UC Press is proud to be part of the Association of University Press’s eighth annual University Press Week, running from November 3-9, focusing on an overall theme of how we and our peer presses “Read. Think. Act.” From the AU Presses: “Read. Think. Act.” is a particularly apt theme as many citizens around the globe continue to engage in important debates that will influence vital decision-making in the months ahead; in fact, this year’s UP Week will begin exactly one year to the day before the 2020 Election Day in the U.S.” Today’s university press blog tour focuses on “How to Be an Environmental Steward;” please check out University of Pittsburgh Press, Duke University Press, Columbia University Press, Yale University Press, University of South Carolina Press, Bucknell University Press, UCL Press, Oregon State University Press, University Press of Mississippi, and last but not least University of Minnesota Press who are also blogging on this subject theme today. Read UP!

By Sarah Jaquette Ray, author of A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet (on sale April 2020)

My state is blacked out and burning. The electricity utility that serves nearly all of northern California, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), has shut off power to businesses and residents throughout the region, ostensibly in an effort to avoid causing wildfires during a particularly warm and windy weather period. Yet, these unprecedented wind events and a failure in a PG&E transmission line have set Sonoma County ablaze with one of the worst fires in California history, the Kincade fire. The Kincade fire comes only one year after PG&E sparked California’s deadliest fire, the Camp Fire, burning the entire town of Paradise, California. The combination of climate change and other human failures is putting California on the frontlines of climate change.

If we were once worried about polar bears, sea level rise, displaced climate refugees from low-lying nations, and an abstract future of climate change, many of us around the world are now living the manifestation of those fears in the present. As a result, many people are experiencing what experts call climate anxiety, the subject of a book I have just written, A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet. Climate anxiety is a feeling of dread about the future combined with a feeling of powerlessness to do anything to shape that future.

Given the mounting presence of climate change and climate anxiety in our daily lives, what does it mean to be an “environmental steward”?

It is clear that there’s no silver bullet to stop climate change, and the fight for climate justice will require stamina. Being an environmental steward will take personal and community resilience. It will mean attending to our emotional health and cultivating the interior resources needed to heal, show up, build community with others, find effective ways to act, and even thrive in a climate-changed future. We cannot become despondent or apathetic, about engaging in the work that the planet requires of us. In my book, I offer strategies to address apathy and climate anxiety.

We need a lot of capable and energetic people—i.e. you—to navigate these storms. This book offers many ways to build and maintain that energy and commitment to climate advocacy, including:

  • tools to avoid burnout and to sustain yourselves, your hope, and your community in what trauma worker Laura van Dernoot Lipsky aptly calls “the age of overwhelm”
  • techniques to find purpose in the climate crisis and to uncover emotional and existential approaches to climate change, sometimes called “adaptive” strategies as opposed to “technical” solutions
  • strategies to cultivate personal and collective resilience in the face of depression, anxiety, fear, and dread that many of us feel when we think about a climate-changed future, not to mention the climate emergencies that are happening to many of us right now
  • tactics to address the doom-and-gloom discussions of climate change in mainstream media
  • ways to integrate pleasure, desire, humor, and optimism while pursuing the work of climate justice

As a matter of survival, we need to figure out how to not just address but thrive in a climate-changed world. We need to desire, not fear, the future. Our radical imaginations will also make visible all the good things that are being done, allow us each to see ourselves as a crucial part of a collective movement, and replace the story of a climate-changed future as a frightening battle for scarcer and scarcer resources in favor of a story where climate change creates a sense of personal abundance.

Resilience is the new environmental stewardship. As an alternative to despair and apathy, as a way to draw on our own passions and strengths to effect change in the world, as a way to witness suffering without becoming incapacitated, as a way to enhance community and personal well-being while also challenging structures of oppression, resilience helps us hold competing truths and find the strength to keep getting up in the morning.

This critical moment in history calls us to imagine something larger than ourselves. We have a lot to fight for, so why throw in the towel? We cannot afford to burn out, and we cannot afford to give up.