Tuesday, March 21, 2023

How climate scientists keep hope alive as damage worsens

During the same year, University of Maine climate scientist Jacqueline Gill lost both her mother and stepfather. She struggled with infertility, then during research in the Arctic, she developed embolisms in both lungs, was transferred to an intensive care unit in Siberia and nearly died. She was airlifted back home and later had a hysterectomy. Then the pandemic struck.

Her trials and her perseverance, she said, seemed to make her a magnet for emails and direct messages on Twitter “How can I be optimistic, asking me, like, what’s driving me?”

Gill said she embraced the idea that she is “everybody’s climate babysitter” and trains them to hope through action.

Hope and optimism often blossom among hard-working experts in the gloomy areas of global warming, COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease.

How climate scientists like Gill or emergency room doctors cope with their frustrating day-to-day work during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet remain hopeful, dealing with a world going off the rails People can offer help, psychologists said.

“I think it’s because they see a way. They see that things can be done,” said Pennsylvania State University psychology professor Janet Swim. “Hope is seeing a way, even if it’s way too long.” Far, far away.”

Inger Andersen, director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said she could not do her job without being optimistic.

Anderson said, “I don’t want to be naive in choosing to be a ‘realistic optimist,’ but the alternative to being a realistic optimist is to either hold one’s ear and wait out the doom or party during Titanic’s orchestra.” Anderson said. , “I don’t subscribe either.”

Dr. Christina Goff works in the intensive care unit at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and she said that at times she feels overwhelmed during a pandemic. She keeps a file folder at home with “little notes that say ‘Hey you made a difference.”

“I think half the battle at my job is learning what can be overwhelming anxiety and turning it into productivity and resilience,” Goff said. “You just have to focus on these little areas where you can make a difference.”

Alzheimer’s disease can be one of the most difficult diagnoses a physician can make, where the future can appear bleak. Yet what Dr. Ronald Peterson, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Research Center and a male colleague describe as optimistic and passionate, doesn’t see it that way.

“I don’t think it’s hopeless. I don’t think it’s sad. It’s tough. It’s challenging,” Peterson said. But “we’re a lot better today than we were five years ago, 10 years ago.”

These scientists’ coping techniques are doing something to help. The word they often use is “agency”. This is especially true for climate researchers—starred as doomed by political types who reject science.

Gill, who describes himself as a lifelong cheerleader, has also struggled with depression. She said that what’s important in fighting eco-anxiety is that “regular depression and regular anxiety tools work exactly the same way. And that’s why I say to people: ‘Be the doer. There other go. Don’t just doom .’ There are entry-level ways that anyone, virtually anyone, can help. And the more we are like, ‘Oh, this really works,’ it turns out.”

It’s not just about individual actions, like quitting air travel, or becoming a vegetarian, it’s about working together with other people, Gill said. He said individual action on climate change is helpful, but not enough. To bend the curve of rising temperatures and build up of heat-trapping gases, steady collective action, such as the youth climate activism movement and voting, gives true agency.

“I think maybe it helped allay this frustration,” she said. “I go to a scientific meeting and I see thousands of scientists who are working on it. And I think ‘Yeah, we’re doing this.'”

Victor Gensini, a meteorology professor at Northern Illinois University, said that, at 35, he feels it is his relative youth that gives him hope.

“When I think that might happen, I get a sense of optimism and form a view that it’s something I can do something about,” Gensini said.

The UN’s Anderson has been working on ecological issues for decades and believes the experience has made her optimistic.

“I have seen changes on other important environmental issues such as the ban on toxic materials, better air quality standards, repair of the ozone hole, the phase-out of leaded petrol and more,” Anderson said. “I know that hard work, based on science, rests on strong policy and yes, based on multilateral and proactive action, can lead to change.”

Deke Arndt, head of climate science and services at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Center for Environmental Information, said what excites her with immense optimism is her personal conviction, and remembering all those who have lived through generations. His family has helped – through a dust bowl and infertility for his grandparents and then through neonatal issues for his son.

“We have experienced the miracle of practical care from fellow humans,” Arndt said. “You spend the rest of your life trying to repay.”

“Where people don’t suffer through their own procreation, this makes me want to work again as a scientist and Catholic,” Arndt said. “We have to do as much as we can.”

What’s more, Gill and many others said, science tells them it’s not game over for Earth.

“The work I do naturally gives me a sense of agency,” Gill said. “As a paleo-ecologist (who studies the past) and climatologist, I have a better understanding of Earth’s resilience than many people do.”

It helps that she studies glaciers. Even though they shrink, they are still there by the time she comes back to meet them. She pointed to Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb, who spent most of her career diving and studying the same coral reef in the Pacific, only to return in 2016 and find it dead: “God, I can’t imagine that What is a gut punch.”

Cobb burst into laughter when Gill heard about the reef scientist’s life.

From 1997 to 2016, Cobb dived one of the tiny islands of Kiritimati in the Pacific, monitoring the effects of climate change and El Nio on a fragile coral reef there. Super hot water killed it in 2016, with only faint signs of life sticking out.

That fall, Cobb took one last trip. It was during the election. A huge Hillary Clinton fan, Cobb was wearing a Madame President shirt when she heard the news that Donald Trump had been elected. She said she fell into a pit of despair that probably lasted for a few months.

“And then on New Year’s Eve, I decided I probably had enough and I know my husband has had enough, my kids have had enough. So people needed their mothers and their wives, ” said Cobb. “I decided to grope the other way from there.”

Cobb said, “I haven’t been able to be afraid for so long before I start asking myself some questions like, ‘Look, you know how you can work your position? How do you put your resources to work’? Can I bring it in?'” Cobb said.

He and his family cut their personal carbon emissions by 80%. She no longer flies on planes. She turned vegetarian, made compost, installed solar panels. She works on larger climate action, rather than her more focused previous research. And she bikes everywhere, which she said is like mental health therapy.

She tells people when they’re worried about climate change, “there’s going to be no victory, a shining moment where we can declare success,” but “it’s never too late to take action. It’s never too late to fix it.”

NOAA’s Arndt said the 20th century in which he grew up is forever over. He mourns her loss, but also finds mourning that has become “strangely liberating”.

With climate change “we have to hold on to hope and grief at the same time, as if they are the twins we are raising,” Maine Gill said. “We have to understand and see what happened and what we’ve lost. And then be fiercely committed to protecting what’s left. And I don’t think you can do that from a place of despair.”


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