The Anthropocene Dilemma: Can We Save Ourselves from Ecological Despair?

By Diane Cole

May/June 2021

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future.

By Elizabeth Kolbert

Crown. 228 pages.


Another day, another environmental emergency. Take your pick from the continually expanding list: surging levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, seemingly unending wildfires, record-breaking temperatures, warming oceans, melting ice, rising sea levels, dwindling species, and on and on.

Headlines like these once shocked us; now they’ve become so familiar that many psychotherapists have noticed a trend among clients that they’re calling ecological despair. It might be tempting to dismiss environmental anxieties as abstract worries, but for most people, urban and rural, the underlying threats of climate change are hitting closer to home—and possibly home itself—as the situation worsens. This is the environmental trauma of our time.

In The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, a book on the psychological impact of climate change, psychotherapist Mary Pipher acknowledged that, while peering into the reality of climate change is nothing less than daunting, we must confront it, both for ourselves and for the sake of future generations. She proposes social activism as a double-barreled response: at once a route that can lead from despair to hope and a means toward achieving practical, positive change, whether through voicing protest against environmentally damaging projects,…

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