Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
Does the Climate Crisis Inspire Anger?
Writes Lisa: As someone who has been working on climate and environmental justice issues for decades, I have climate anger. And that anger fuels my activism. It could be my age. I lived through the Reagan presidency in the US, where he kept talking about Armageddon and had access to nuclear bombs. I’d appreciate to hear about climate anger.
Thank you for the prompt, Lisa. I have never gone deep on anger, for fear of self-combustion and the subsequent carbon emissions said combustion would produce, but IT IS TIME!
1. My Anger Got Lost in the Supply Chain
I think of Anger, Fear, and Despair as the three witches of climate gloom, and since the last one is the wickedest of them all for me, I focus on her. It’s long been erroneously believed that using fear to motivate climate action induces backfire effects, so in the past, I’ve tended to shy away from it. Anger, too, I mostly ignored, not because I’d deeply researched its efficacy, but more because it’s not one of my big emotions. I mean, I feel it, to be sure, but I’m not a “throw large, messy objects at the wall” type (the thought of all the waste produced by rage rooms fills me with so much rage that it would be counterproductive!), so the fury comes on quickly and then transmutes almost instantly into impotent sadness. Not so great.
But ANGER is super important, and it’s rising in tandem with ppm of CO2, so let’s unpack!
2. Anger in the Body Is Fine, Damn It!
There’s this idea that we have to excise the anger. Shake it off, and then write a song about it to crush our ex into oblivion. The anger ends where the action begins. But what if there is no two-parter? What if the climate anger needs to sit in the body forever, to honor its feelings and animate its actions?
I’ve always viewed anger as a transitory rage stop on the highway to positivity and enlightenment. But why? Can we not learn to accept it and share the house with it? (Don’t leave the toilet seat up, anger, or I will cut you!) What’s wrong with wanting to scream at the idiocies of nature being destroyed, inequality exacerbated, and climate ravaged? Why is anger deemed unhealthy? It should not be! Please throw that watermelon at the wall. (But then clean it up, and blend it into a daiquiri or something, right? Like I said, waste.)
Also, that anger can be helpful. Let it stay and play. Studies are popping up that demonstrate that eco-anger can be extremely powerful. From The Journal of Climate Change and Health:
Our findings highlight that frustration and anger about the climate crisis are adaptive responses. Experiences of injustice or unfairness tend to provoke group-based anger, motivating collective (and not individual) action. If we think about climate change as an injustice (e.g., generationally, socially, and geographically), the equally strong eco-anger–personal behaviour association suggests that, in the climate change context, the eco-angry recognise the importance of addressing their own daily behaviours as part of the collective goal of mitigating climate change.
I’ve spent a lifetime trying to run out my anger (hello, COVID punching bag), so the idea that I should actually live with it and use it as a force for change is … new.
3. 10,000 Hours of Anger in Practice
I’ve long fretted that anger as a climate woman gets you nowhere. The brilliant Amy Westervelt explores this so beautifully in “The Case for Climate Rage,” a piece I’ve read over and over again. Angry women get tone-policed out of the conversation, diminished, patronized.
Angry responses to climate injustice are deemed emotionally irrational, a belief that goes all the way back to the Stoics. I Kant even! Sorry, not sorry. This policing of emotion is evident everywhere, and is both gendered and ageist, as Quan Nguyen writes in this excellent piece:
So, not only are children, who are angry and scared about climate change, rational, they might be more so than the adults criticising them. Emotions play a bigger part in life beyond rationality—they mark values and indicate what people care about. Fear of the future and anger at inaction are ways young people can express their values. Their emotions are, in the words of feminist writer [Audre] Lorde, an invitation to the rest of society to speak.
It’s a privilege to get to choose how to communicate climate change—to mute emotion and anger where the people most affected by the climate crisis right now have no such luxury. And to narrow communications to some sort of measured key is a de facto way of excluding voices (Indigenous, low-income, youth, women) from the conversation. Only calm men in starched white shirts with not too much to lose are allowed to frame this pinkie-in-the-air discourse.
