In this “Facing the Truth” episode, I give a brief update on the state of the climate and ecological crisis as reflected in the recent IPCC report on the mitigation of climate change. Then I reflect on our situation to help us absorb the insanity of it, and discuss whether or not a “crazy” response is an appropriate one. Finally, I invite you to give you to consider how we are experiencing entirely new kinds of human distress by living in the midst of a climate and ecological emergency.



Quicklinks to Article Content:
The Latest IPCC Report: It’s Now or Never
Insanity: Let’s Keep Drilling for Oil!
Absorbing the Insanity of Our Situation
Is a Crazy Response an Appropriate Response to Insanity?
Entirely New Kinds of Human Distress


This is one of my Facing the Truth episodes. As I’ve discussed previously on the podcast, I believe the only way we make a practice of living a sustainable, ethical, and authentic life in the middle of a climate and ecological crisis is by including three essential ingredients in our lives: Facing the Truth, Staying Strong, and Taking Action. It takes thoughtfulness and skill to balance these three ingredients. So, after two episodes on Taking Action, it’s once again time to make some space for reflection, and for Facing the Truth of what’s going on in our world with respect to the climate and ecological crisis.

First, I’m going to give you a brief update on the crisis. Then I’ll take some time to reflect on and absorb the information, and discuss the challenge we face in responding to the insanity of the situation without losing our minds.


The Latest IPCC Report: It’s Now or Never

A couple weeks ago, on April 4th, the United Nation’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released the third and final installment of their Sixth Assessment Report. Remember, the IPCC celebrated it’s 30th anniversary recently, so they’ve been creating and releasing reports for a long time. The first part of the sixth report was on the “physical science basis” of climate change, and the second was on “impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability.” This most recent installment was about the “mitigation of climate change.” In other words, the first two parts of the report discussed the dire situation we’re in, while the third talks about what we’re doing about it.

There is some good news. As the IPCC’s press release states, “In 2010-2019 average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, but the rate of growth has slowed… there is increasing evidence of climate action… Since 2010, there have been sustained decreases of up to 85% in the costs of solar and wind energy, and batteries. An increasing range of policies and laws have enhanced energy efficiency, reduced rates of deforestation and accelerated the deployment of renewable energy.”[i]

The new report’s summary for policymakers goes into more detail, providing data on how successfully avoiding climate catastrophe is within our reach. We already know what to do, and addressing the problem on many fronts at the same time has the potential to limit heating, prevent ecological collapse, and actually result in a healthier and more equitable life for all. The report compares the relative costs and benefits of a host of mitigation measures that can be employed in energy production, industry, buildings, transport, agriculture, forestry and other land uses, and diet.

However, the press release goes on to say, “In the scenarios we assessed, limiting warming to around 1.5°C (2.7°F) requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030; at the same time, methane would also need to be reduced by about a third. Even if we do this, it is almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold but could return to below it by the end of the century.” [ii]

Jim Skea, the Co-Chair of the working group which produced the report, stated in the press release, “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F). Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”[iii]

I’d have to refer to the first and second installments of the IPCC report to talk about the dire circumstances we’ll be facing if we fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Let’s just say that every fraction of degree of warming we fail to stop multiplies the catastrophic consequences.


Insanity: Let’s Keep Drilling for Oil!

Okay, so the IPCC has spoken again. It’s difficult to imagine their message getting clearer or more forceful. What has been the response to the latest report?

Well… there are a lot of decisions to be made about which global heating mitigation measures to focus on, but there’s one absolute no-brainer: Immediately stop the expansion of fossil fuel extraction activities. Development of new coal, oil and gas extraction sites, pipelines, refineries, and power plants locks investment into the major cause of the climate crisis for decades. Arguments are made by those in power that we must continue to explore and exploit new sources of fossil fuels so ordinary folks can have jobs and afford to fill their gas tanks, but we all know the real motivation isn’t the well-being of ordinary folks, it’s the expansion of the already obscene profits of the richest of the rich.

Gasoline prices have been rising recently. Some blame the war in Ukraine, some blame the oil companies (who in the meantime have managed to bring in record-breaking profits), and Republicans blame Biden. In any case, politicians are feeling pressure to expand drilling for oil and gas – ostensibly to increase supply and decrease prices, even though the effects of new drilling won’t be felt for years.[iv] During his campaign for president in 2020, Joe Biden said, “No more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.” On Friday, April 15th, Biden broke that promise when his administration announced it would resume selling leases for new oil and gas drilling on public lands.[v]


Absorbing the Insanity of Our Situation

Let’s take a moment to reflect and to absorb the truth of what’s going on. The climate crisis is already unfolding before our eyes. Our daily lives play out within the disconcerting context of a visibly warming world and increasingly common “unprecedented” weather events. We already see growing political turmoil, mass migration, and anti-immigrant sentiment as global heating exacerbates existing problems. Dire warnings of mass extinctions, ecosystem collapse, and water shortages have become commonplace.

Hundreds of respected scientists from around the world just issued a collaborative report stating our global greenhouse gas emissions need to start decreasing within the next three years, or things will get much, much worse. That’s decreasing, not simply growing more slowly. But the US president, a Democrat who vowed to take action on climate and whose party controls both houses of congress, has been unable to do much of anything because our political system is broken. Not only that, he just opened public lands back up to new oil and gas drilling.

The insanity of our situation is difficult to comprehend. I find my mind shrinking away from it or sliding into denial by dwelling on the minutiae of various arguments. At times I almost buy the argument of those in power that we can’t get off the fossil fuel train because doing so will hurt the working class and poor – until I recognize this is really an argument that says, “If you stop the fossil fuel train, we’ll do nothing to help the working class and poor; we’ll take our money and run and let the poor folks deal with the consequences.”

