Climate emergency is strongly demanding us to change our behavior - the sooner we do it the better. As in many turning points in our life when we need to step out of our comfort zone we are confronted with fear. Fear of change and leaving behind our loved ones, fear of failure. But instead of being afraid of making a mistake we may have to just start doing the first step. I want to argue that the process of changing our behavior and our perception of the climate emergency is comparable to the Kübler-Ross model of grief and its five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – which I all found to be present in my personal journey of acceptance and change.
When I think back to my teenage years everything seemed careless. It was not denying the climate emergency but rather being oblivious about it. In the lunch break my friends and I would go to the city center of my town exploring the latest fashion of h&m, mango and co. It didn’t really come to my mind that the consequences of even the smallest action that transcended my town, my country or my continent were my responsibility. Buying became traveling – and taking one hour flights from Amsterdam to Zurich were more convenient than going the extra mile by train. The decision was easy even though I knew it wasn’t good for the environment, because flying was and still is cheap and fast – and besides that I loved the feeling of being pushed into the seat at take-off.
Why was I supposed to change while the whole world is acting the same?
Although I knew I was doing unnecessary harm to the planet, I couldn’t help it. I had the choice of taking a different mode of transport, the choice of relinquishment but I didn’t want to give up my comfort. Why was I supposed to change while the whole world is acting the same? I felt like changing my way of life would cost me my freedom and that upset me. I didn’t want to change and no one could tell me to do so.
Around that time my sister decided to take one year where she limited her consumption to only what was essential for living. She has always been the activist of our family. Already at the age of eight she was corresponding with Nestlé and demanded them to justify their actions of privatizing water as well as exploiting people and the planet. It was she who inspired me with her relentless devotion to question my ways of consumption. I started asking myself every time I was in a shop holding a desired object in my hands: Do I really need it or do I only want it? Is it necessity or greed thriving me? After facing these first challenges of self honesty it turned out I barely needed anything I desired in the first place. I had enough shirts and trousers, enough shoes and jewelry. I didn’t need new sunglasses and also my phone was totally fine although it wasn't the newest. The question of necessity changed my relationship with consumption. And funnily enough it didn’t feel like I was missing out on something, on the contrary, I felt some sort of liberation. I escaped the claws of advertisement and capitalism. This made me feel like I was already contributing to the solution of the crisis. I changed my life-style and it was actually not that hard – I had hope.
I started asking myself every time I was in a shop holding a desired object in my hands: Do I really need it or do I only want it?
Then I started to learn about the real conditions of our planet. How bad it was really doing. I was diving into lectures, books, videos and discussions with others. This phase was hard and very painful. Once you know what your impact on the world is, once you really have internalized it, there is no way to ever forget about it again. I remember one specific moment around one year ago: After arriving back home from a long series of lectures on the Anthropocene and its effect on the Earth and its human and especially non-human inhabitants, I thought about the uncertainty of our future and the paralysis and inaction all people in power seem to be in. Looking out of the window my body got endlessly heavy and there was pressure on my chest that made it hard to breathe. I felt powerless – that there was nothing that I could do to ever make a difference. Any of my actions would vanish like a drop of water on a hot surface. Calling my climate-advocate friend in despair, I explained how small and paralyzed I felt. She remembered having the same feelings when she started exposing herself to the climate emergency. Climate anxiety is a common feeling and it helps to talk about it. We shouldn’t make ourselves feel responsible for everything, my friend told me. It’s important to look after our mental health for it’s our source of energy. Try to find positive moments and take some breaks from thinking about it, consciously giving space to something good. This will help to find the strength to continue, because the fight we're in is not a sprint, but a marathon.
Try to find positive moments and take some breaks from thinking about it, consciously giving space to something good. This will help to find the strength to continue, because the fight we're in is not a sprint, but a marathon.
So while suffering from anxiety I still knew that there was no way back. I had to let go. What I had to let go of was hope. There was no point in holding on to the past or solutions that may never come. The only way forward is to not rely on something to happen. It may seem odd to give up hope but I realized that people may never change. That the system may never change. So I stopped relying my actions on someone else’s because holding on to it would only hold me back. So I let go of hope. And when I did that it freed my mind. The reason I am doing or not doing something now is not for my own sake anymore, it is for all the ones who don’t get to have a choice – humans and non-humans alike.
The only way forward is to not rely on something to happen. It may seem odd to give up hope but I realized that people may never change. That the system may never change.
It has been a long and challenging journey. But by accepting and letting go we have the possibility to repair the damage that has already been done. Embracing the inevitable future helps to overcome the paralysis of uncertainty. If we can not fight the situation we may as well be prepared for what is yet to come. Maybe we all have to go through those different stages of grief, taking the time to mourn about the state of the Earth and the loss of our current way of life so that we eventually can let it go. It may seem as if we cannot make a difference but by not relying on someone else and doing it for the ones who don’t have a voice, in a neo-liberal and western-centered world, the final stage of acceptance can lead us into action. Especially we, as designers, have the possibilities and tools to spark the movement. We can create images of a different future, a new way of living. We can inspire change.