The single most important social issue of our day is climate change. Desertification, receding glaciers, massive hurricanes, tsunamis – the list goes on. Our habitat is changing and we must adapt. The question is, how can we do it in a peaceful manner?
If one spends any time at all listening to the stories of people in highly affected regions, they feel an inevitable tightening of the chest. It’s quite possibly a glimpse into our collective future. The trick is feeling the emotion fully without getting stuck in the mire of it all. We want to be informed of the realities and at the same time have enough optimism to carry on and improve the world we live in. The realities are clear; there’s no changing how we got here.
The Inuit of coastal Greenland are losing a grip on their entire way of life because of the vanishing ice. Traditional hunting tactics – like stalking seal and narwhal from a sled – are proving nearly impossible. There’s very little ice to stand upon anymore. It’s all ocean. Hunters are forced to use boats – read: loud – and the hunt is rarely as prosperous as in decades past. The local economy is strained to say the least and Greenland’s suicide rate is the highest in the world.
The anxiety response that people feel in reaction to hearing stories such as the Inuit’s is three-fold.
There’s empathy for one, one of the most beautiful of human capacities, which just leaves us feeling sick and heartbroken for the culture and people. It’s hard for those living a comfortable lifestyle to experience the crippling level of physical and mental disarmament faced by people in this position. Empathy is the closest we can come to understanding.
There’s also the underlying fear that such level of suffering is an inevitability for us all. There’s the fear that we’ve degraded our planet to a point that she will not sustain the kind of habitats we have come to expect from her. The notion sweeps any level of safety, the second tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, right out from under or feet.
The third point is the natural outcome from the first two responses. People want to do something to help. The anxiety comes from feeling unsure about how to take action. The first two feelings can only be healed internally; the third is the only one that can manifest in the world. It has a very clear solution. Not sure how to take action?
Support People in Need
With the increase of destructive weather events that we’ve been seeing over the last decades, there are more and more people who need help preparing, surviving, and recovering from disasters.
Environmental Social Worker Annie Muldoon, MSW, reports that the people who are “most immediately and profoundly affected by environmental destruction are those who face multiple systems of oppression.”
It’s the poor, the mentally ill, recently released prisoners, and other marginalized groups who are the most affected by environmental disasters. As a rule of thumb, the harder it is for someone to cast their vote during election season, the harder it is for them to sustain a natural disaster. There are all sorts of factors in play.
For example, while there are more and more non-incarceration social rehabilitation programs for people who need help integrating into society, the only way those programs will be successful is if the people they serve are given an equal chance to thrive – and honestly, survive – in their home environments.
A volunteer in a position of relative privilege can take a lot of weight off their collective shoulders.
For people who live in regions prone to natural disasters, the best way to help is to be proactive. Get involved with local organizers. Assist in making plans for emergency shelters, providing supplies, and aiding in recovery efforts. Offer to help in whatever ways you can.
Sometimes supporting people and offering aid looks different than the norm. There are all sorts of things that natural disaster victims have to sort out after an event. Logistics like filing insurance claims and interviewing contractors after a destructive storm are hugely important to reclaiming one’s home and life, but they can be huge stressors. Helping a neighbor file insurance claims is far from glamorous volunteer work, but it’s the sort of thing that can really help a person breathe easier.
In short, if you want to help the people most affected by climate change, be proactive, offer everything you can, and engage in the community.
Protect the Planet
There are of course the accepted measures that every citizen should be taking to reduce their environmental impact:
- Use energy efficient bulbs and appliances
- Fix things like leaky faucets
- Carry reusable shopping bags
- Reduce, recycle and reuse
But we needn’t stop there. No matter how environmentally conscious we think we are being, there will always be further steps we can take to shrink our carbon footprint even more:
- Buy local … really … even if the big box stores are cheaper
- Drive less: bicycle, walk, or carpool to work
- Plant trees on your land and in your community
- Be an advocate for wilderness
- Volunteer for trail maintenance and other stewardship programs
Keep a Peaceful Mindset
The environment is not at war with us. It’s important to remember that. There’s this human tendency to create opponents and pit them against one another. We define entities, like countries, and then there are inevitable disagreements between them. Conflict, war, escalation.
In terms of the environment, the only war is a war against ourselves to make up for the mess we’ve made.
No one is fighting tsunamis with hand grenades. No one is saving the ice caps with an AK-47.
It’s important to remember that while the storms can be catastrophic, and there are victims without a doubt, the environment is not an enemy against which to wage war. In reality, the natural world is probably the closest incarnation of real, living peace that any of us will ever encounter.
By Katie Kapro