Talking About Our Eco-Anxiety Is Good. But How Do We Do It?

Jul 11, 2019

We need to sign up for summer camp! I forgot to send that permission slip! Increasing drought means global unrest and potential war! We're out of laundry detergent!

Climate change.

My concern about this existential threat is always just under the surface, and sometimes bubbles up unexpectedly.

Like when I agree with friends that I too "hope it gets warm soon!" after the long Connecticut winter. "But not too warm!" I laugh — sort of. "Not deathly warm, if you catch my drift."

I joke, but I also recognize the severity of the issue. I just don't know how to deal with my feelings about the changing climate while living an ordinary life within it. 

There's no instruction manual. Here's something I'd really like to look up. 

How do I talk about this with my three kids?

A few weeks ago, my four-year-old told me what she'd learned in preschool that day, sincerity in her adorable voice: "We have to take care of the earth," she said.

“That’s right,” I replied, “we do,” adding non-adorably, “in fact, we need to save it.” Is that too much to have laid on her?

Observing the clear blue skies on a lovely spring day, I don't want to think about oncoming famine or flooding, or fret that my grandchildren might have to move to Mars.

This modern conundrum came up recently, while I was looking at the leafy, sunlit trees outside my bedroom window. I love this planet. I want it to be OK.

Perhaps it’s best to start with that. Meeting the unthinkable right where I am, in the throes of everyday existence.

Admitting what I don’t know, and having conversations about what’s next — until discussion about climate change becomes as much of a habit as brushing my teeth.

The kids and I were recently watching the Netflix series, "Our Planet," a gorgeous nature documentary injected with a strong climate change narrative.

Every time the topic came up, I'd give my 10-year-old the side-eye, prompting her to finally exclaim dismissively — because I was interrupting her coveted TV-viewing — "OK! Climate change! What are we supposed to do?"

I paused the show. I don't want to bury a necessary subject because it doesn't fit into the cheerful lexicon of our days.

“Let’s find out and work on it together,” I said. I hit play and we kept watching, our eyes wide at all that precarious beauty.

Cara McDonough is a freelance writer living in Hamden, Connecticut. A version of this commentary first appeared in The Hartford Courant.