I’ve been thinking about the climate change and impact on people’s mental health. At present, at an individual level, we are experiencing a powerlessness of not being able to do anything much about it, or a frustration with politicians / governments refusing to do anything about it, or worse, doing things (as in Australia) that deny it. And this is even before considering the effects that it will have when it really starts to bite (as it is starting to do more frequently in catastrophic weather events).
Take for example, the recent National Wildlife Federation report on the psychological effects of climate change.
In it, Dr. Corell warns that: “We are witnessing an unraveling of climate stability and therefore human stability and are seeing physical changes that are unprecedented in all of history. We are going to a place where we humans, and all we connect with, have never been before.”
It’s hard to read this and other dire reports about climate change without feeling profoundly depressed. Is this our future? What will this world be like for our grandchildren? Increasingly uninhabitable? How will they cope? Or will there be a technological / market solution before these catastrophic predictions become reality?
I had the same feeling after recently reading Oliver James’ “The Selfish Capitalist”. In this book, James presents a reasonably compelling theory that the reason why English-speaking capitalist countries have significantly higher mental health issues (double) than non-English is because of ‘selfish capitalism’, of which materialism is the key factor.
[Selfish Capitalism systematically encourages] the idea that material affluence is the key to fulfilment, that only the affluence are winners and that access to the top is open to anyone willing to work hard enough, regardless of their familial, ethnic or social class background – if you do not succeed, there is only one person to blame.
As a consequence of Selfish Capitalism, the rich (10%) have become massively richer, and for the rest, a relative decline.
Of course, it can be argued that climate change is a consequence o selfish capitalism.
I came across James’ work through philosopher Alain de Botton’s School of Life. The school was established to address “how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm and how better to understand and, where necessary change, the world”.
The question is, how do we cope in the age of uncertainty without becoming paralysed with despair and depression? Is there are way out, that leads to action and change? On what psychological base to we work from – is it on a basis of optimism, that somehow the human race will act to avoid these devastating scenarios, or is it necessary, as Alain de Botton argues in this talk, to take as our psychological starting point, one of pessimism?