Maybe it’s that the insanity of continuing business as usual when we’re obviously killing ourselves is just too much to face. I imagine good people in Nazi Germany looked the other way when they suspected something was amiss at concentration camps because they simply couldn’t imagine that such atrocities could happen. It was beyond belief. But just because we can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it can’t happen.


Is a Crazy Response an Appropriate Response to Insanity?

When I really open my mind to our predicament, when I let down my guard and absorb what’s happening, I’m reminded of the woman scientist, Kate Dibiasky, from the movie “Don’t Look Up.” (I plan to do a whole episode on that movie at some point, I highly recommend it as a modern morality tale about our climate emergency.) In the movie, the imminent threat to life on earth is a comet, set to strike the planet in 6 months. The two scientists who discovered the threat end up trying to convince the government to take action, but they encounter a surreal but entirely realistic quagmire of denial, distraction, greed, and sensationalism. At one point, after facing inane questions that make a joke out of the warnings the scientists are trying to give, Kate screams on live television, “There’s a 100% chance that we’re all going to die!” Everyone thinks she’s overemotional and crazy and the video of her outburst goes viral in the most denigrating ways.

What is an appropriate response to our climate emergency? Is a “crazy” response actually an appropriate response? This is an extremely isolating and painful question for anyone who actually believes the IPCC reports. I recently read an excellent piece called “Under the Weather” by Ash Sanders, published in the book All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. Sanders writes about her experience of climate anxiety. She obsessed over her own actions and how they contributed to the climate crisis. She got involved in radical activism. She worked nonstop because, “There was no pause button on climate change, so why should I get a break?”[vi] After eight years she was completely burned out, and retreated from everything for five years. When she found herself ready to return to the fight, she says:

“I was afraid of becoming shrill again, afraid of my urge to grab plastic bags out of people’s hands and force my partner to turn down the thermostat and try to fit animal extinction into casual conversation. I was afraid I would become a purist and a martyr, taking all the sorrow and all the suffering on myself because I didn’t know how else to reconcile my smallness with the hugeness of the problem.


“I wasn’t immune to social cues. I knew I was supposed to agree that biodegradable cups were helping or that the empathy of the next generation would pull us out or that not all life would be lost—and that humans, resilient, would go on. In each of these conversations, there was a subtext: This is where you nod and agree. This is where you choose this friendship over party-pooping facts. This is where you stop.”[vi]

What is an appropriate response to the breakdown of earth’s natural life-support systems, and to the human refusal to stop causing it? It seems pretty natural to get phenomenally depressed or desperate, and in her chapter, Sanders tells the stories of a number of otherwise normal folks who reacted this way to the climate crisis. Some of them found their way out of their despair by retreating into a life of denial, and who can blame them? But it sure seems like we need to find a middle way between denial and completely freaking out.

Of course, there’s no “appropriate response” we can define and then be done with whole issue. I think the best response we can offer is an ongoing attitude of humility and willingness to be real. Sometimes the appropriate response is to go out in our garden, breathe fresh air, and admire growing things. Sometimes the appropriate response is to crumple in a heap, weeping for all the pointless death and destruction that is happening and is yet to come. Sometimes the appropriate response is to take action, determined to save whatever we can.


Entirely New Kinds of Human Distress

It’s helpful to acknowledge to ourselves how incredibly difficult all of this is. Human beings are experiencing entirely new kinds of worry and pain we have no words for. Because we have no words, we have no concepts, and we can’t talk to one another about what we’re going through and get some support. Sanders found some solace in a little project called the Bureau of Linguistical Reality, the brainchild of two women, Alicia Escott and Heidi Quante. According to their website, “The Bureau of Linguistical Reality was established on October 28, 2014 for the purpose of collecting, translating and creating a new vocabulary for the Anthropocene.” The Anthropocene is a term for new geologic age where human beings are having such a massive impact on the planet, it will be forever evident in the geologic record.

I’d like to share a couple of the forty-or-so terms offered by the Bureau of Linguistical Reality. As I do so, notice if you relate to any of the feelings or experiences described – experiences your ancestors would not have understood. The words themselves don’t matter that much (the website even invites you to leave comments and suggestions for concepts in need of words), but I think the descriptions point at some very real and important experiences:

Psychic Corpus Dissonance: The conflict between mind and body that occurs when a person experiences unusually warm weather during a time that has historically been considered winter.  In this state the body experiences ecstasy to be in unusually warm weather while, simultaneously, the mind experiences worry and concern that weather patterns are deeply amiss, often resulting in a sensation akin to guilt or guilty pleasure.[vii]


Gelm: A sense of foreboding, threat and dread in response to every day encounters with the evidence of human-caused environmental and ecological destruction, such as traffic jams, the deformed feet of pigeons, the debris of litter from fast food outlets, the crush of urban life, the smog of pollution, the demise of garden birds, the abundance of cleaning products which end up in waterways, images of drought riven lands or flooding, or the sight of huge industrial complexes churning out smoke.[viii]


NonnaPaura: A strong natural urge for your children to have children mixed with an equally strong urge to protect these yet unborn grandchildren from a future filled with suffering as climate change accelerates and drastically alters the Earth. (From Nonna (Italian) meaning Grandmama + Paura (Italian) meaning Fear.)[ix]

Sometimes being given a word for something you experience helps you deal with it. At the very least, part of Facing the Truth is facing our own responses to what’s going on in the world. May you find strength and patience as you navigate this crazy time in our world.

Next week’s episode will focus on Staying Strong, so I hope you’ll tune in, thanks for listening.



[i] IPCC Sixth Assessment Report – April 2022 Press Release (

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Biden Plans to Open More Public Land to Drilling. New York Times:

[v] Ibid

[vi] All We Can Save (p. 233). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.




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