Plus, this idea that anger doesn’t work as a climate communications tool may be just that. As climate change increases rapidly, our sentiments, ideas, and tactics are changing too, and I fear the climate comms consensus may be a wildfire behind. Why not try to get ahead of it and leverage the anger? Polls show that our willingness to have our leaders do more is at an all-time high. Seeing our governments not moving fast enough induces frustration. And what is frustration but anger with a few more syllables?
4. Anger + Heart
I love this post from the inspiring climate activist Mikaela Loach:
To fight for the long run, you need to find both what makes your heart break and what makes it swell out of your chest. We need to be angry, outraged and heartbroken about the harm and the violence that is being caused. But, we also need to find that thing that mends your heart. The hope for something better that excites you so much that your heart swells out of your chest. It’s when we have both of these parts that we get to a place where there is no choice but to act in a way which will form new worlds. We can’t help ourselves, the prospect of creating something better is what we can’t ignore.
Keeping the anger inside us is not about using it as some sort of pilot light (ugh, “natural” gas) to fire us up; it’s instead about accepting all our parts. In the course of a climate moment, I can feel angry, enraged, sad, gassy, elated (IYKYK, and I’m sorry), or gobsmacked all at once. Climate anger without love is like a peanut butter cup with no chocolate. The anger, along with the love for all we can save, is what is needed.
5. Anger + Heart + Action
I know that when I am angry, I am driven to act. I know that when I act, I feel better. —Emily Atkin in this great Heated post!
In our climate course, we asked women to share some of their climate self-care strategies. One woman mentioned that she writes to our premier when she feels the climate rage. I felt seen. I, too, write letters and call when the anger over the latest climate idiocy (highways over greenbelts) threatens to boil away all my liquid. But it’s an underpinning love that drives this action, I now realize. I think we should channel this into a climate kickboxing course and strategy session. Punch up, take things down, and love the anger that tells us what matters.
I’d love your thoughts on anger, please! How does or doesn’t anger inspire your climate action?
Further Pangs of Anger
Get angry and get active with CBC’s What on Earth.
These anger interviews in The Guardian.
This oldish Vox piece on young people effectively using anger to build the Sunrise Movement.
Good tips on how to use anger effectively in The Irish Times.
Check out the lovely Kate Holly’s excellent newsletter and podcast about overcoming the scarcity mindset. Here’s the two of us chatting for one of her episodes.
Climate Art Web is a Northern Turtle Island (Canadian) initiative to gather climate artists in Spring 2022. They’re looking for curators and artists.
Jenn Foxx sends art to elected officials (amazing!)—and has a beautifully named website that I defy you not to say out loud a few dozen times over: mushrump!
And speaking of art:
The climate crisis is a crisis of many things: science, economics, politics, immigration. As the author Amitav Ghosh said, “the climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination.” To be clear, that doesn’t mean innovation or invention—we’ve got loads of ideas for solar panels and microgrids. While we have all of these pieces, we don’t have a picture of how they come together to build a new world. For too long, the climate fight has been limited to scientists and policy experts. While we need those skills, we also need so much more. When I survey the field, it’s clear that what we desperately need is more artists.
Read the whole piece by the wonderful Mary Annaïse Heglar in YES!: “Building a Better Climate Future Starts with Imagination.” So good!
Stromae’s “Santé”! I love how everyone moves in this music video.
Thanks for reading! Please let me know how I can make this newsletter better.
Have a wonderful, joyful, safe, restful, cozy weekend!
P.S. This is my newsletter for the week of Nov. 24, 2021, published in partnership with YES! Media. You can sign up to get Minimum Viable Planet newsletter emailed directly to you at https://mvp.substack.com.
Sarah Lazarovic is an award-winning artist, creative director, freelance animator and filmmaker, and journalist, covering news and cultural events in comic form. She is the author of A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy.