Facing the Climate Emergency

I write as a mother who is living a middle-class lifestyle in a Western country (England) and who has been involved in environmental activism for some time. I write having reached a new level in realising the need to face the full horror and scale of the crisis we confront as a species. The information about it may not be new, but its significance has become more and more real to me.

It is key that we fully face and help others to face that we are in a state of climate emergency—that we have maybe five years (plus or minus a couple) to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to have any chance of preserving the world as we know it.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently reported that the world has twelve years to take dramatic, unprecedented action to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees (to be clear, this is action on a scale the world has never seen before). Subsequently the report has been criticised as a conservative compromise, and respected scientists are breaking ranks [not conforming to the messages of their groups] to issue serious warnings that we actually need to act much more quickly.

We also need to face the following:

  • That sixty percent of animal life and seventy percent of insects have been killed in the past forty years.[1]
  • That climate scientists are openly talking about being terrified
  • That the effects of global warming are happening more quickly and more seriously than was predicted
  • That, from the information I have, it appears that we are in the midst of our final chance to divert from environmental collapse, without causing massive human suffering

We need to face all this as boldly and starkly as we can—and notice that the “normal” times are over. (Note: this version of “normal” is a creation of capitalism and has usually been available only to privileged people and rich societies.)

Without facing the above, I don’t think we have much hope of responding adequately.


Last year, 2018, brought clear evidence of how climate change is affecting the planet, and this broke through to many people’s consciousness in a new way. However, the extent of the crisis is still barely reflected by most media or governments or in our daily lives—at least in the United Kingdom, where I live, and I think in most other Western societies.

Many of us (including me) have great difficulty staying truly engaged with it. Our capitalist societies and our chronic distresses keep us distracted, exhausted, entertained, obedient, numb, or “asleep.” In a sense we are sleepwalking toward disaster.

(Maybe we should consider not using the term “climate change.” It suggests something manageable and normal, when what we are actually dealing with is crisis, emergency, catastrophe, and breakdown.)


Many people have worked hard and with positive results—but we have nearly run out of time, and we can’t avoid a direct confrontation with fossil fuel capitalism.

There are hundreds of amazing, positive, innovative ideas and projects that are addressing the environmental crisis, and most of them move us forward as humans, too. We have so many of the answers we need—but we don’t have the will of most of our leaders, and we don’t have time to spare.

There have been fantastic efforts to move us out of global dependence on fossil fuels toward a peaceful and empowering transition to clean, green energy. Much has been achieved, and it will make a big difference. But it has become clear that fossil fuel capitalism won’t just roll over [end easily]. It doesn’t know how to stop, and it can’t. It is not an intelligent system.

The fossil fuel industry continues to receive trillions of pounds (U.K.) in government subsidies, even as we approach the cliff edge.[2] We continue to be urged to consume more and more. Despite the mounting evidence of ever-increasing climate disruption, emissions actually increased last year and probably will again this year. It looks likely that saving people and the planet will require defeating fossil fuel capitalism and changing our entire system—and we are approaching this confrontation in the next few years.


It will help us to think, act, and respond thoughtfully and courageously if we have a chance to fully face and discharge about the emergency we are in—face that we have moved beyond “business as usual.” By confronting the emergency, we will be less vulnerable to manipulation, less “shockable,” and more prepared to make big changes when opportunities come.

For me, facing and discharging about the emergency is both very hard and very useful. It brings up all my chronic distress. It leaves me grief-stricken, terrified, shocked, disbelieving, and unable to sleep. I have to be closely connected as I face it. But I also feel much braver and am more focused. I am more aware of the sweetness of every moment of life and the preciousness of all human beings. There is also something useful for me about facing that we are at the end of something—the end of this version of capitalism, which has exploited the world and hurt people so much—and that I get to fight.


It would be good for us to discharge and think about the next five to ten years of our lives. I don’t know exactly what will happen, of course, but we can expect big, ongoing, and increasing instability as well as the increasing effects of climate change. The end of the cheap fuel economy will probably continue to cause huge tremors across the world. One possibility, among others, is that the monetary system could collapse because of its links to a collapsing fossil fuel industry.

As more and more people become aware of the climate emergency, more people will be feeling grief, terror, and anger. There will be more big uprisings. If people can establish supportive networks and get a chance to think and discharge beforehand about what could happen, they will be less pulled to respond oppressively to the events.

 There will also be opportunities to question the existing system and think about building a new one. The ecological crisis could be our best chance yet to create the lives and world that we have dreamt of. Creating them would require many people actively thinking, responding, and leading across all parts of society. I don’t think people will be able to do this boldly and effectively enough unless they have faced the emergency head-on.


We can each ask ourselves, “What does this mean for my life?” ’‘What role do I want to play?” “How can I build the support I need to be effective and have a good life during this period?” “How bold can I be?” “How big a life can I lead?”

We RCers can play an important role. We can help ourselves and others face how bad and urgent the climate crisis is, listen and be listened to with great compassion, discharge, and move to action. We are also excellent organisers and leaders.

I myself plan to dedicate 2019 to the climate emergency. As a starting point, I am thinking about holding gatherings in my community—with friends, parents, activists, neighbours—called “facing the climate emergency.” I will invite them to caring and friendly meetings at which together we’ll look directly at the information and have space to notice how we feel, to think about what the emergency means for our lives, and to consider what action we will take. I will also participate in civil disobedience, campaign for strong environmental policies in the U.K. Labour Party, and continue with my other projects.

(with gratitude to all the people whose
thinking I have used in developing my own)

Bess Herbert

London, England

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
listfor RC Community members

[1]  WWF. 2018. Living Planet Report—2018: Aiming Higher. Grooten, M. and Almond, R.E.A. (Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland

[2] <http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-subsidies/>

Last modified: 2021-01-27 00:14:27+00