Climate Conversation 6: Emotional responses

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Today’s entry is part of an occasional set of observations about changes in the world’s climate that will affect all of us, old and young alike. The series bends toward a key question: As God’s people, how should we respond? Today’s entry: Dealing with our emotions.

All decisions start with emotions. That’s one way to characterize how neurobiologists think about changing our behaviors. (Rational thought is the next step: It ratifies what first took place in the emotional structures of our brains.) That’s why I want to spend time here thinking about our emotional responses to what the *National Climate Assessment has once again presented as an urgent invitation to meet the challenge of climate change. Let me start by telling you some of my own reactions to what I read in that report.

Fear is right up there at the top of the list. There’s no way to argue with the scientific predictions: The world’s climate is changing faster than we thought and not much is good. I’m scared what that mean for my everyday well-being.

Anger follows, as it naturally does. (One of the brain’s automatic reflexes to stress or danger is to fight, and anger is its emotional sign.) At first I’m angry at “them”, the unknown or invisible others who are the cause of all that’s wrong with the world’s environment. Then the wrath roosts on my own existence—I’m part of the cause and not part of the solutions.

Guilt rises up soon enough, too. If I think long enough, also shame. Because my lifestyle is part of the problem, my conscience tells me that it’s time to shoulder my responsibility.

One place where guilt doesn’t easily disburse: Talking a good game about the environment, but not matching those words with powerful actions. My spiritual training won’t let me off the hook: The Scriptures—especially Jesus’ teachings and example—are pretty clear about the hollow sin of hypocrisy.

Hope—and its faithful partner, courage—are still there, although always buffeted by the feeling of powerlessness. My little boat may be perpetually sailing on a large ocean, but it’s still afloat!

Determination, resolve or grit may not be true emotions, but those thoughts come to mind pretty quickly. Perhaps my stubborn streak is showing, so there’s a part of me that does not want to lie down and roll over in the face of looming adversity.

These feelings might be specifically tied to being an older adult. These emotions are all familiar to me from their presence during my entire lifespan. I’ve come to acknowledge them more readily, to see their value as motivation for change. I have enough stored memories—of emotions moving me towards action—that I may be more able to engage in lifestyle change. I may have become a little more skilled in choosing from among mindsets so that the wrong-headed ones don’t have as much sway.

As we begin to engage in solutions to climate change, a good first step is to acknowledge and parse our gut-level reactions. Which of them is strong? Which motivate us to take action? Which subtract from our effectiveness? Which are part of our spiritual core?

With our ways of thinking sorted—gratefully so, because they can be part of God’s blessings of mind and body—we can begin to take tangible steps to work against the deterioration of the Earth’s climate.

Another part of God’s blessing!

(Next time: Some hopeful stories)

*You can find the most easily accessed portions of the 4th National Climate Change Assessment at www.nca2018.globalchange.gov, in Volume II. The extensive supportive data is in Volume I. (See especially Chapters 28 and 29 regarding adaptation and mitigation.)

About the author

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Bob Sitze

BOB SITZE has filled the many years of his lifework in diverse settings around the United States. His calling has included careers as a teacher/principal, church musician, writer/author, denominational executive staff member and meat worker. Bob lives in Wheaton, IL.

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Avatar By Bob Sitze
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Bob Sitze

BOB SITZE has filled the many years of his lifework in diverse settings around the United States. His calling has included careers as a teacher/principal, church musician, writer/author, denominational executive staff member and meat worker. Bob lives in Wheaton, IL.

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