Feelings to face as well as an uncertain future

By Philip McConkey

In the latter part of last year a Horizon poll found that the number of New Zealanders who think that climate change is an urgent and immediate problem had slumped from 75 per cent to 52 per cent over four years.

That isn't surprising.

Our Government has shown less and less interest in the issue and instead has focused its attention on economic matters - about which the general public is much more concerned; naturally enough.

Having enough money for our needs and wants is pretty central for most of us - much more than the future state of the planet. But I suspect that there is more to the "slump" than that.

Although most debate in the media focuses on the "facts" about climate change, supposing that it is merely a matter of rational argument, the huge range of responses to those "facts" indicates something else.

Visiting any of the large number of websites or reading the growing number of books now dedicated to the topic will soon reveal the very strong feelings being aroused by this matter.

And why wouldn't there be?

Apart from a very small minority of people who still protest that climate change is either a hoax or has nothing to do with human actions, the overwhelming evidence is that our species faces a very difficult, if not catastrophic future.

That's certainly something to have some feelings about.

But who would know? Is there anywhere such emotions can be acknowledged and expressed? Do we even know what they are? Any number of people I've worked with make out they have no feelings at all.

Those of us who spend our working lives attending to the mental and emotional states of our fellow human beings know the value and benefit of helping people express how they feel. Sometimes the simple act of being listened to and understood can be life changing - even about something as emotionally laden as facing death.

Mental health professionals know that when humans have their feelings acknowledged something very fundamental to their well-being occurs.

So what might be some of the feelings we could have about climate change?

They will certainly influence our capacity to respond to the issues as they affect us and our families.

Something as big as the future of our species, including our children and grandchildren, is bound to produce "denial" - "I won't think about it", or "That can't be true!"

And probably its attendant "helplessness" - "It's too big! What can I do? Someone should do something!"

That might lead to "guilt" - "We humans have really mucked things up with our selfishness - and I'm contributing, too". Or "anger" - "People are just scaremongering! It's all BS!" or "Those bloody oil companies are to blame! ... or the government - why haven't they done something?"

How about "grief"? "What kind of life are my grandchildren going to have? I've had such hopes for them, but now their future looks awful."

I'm offering just a tiny glimpse of what might be in the hearts and minds of many of us, as we face such an uncertain future. I'm also asserting that, while facing the "facts" is important, so is facing our feelings.

A growing body of research is indicating that unless we do we are likely to remain paralysed in our denial and helplessness.

The more positive response is to use our feelings to motivate us into action. And there's plenty of that we can take.

Philip McConkey is a father of three and grandfather of four, and has spent more than 40 years in the helping professions. He is active politically, especially in the Whanganui branch of the Green Party.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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