the way we run our business so that we have a really spacious month of rest.” It’s time for us to see what happens to our bodies and what happens to our minds when we step away from our computers for most of the month and step away from our daily work.
What I like is that we can actually learn some things that we want to work back into our work so that the rest doesn’t just become a month off every year, but the rest becomes something that we can build into our daily. daily work, because, again, we really believe that for leaders of social change to really make a difference, we must first have the ability to see the world we want.
Second, we learn to live our lives right now as if we are already living in this world we want. So if I want a world where everyone is well rested, I have to practice rest now. That’s why we’re taking a month off.
To agree: How do you talk with people who care about the state of the climate, the environment and humanity?
Bush: There is nothing wrong with you if you feel pain for the world right now. My teacher Joanna Macy says our pain for the world is just a sign of our love for the world. This pain that we’re starting to feel, the worry about the future, the worry about the suffering that we’re seeing about the collapse of the ecosystem, about what the world is going to be like for our children – it just goes to show that we have very big hearts and this is actually the most human experience we can have.
What if we had the skills to look this eco-anxiety in the face and say, “There’s nothing wrong here, let’s work together to overcome it”? You don’t have to settle for it. You don’t have to stay there forever. To cross it means to metabolize it. It means transmuting it, turning that pain into new possibilities that you might not even have been able to see before.
To agree: You speak with environmental and social change leaders in the Pittsburgh area and beyond — people who are trying to move toward a clean, supportive, and equitable future. Are you worried or do you hear concerns from others about developments such as the new Shell petrochemical plant in Beaver County or air pollution from the US Steel plant in Clairton?
Bush: It’s not far to take this particular path of desperation, if we continue as we do with business as usual. What will Pittsburgh look like? I certainly hear that from activists and organizers.
People who have a vision of what Pittsburgh could look like [have] great visions of what Pittsburgh might look like. There are some really, really smart people in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania who have thought a lot about what is possible for this area and what might be possible for this area.
Seth Bush is a partner of the Radical Support Collective.