Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Responses to 'Climate Fear and Anxiety'
distributed 2/25/16 - ©2016

In the Eco-Justice Notes of February 19, 2016 -- Climate Fear and Anxiety -- a special request was made for feedback and responses to the ideas presented. About a dozen Notes readers replied.

As a result of that newsletter, I've been introduced to the book, Redeeming Fear: A Constructive Theology for Living into Hope. The Denver-based author, Jason Whitehead, and I will be leading a seminar session in March on the topic. The input received from our readers will be very helpful as I pull together my thoughts for that program.

To let you know some of the range of comments that have come back, here are excerpts from some of the more detailed emails.

Barb, from Illinois: "thanks for today's notes, helpful but disturbing." She described some recent conversations with conservative Christians, both of whom insisted that "we have nothing to fear, for God will rescue us as promised in the Bible." And she wrote about her struggle to communicate an inclusive and ecological Christian faith.

Keith, from West Sussex, Great Britain: "The distinction between fear and anxiety, and your development of that distinction, are most helpful. One question occurs to me: if anxiety can be a positive state of mind, how do we relate that to the scriptural injunctions that seem to oppose anxiety to faith? Any of your thoughts on that would be much valued."

Mary Beth, from Colorado: "I am thinking that anxiety cannot simultaneously reside in the brain as the same time as a gratitude state. .. That is why the old 'count your blessings' was an effective strategy to deal with anxiety.... so part of our efforts must be focused on the beauty and amazingness of our God created world.

"Another idea for dealing with anxiety is the mindfulness therapies. Disconnecting from the mind that spins.. is accomplished best by present moment experiences of the senses.. that is why yoga and meditations of creating work ..

"And final strategy.. making a plan.. when overwhelmed by this scary prospect... making a small step plan that requires physical and tangible action may be helpful..

"And the Faith message in this? We are people of the resurrection.. our Lord was dead and brought back to life.. we are people who believe in the miracle of the Holy Spirit.. so maybe that is the test in all of this.. YES , we must move and be people of action because God needs our feet on the ground... but we must remember that Nothing is impossible for God..

"Whew.. I try to tell myself this daily.."

Pam, from Oklahoma: "What you've stated about fear and anxiety makes sense. The way I see it, anxiety in its composed state, does act as a motivator, but I am finding it doesn't stay composed for long. It is often interrupted by the fear that climate change is happening so much faster than we ever expected. Do we really have control over how fast climate is changing? So far, it appears not.

"I pastor a church in the agricultural region of central Oklahoma, just south of Norman. My congregation, like many others, is concerned about climate change but only as it affects them in the immediate here and now. They are worried about droughts, turbulent storms, whipping winds, dust storms, earthquakes, and the lack of winter weather to freeze the ground. Yet, they haven't voiced concern about the future, because, frankly, it seems out of their control. Taking individual steps, however big, seems ineffectual.

"So I turn to scripture to give appreciation for what we have now, and guide us not to take anything for granted. When we care for our today, I believe it will have an impact on our tomorrow."

Brendon, from Maine: I like your, or Mary's, distinction. I probably felt fear when I viewed a photo of Lac Megantic burning after the train wreck a few (?) summers ago. But I definitely feel anxious when reading dispatches from and others: they're horrific in the same way as were considerations of a nuclear WWIII were a couple of decades ago. You're right: flight (where would we go?), fight (that only gets people's backs up, rather than leading to cooperation), and freeze-up (also no action) are not much use. But anxiety gives some motivation for positive action. So do stories of people who are taking such action." And he gives several examples, and points to "YES! Magazine, Heifer's World Ark, et al. periodicals also give many such stories and discussions."

Jeff, from Colorado (who was quoted in the original Notes): "What we've been doing to turn around the climate crisis for decades is not working. It's time to change strategies. ... Climate is a long term, systemic, global catastrophe. ... And yet I do not feel urgency about climate change. ... Urgency is an autonomic 'fight or flight' response to a perceived immediate threat. ... The nature of catastrophic climate change makes urgency a weak response. Urgency riles the emotions and muddles the mind. It lacks the staying power necessary to match the long-term nature of our climate challenge. We can ill afford urgency's self-righteous refuge. The severity of potential climate disaster calls for our best: an authentic heart, a clear mind and clarion resolve. Read this note as a plea to fight fire with fire, and generational change with a steady fire in our belly that lasts for generations.

"There are many recommendations about what to do about climate. I believe the foundation of durable change is personal responsibility:

  1. Appreciate all we've been given by those that came before us.
  2. Honestly measure our personal scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon footprint.
  3. Diligently reduce our family's carbon footprint as close to zero as practical.
  4. Find authentic, local ways to offset any remaining GHGe we are responsible for until our lifestyles are carbon neutral.
  5. Support our closest friends to realize carbon neutrality across their entire lives.

"Shifting the collective tide from the bottom up will not be convenient, or easy, or quick. The solutions to climate will take generations to unfold. We need to double down our resolve and be the change we want to see in the world."

Robin, from Colorado: writing about environmental programs at her church a number of years ago, "one of my favorite people, Macon C, would often come up to me and say, 'I love what you're doing, but I'm afraid we may be too late.' I've never forgotten that, and I'm sort of at the point now where he was then. ... One truly scary development in the past 30 years is the rise of political factions that absolutely thrive on fear and anxiety. This is playing out in a big way in our election system this year. And, the more I hear about the money being spent on elections, the more upset I become that we spend it this way but don't have money for things like education and climate solutions. So, I love what you and every other eco-justice activist is doing, butů. And I hope Macon and I are wrong."

Gerald, from California: "I am encouraging my family and congregation to engage in basic emergency preparedness / natural disaster preparations. Not becoming survivalists. The time is right for Central Coast Calif., the epicenter of the drought. Only a few miles from Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant which lies near four faults. We're fighting its re-certification."

Bob, from Colorado: wrote of his efforts as the new pastor of a congregation to challenge nuclear weapons -- and finding out that two members of the church had high-paying jobs at the local bomb plant. "So all attempts to try bringing a faith perspective on the issue were immediately blocked. Even though such issues as peace and ecology can be claimed to pit the long-term greater good over short-term needs, that doesn't really play very well."

Ron, from Colorado: "Alarming and loss of TRUST for our leaders around the world. I ask myself, 'How did we let money become the god for LIFE?' Our focus to nurture the soul, by being for LIFE has been transferred to having all we can get out of nature [LIFE] thru consumption. Evil is winning, but we can become more by reducing, reusing, and revisiting prayer, for guidance."

Lynn, from Colorado: pointed to the book, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization. She has only read the first chapter, and calls it "Pretty scary."

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Again, many thanks to those who shared their insights. If you'd like to add to the conversation, please send an email.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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