Climate change may or may not bear responsibility for the flood on last night’s news, but without question it has created a flood of despair. Climate researchers and activists, according to a 2015 Esquire feature, “When the End of Human Civilization is Your Day Job,” suffer from depression and PTSD-like symptoms. In a poll on his Twitter feed, meteorologist and writer Eric Holthaus found that nearly half of 416 respondents felt “emotionally overwhelmed, at least occasionally, because of news about climate change.”
Do you feel emotionally overwhelmed, at least occasionally, because of news about climate change? Why/why not?
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) February 26, 2016
For just such feelings, a Salt Lake City support group provides “a safe space for confronting” what it calls “climate grief.”
Panicked thoughts often turn to the next generation. “Does Climate Change Make It Immoral to Have Kids?” pondered columnist Dave Bry in The Guardian in 2016. “[I] think about my son,” he wrote, “growing up in a gray, dying world—walking towards Kansas on potholed highways.” Over the summer, National Public Radio tackled the same topic in “Should We Be Having Kids In The Age Of Climate Change?” an interview with Travis Rieder, a philosopher at Johns Hopkins University, who offers “a provocative thought: Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them.” And Holthaus himself once responded to a worrying scientific report by announcing that he would never fly again and might also get a vasectomy.
Such attitudes have not evolved in isolation. They are the most intense manifestations of the same mindset that produces regular headlines about “saving the planet” and a level of obsession with reducing carbon footprints that is otherwise reserved for reducing waistlines. Former U.S. President Barack Obama finds climate change “terrifying” and considers it “a potential existential threat.” He declared in his 2015 State of the Union address that “no challenge—no challenge—poses a greater threat to future generations.” In another speech offering “a glimpse of our children’s fate,” he