We need to talk

Tone Lanzillo

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been reading about the heatwaves in Spain and Thailand, NASA’s assessment on the rising sea levels, NOAA’s report about warmer ocean temperatures, and the latest global atmospheric CO2 levels that reached 423.84 ppm on May 3rd.

Every few days, it seems like we’re hearing another news story about what is now being called a climate emergency or climate crisis. And whatever phrase you choose to use in describing what’s happening around the world, it’s affecting so many of us, especially young people. 

We are feeling more stress and anxiety. Some of us are even experiencing sadness and depression. And there are those who find themselves responding to the climate news with frustration or anger.

In this climate-change world, we are definitely feeling more vulnerable. Being more unsure of what we should do or how we should respond. There’s even a growing sense of being overwhelmed. And there can be days when we feel like we’re drowning or it’s hard to breathe.

It’s a lot to take in. Probably too much to take in. Many of us don’t know how to mentally or emotionally process what we’re hearing or reading. 

And there are a group of us, especially men, who want to push our feelings way down or try to deny what we’re feeling. We’re reluctant or refuse to listen to the news and don’t want to talk about it. And some of us will simply deny that climate change exists. 

For over 25 years, I worked in the mental health field with adults who were dealing with a variety of personal crises and tragedies. On many occasions, they had a very difficult time accepting or acknowledging what they were feeling. They were often afraid of losing control of the situation or themselves. And sadly, if they didn’t talk or get help, many of them would choose alcohol or drugs, gambling, pornography or other destructive behaviors to stop feeling anything.

At this moment, we’re beginning to feel like we’ve lost control. That our lives are more unstable and unpredictable. That we don’t know what the future will bring.

You and I need to find a place or time to talk about what we’re thinking and feeling. We can’t hold it in. We have to engage and embrace what we’re experiencing, and explore creative and healthy ways to let it out. 

Whether it’s talking to a friend, going to a support group, seeing a therapist or writing in a journal, each of us can find a safe and comfortable space to process what we’re feeling and experiencing.
If you would like to talk or share your story, you may want to check out this project at UMD. The university’s Motion+Media Lab is recording video and audio interviews about the climate crisis.

Responding to Climate Change: Expressing Ourselves Through Conversation, Story, and Art is giving people the opportunity to have climate conversations to normalize talking about the climate crisis. It’s about addressing climate change openly, regularly and in community. 

Two of the questions in the project are: What specific changes in terms of climate change have you seen or experienced in the places that you care about? How has it affected your community, your family and your own identity? 

If you would like to participate, contact Lisa Fitzpatrick at lfitzpat@d.umn.edu.

Also, during May and June, we’re hosting a climate cafe on Wednesdays, 7:30 - 9 a.m. at Duluth’s Best Bread, 120 E. Superior St. These small gatherings will give people a space to talk about what they’re hearing and reading about climate change, and discuss how they’re doing.

If we’re going to figure out how to lead more resilient and meaningful lives, we need to process our thoughts and feelings. We need to find constructive and compassionate approaches to talking and sharing our stories. We need to take care of ourselves if we’re going to be there for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.