Within a year, Jacqueline Gill, a climatologist at the University of Maine, lost her mother and stepfather. She struggled with infertility, then during research in the Arctic she developed emboli in both lungs, she was transferred to intensive care in Siberia and almost died. She was taken home and later had a hysterectomy. Then came the pandemic.
Her trials and her perseverance, she said, seemed to make her a magnet for emails and direct messages on Twitter, “asking me how to hope, asking me what makes me go?”
Gil said she has accepted the idea that she is a “midwife for climate for all” and teaches them to hope through action.
How climatologists, such as Gil or ambulance doctors in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, cope with their depressing daily work, but remain hopeful, can offer help to ordinary people dealing with a world that is derailed, psychologists say.
“I think it’s because they see a way out. They see that anything can be done, ”said Janet Swim, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “Hope to see the trail, though the path seems far, far away.”
UN Environment Program Director Inger Andersen said she simply could not do her job without being an optimist.
“I don’t want to sound naive when I choose to be a ‘realistic optimist,’ but the alternative to being a realistic optimist is to either keep my ears open and wait for doomsday, or play while the Titanic Orchestra plays,” Andersen said. . “I also don’t subscribe.”
Dr. Christina Goff works in the intensive care unit of the Southwestern Medical Center of the University of Texas and has sometimes said that felt overwhelmed during a pandemic. She keeps a folder at home with files with little notes that say, “Hey, you made a difference.”
“I think half the battle in my job is to learn to accept what can be very strong anxiety, and turn it into performance and resilience,” Goff said. “You just have to focus on those little areas where you can change the situation.”
Alzheimer’s disease can be one of the darkest diagnoses a doctor can make, and the future may seem hopeless. However, Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Research Center and a man his colleagues describe as optimistic and passionate, doesn’t think so.
“I don’t think it’s depressing. I don’t think it’s gloomy. It’s hard. It’s difficult, “Petersen said. But “we are much better today than we were five years ago, 10 years ago.”
The common technique of overcoming these scientists is to help. The word they often use is “agency.” This is especially true for climate researchers, whose political types who reject science are proclaimed prophets.
Gil, who describes herself as a lifelong cheerleader, also struggled with depression. She said the key to tackling environmental anxiety is that “routine depression and regular remedies for anxiety work equally well. And that’s why I tell people, “Be a performer.” Take there others. Don’t just scroll through doom. ‘ There are entry-level ways that anyone, literally anyone, can help. And the more we do it, it turns out, “Oh, it really works”.
It’s not just about individual actions, such as giving up air travel or becoming a vegetarian, but also about working with other people, Gil said. Individual action is useful in combating climate change, but it is not enough, she said. To drive the curve of rising temperatures and the accumulation of gases that contain heat, sustainable collective action, such as the movement of youth climate activity and voting, gives real ability.
“I think maybe that helped prevent this hopelessness,” she said. “I go to a scientific meeting and look back at the thousands of scientists working on it. And I say, “Yeah, we’re doing it.”
Victor Jensini, a professor of meteorology at the University of Northern Illinois, said that at the age of 35 he believes that his relative youth gives him hope.
“When I think about what might be, I feel optimistic and set up a setting that I can do something about it,” Jencini said.
Andersen from the UN is a veteran of decades of work on environmental issues and believes that this experience has made her optimistic.
“I have seen shifts in other important environmental issues, such as banning toxic materials, improving air quality standards, repairing the ozone hole, phasing out leaded gasoline and more,” Andersen said. “I know that hard work, backed by science, backed by strong politics and so backed by multilateral and activist action, can lead to change.”
Deke Arndt, head of the Climate Science and Services Division at the National Center for Environmental Information of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said he was extremely optimistic about his personal faith and the memory of all the people who helped his family for generations – through the Dust Bowl for his grandparents and through infertility and then neonatal problems for his son.
“We felt a miracle of practical help from other people,” Arndt said. “You kind of spend the rest of your life trying to pay back.”
“Where people don’t suffer because of their own purchases, I want to become a scholar and a Catholic again,” Arndt said. “We have to do as much as we can.”
What’s more, Jill and several others said that science tells them that the game for Earth is not over.
“The work I do gives me a sense of freedom,” Gil said. “As a paleoecologist (studying the past) and a climatologist, I feel the Earth’s resilience better than many people.”
It helps that she studies plants and deals with changes on a glacial scale. She pointed to Kim Cobb, a climatologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology who has spent most of her career diving and exploring the same coral reef in the Pacific, but returned in 2016 and found him dead: “God, I can’t imagine who a blow to the abdomen. “
Cobb laughed heartily when she heard Gil describe the life of a scientist on the reefs.
From 1997 to 2016, Cobb dived on one of the tiny islands of Kiritimati in the Pacific Ocean, watching the effects of climate change and El Niño on a fragile coral reef. Super hot water killed him in 2016with only faint signs of life.
That fall Cobb made his last trip. This was during the election. A big supporter of Hillary Clinton, Cobb was wearing Madame President’s shirt when she heard the news of Donald Trump’s election. She said she fell into a pit of despair that lasted maybe a couple of months.
“And then on New Year’s Eve I decided that I would probably have enough, and I know that my husband will have enough and the children will have enough. That’s why people had to return their mother and wife, ”Cobb said. “I decided to find another way there.”
“I can’t lie around for so long before I start asking myself a few questions like, ‘Look, do you know how you can implement your position?’ How can you use your resources? ”Cobb said.
She and her family cut their personal carbon emissions 80%. She no longer flies airplanes. She went vegan, composted, installed solar panels. It is working on larger-scale climate action instead of its more focused preliminary research. And she rides a bike everywhere, which she says is similar to mental health therapy.
She tells people when they are concerned about climate change, “there will be no victory, no brilliant moment when we can declare success,” but it will never be too late to act. It will never be too late to fix this. ”
Arndt of NOAA said the 20th century climate in which he grew up was gone forever. He mourns the loss of this, but also believes he mourns what has become “strangely liberating”.
Because of climate change, we need to maintain hope and sorrow at the same time, as if they were like the twins we are rocking, ”said Gil of Maine. “We need to understand and witness what happened and what we lost. And then fiercely defend what’s left. And I don’t think you can do it out of desperation. “
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