All Hands on Deck

Photograph by Misha Taylor / Trunk Archive

 

The Frontline talks to climate leaders on how they’re processing the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—and what advice they have for the rest of us.

Photograph by Misha Taylor / Trunk Archive
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“Irreversible.” “Widespread.” “Unprecedented.” “Code red.”

 

These were the words used to describe the climate crisis in the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The assessment made clear that global heating has already transformed our world, and some of these changes were for the long run. Now, what do we do with a bowl full of bad news? Well, let’s sprinkle it with a dash of determination, a pinch of perserseverence, and an appropriate amount of acceptance. The climate crisis has arrived—and it’ll outlive us all—but its severity is up to our leaders. And let me remind you: Our elected officials answer to us.

 

Welcome to The Frontline, where I’ve phoned a few friends to ask how they’re processing the IPCC report and what advice they have for those who may be feeling paralyzed by the realness. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate editor of Atmos. We can’t waste any more time to reduce emissions and pass climate policy. So take your fear and anger and convert them into action. Some of my climate heros offer some options.

 

 

“Know Better, Do Better”

Mustafa Santiago Ali is an environmental justice leader who’s traveled across the U.S. to talk to different communities about how climate change and environmental degradation is affecting them today. (Photograph Courtesy of Mustafa Santiago Ali)

As the current vice president of environmental justice at the National Wildlife Federation, Mustafa Santiago Ali has been hearing frontline communities sound the alarm for years. The report wasn’t surprising, but it did signal the urgency of the moment. “We have to act now because we’re running out of time,” was his initial reaction upon reading it.

 

When Santiago Ali says “we,” he largely means the politicos on Capitol Hill. The responsibility to act is on them, but we, the public, must push them to pass policy and place resources into our communities. Santiago Ali thinks of his grandmother who used to say, “When you know better, do better.” And, well, we know what to do to save the planet. Let’s do better.

 

How do you deal with climate anxiety?

“I’m writing a lot more both music and poetry. Also, when I get a chance, watching and listening to comedy because it helps to soothe the soul and to disconnect for a moment. I spend a lot more time talking with family and surrounding myself with youthful energy. When I can, I spend as much time in nature—whether it’s next to a lake or a river or walking on a trail.”

 

What advice do you have for the rest of us?

– Call your representatives and demand climate action.

– Continue to educate yourself.

– Pay attention to how you utilize your dollars.

 

 

“We Don’t Know the End of This”

Kate Marvel is a climate scientist and TED conference speaker. (Photograph by Bret Hartman / TED / Flickr)

Kate Marvel is a research scientist at Columbia University and NASA focused on climate models. These models are pretty much the heart of the latest IPCC report—and Marvel knows them well. For much of her career, however, she felt she was “yelling into the void,” she said. It wasn’t until the IPCC’s special report in 2018, which established we had 10 years to reduce emissions, that Marvel felt the public was finally listening. Youth movements erupted. Politics shifted. “Stuff happened,” Marvel said. 

 

She’s hoping the momentum continues with this latest report. Yes, the findings are bleak, but Marvel wants us to remember that climate models aren’t yet real life. She used to search the models for a positive future before she realized they only offered two scenarios: bad and worse. Now, she looks to people for glimmers of optimism, instead. 

 

How do you deal with climate anxiety?

“I have a lot of feelings about climate change. I’ve got kids, so I’ve obviously made a bet about how this is all going to shake out. I think the thing that provokes anxiety is the uncertainty, but the thing that can provoke action is the uncertainty. It is so important to know that we don’t know the end of this. What that means is that our actions really matter.”

 

What advice do you have for the rest of us?

– Call Congress immediately. 

– Join a local climate organization, such as the Sunrise Movement. 

– Bring a climate mindset into your work or studies, so if you’re an artist, make art that helps communicate the problem. If you’re a business owner, make your business more sustainable.

 

 

“Work Like It’s Climate Change”

Elizabeth Yeampierre is a Brooklyn-based climate justice advocate who helped bring the first community solar project to New York City. (Photograph by Pete Voelker, Courtesy of Elizabeth Yeampierre)

We didn’t all create the climate crisis, and those who didn’t are who first came to mind when Elizabeth Yeampierre read the IPCC report. “It was heartbreaking,” said Yeampierre, the executive director of Brooklyn-based environmental organization UPROSE. She thought of her own family in Miami and of Puerto Rico, her homelands. Yeampierre recognizes how these scenarios will plague so many more Black and Brown families with death without radical political intervention. And she knows pushing the privileged to sacrifice some of their comfort won’t be easy. It never is.

 

“I’m going to work like it’s climate change,” Yeampierre said. 

 

She won’t let paralysis take over. Her work keeps her sane—and she believes staying active can help others from feeling powerless or depressed.

 

How do you deal with climate anxiety?

“For me not to be anxious, I have to feel like I’m being purposeful. I have an addiction to K-drama, and that’s what I do when I don’t want to think of anything. I try to make sure that I set some time aside every single day not to turn on the TV and listen to the news or anything that is going to trigger that anxiety that I always feel in my stomach.”

 

What advice do you have for the rest of us?

– Check out local community organizations. You’re not alone!

– Talk to your peers—even a simple Instagram post goes a long way.

– Do something (big or small) every single day that makes you feel like you’re contributing.

 

 

“Not Going It Alone”

Katharine Wilkinson is an author and climate champion for women who’s focused on solutions. (Photograph Courtesy of Katharine Wilkinson)

Katharine Wilkinson is one half of the All We Can Save Project who knows all about what it’ll take to reverse global heating from her previous work with Project Drawdown, which examines how to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases. Looking at the IPCC report, she couldn’t stop thinking about all the ways we could prevent the worst-case scenarios from unfolding. Reducing global food waste and restoring tropical rainforests are among the most-impactful solutions we know about. 

 

However, these are some big tasks—and more for any one person to carry on their own. That’s why Wilkinson has her climate squad to lean on. And that’s why everyone should build their own climate squad and combine their efforts. “We all hold some amount of power,” Wilkinson said. It’s about leveraging our collective power for action. This has become the crux of her present-day work: building community, uplifting other women, and welcoming the emotions that are unavoidable once you join this rollercoaster. 

 

How do you deal with climate anxiety?

“The first thing is not going it alone, finding a space even if it’s just one trusted friend who’s also climate awake to create some space for feeling that. I also have a climate-aware therapist who is great. I see her once a month, so it’s not a lot, but it’s really helpful to have someone who doesn’t look at climate grief or rage or anxiety as your problem but sees that as a really human, understandable reaction to what’s unfolding in the world.”

 

What advice do you have for the rest of us?

– Feel your feelings. 

– Figure out your superpower and identify what skills or talents you can lend to the movement.

– Plug in locally because we’ll need bottom-up solutions to address a problem of this magnitude.

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