Listening beyond fear into a space of creativity, opportunity and abundance
Updated: Aug 27
Part 1 - The other face of the climate crisis: the fear crisis
By Charlotte Dufour
There is an uncanny and quite uncomfortable sense of apocalypse in the air… The unprecedented heatwaves that have struck several continents this summer, the extensive wildfires, the savage drought raging across Europe. Headlines such as “We’re not going to make it to 2050” and “Soon the world will be unrecognisable’: is it still possible to prevent total climate meltdown?” are rather bone-chilling (no pun intended), not to mention the reality of the famine in the Horn of Africa, induced by the worst drought in 40 years…
Photo by Thibaud Moritz / AFP / Getty
I need not read the newspapers to be overwhelmed by anxiety and sadness: the crackling of dry leaves, dead grass and crusty soil under my feet as I walk our dog every morning around our farmhouse in Burgundy, and the wilting or dying trees, give me plenty to worry about. I find myself praying for rain here and around the world, as memories of my days as an aid worker in the lunar steppes of the Somali region, dusty mountain passes in Afghanistan, or endless stretches of sand in the Sahel creep up together with the faces of severely malnourished children and desperate mothers. I just feel thankful we were able to harvest enough rainwater over the winter to water our freshly planted orchard. I wonder, however: will our dream of creating a food forest be feasible if droughts become recurrent? Did we start too late? And the same question applies to humanity: are we waking up too late?
But then I recognize the all too familiar being: the egregore of fear.
I became acutely aware of the amplitude, power and danger of this fear when attending the Climate Change and Consciousness Conference organized in Findhorn, in 2019. Emotions ran high as rich exchanges unfolded in Findhorn’s Universal Hall about the consequences and ramifications of climate change. The round shape of the Hall made it sometimes feel as if we were in a cauldron of fear and grief, which ultimately feed anger, guilt and blame. I saw the destructive power of this fear, especially in the voices of the angry and desperate youth.
What was more destructive of their future, I wondered: climate change, or the fear that it generates?
I became aware that it is fundamental to not only address the root causes and consequences of climate change, but also the fear it generates. Why? Not only does fear paralyse action and consume much of the energy we need to be proactive, but also because living in fear undermines the sheer value of being alive. We see this in a dramatic way in suicides associated with eco-anxiety.
Mistake me not: I do not mean we should not be afraid or dismiss our fears and grief. Climate change is real, bloody scary and the environmental destruction is heart-breaking. Also, fear, grief and anger can be powerful engines and triggers. They can catalyse action. But I wish to argue that to be generative, fear, grief and anger need to be alchemized and transformed. How and into what?
Many have been calling for the need of a new narrative about climate change, such as Charles Eisenstein in his book Climate – a New Story, or Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent in their documentary Demain (Tomorrow). I have also been asking myself for some time: how can I contribute to another narrative, one that empowers us to act from a space of love and joy rather than fear, guilt and anger? And how can we give these positive, generative narratives more power, while embracing the complexity of the situation and avoiding naïve optimism?
Reading – or rather devouring - the transformative book by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander The Art of Possibility has left me full of inspirations.
This paragraph struck a particularly strong chord:
“Often, the person in the group who articulates the possible is dismissed as a dreamer or a Pollyanna persisting in simplistic “glass half-full” optimism. The naysayers pride themselves on their supposed realism. However, it is actually the people who see the glass as half-empty who are the ones wedded to a fiction, for “emptiness” and “lack” like the “wall” are abstractions of the mind, whereas “half-full” is a measurement of the physical reality under discussion. The so-called optimist, then, is the only one attending to real things, the only one describing a substance that is in the glass.”
The authors invite the reader to engage in a number of practices, a key one being “being with the way things are”. This practice, they argue, “can break the unseen grip of abstractions created as a hedge against danger in a world of survival, and allow us to make conscious distinctions that take us into the realm of possibility. (…) Speaking in possibility springs from the appreciation that what we say creates a reality; how we define things sets a framework for life to unfold.”
They also introduce the distinction between “downward spiral talk” and “conversations for possibility”. The question being:
(Photo from The Art of Possibility, chapter 7)
Other practices Roz and Ben Zander offer include: "being a contribution"; “rule number 6” (not taking oneself too seriously); "giving way to passion"; "lighting a spark"; "creating frameworks for possibility"; and telling the “WE story”.
You will have grasped from the beginning of this post my concern that fear-loaded discourses about climate change often lead to “downward spiral talk”, which easily spiral into anger, guilt, blame, conflict and gloom. It seems difficult to mobilize crowds into large-scale behaviour change, innovation and collaboration on this basis.
If we are to get anywhere in addressing the climate crisis, we probably need “conversations for possibility”. We need to “light a spark”, “create frameworks for possibility” and invent, tell and live a new “WE story”…
So, what could these practices look like, applied to the climate crisis?
I invite you to reflect on this question and also check out the the second part of this article, in which I share some thoughts about potential frameworks for possibility…
I also warmly encourage you to read the book The Art of Possibility!