Am I sad or did I just eat some bad cheese?

Body cues for climate blues

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

I think about this short little piece by the lovely Edith Zimmerman about once a fortnight because it introduced me to a simple concept I hadn’t known: Interoception. Or, the sense of the internal state of the body. It’s so obvious and yet so often missed, even among those of us (me!) who like to think we know how to breathe deeply and listen to our organs (hello there spleen!). It’s a reminder that our body cues inform our climate blues.

I’ve been feeling climate bummed these past few weeks. The initial momentum of the Biden superhires abated, and then I read too many stories about climate commitments falling short — from China’s anemic five year goals to our very underwhelming Paris emissions reductions to the quarterly “huge chunks of ice breaking off of things they should not break off of” update. But is there any way to make absolute sense of macro climate moves on a specific day or week? Only to a small (warm) degree. The rest is ... just my body guiding my brain.

And my body has been tired, overwhelmed by a year of lockdown and a fresh wave on the horizon, fatigued at the thought of not getting to see my family for another few months. I feel a tiny stab of pain in my hip when I run, and I forget about it the rest of the day, though it is still there, a low-level aggravation that I’ve normalized. In other words, my body is feeling blue. And the blue shades my perception of everything around me.

Which is not to say that there aren’t objectively bad things happening (see: aforementioned ice break), but to remind myself that when I’m physically blue I collect dour news like a misanthropic magpie, alighting upon the facts and figures that align with the negative narrative I’m fashioning. If I was feeling top o’ the world, I could just as easily grab onto shiny good news, like India’s recent climate commitments or some dazzlingly fun innovation that is going to fix everything.

Of course, the climate truth of the day is always somewhere in between, with the same dominant narrative overarching: There is progress. There are setbacks. We need to be moving much faster. And we can do this. I just need to remind myself that this is the story, not the one I generate based on the blips of my body.

The positive side of this mind body reminder is it inspires more critical thought about everything: the China news is nuanced, that slight pain in my left hip needs attention, and I’m hungry and should probably go make a sandwich.

So how should we track out where we’re at with this whole global climate emergency thing? Gernot Wagner sums it up expertly as usual:

The proper metric to judge the Biden administration’s—or any country’s—climate policies, is neither this year’s emissions, nor is it the net-zero decarbonization target three decades out, however important that might be as a long-term target. The real metric of climate success is the trajectory of emissions five to 10 years out. That is far enough to not be subject to the whims of annual variability. It is also close enough to be directly influenced by today’s policy choices. It is where “building back better” comes in, and where it is disheartening to see the world, by and large, not doing so to the extent necessary.

THIS WEEK:

How are you feeling? How does your body inform your mind? Let me know!

LAST WEEK:

It’s been a few weeks so I have a huge collection of delightful feedback. Here’s this lovely display of cardboard hearts from Sabrina after the post about what to do with all that delivery cardboard.

And Kathryn sent some very good language tweaks to help make my climate signage entreaties more effective:

I wonder if instead of “talk” or “ask” you could phrase your invitation as more of a question, maybe? I haven’t come up with anything pithy enough for a button or mask yet, but, there was a postcard in my office (which I haven’t been in lately, or I’d look up the exact source) from a British museum dialogue event that I think said “do you want to talk science?” with all lowercase letters – which also may seem less “threatening” than “shouting” in all caps 

 Or maybe “let’s talk climate” which isn’t a question but may be more inviting?

OTHER STUFF:

My latest comic for Yes! On how to bring nature into your life.

And if you (understandably) find the language around carbon offsets and labelling con-fu-sing…read my Chatelaine magazine explainer on all the terms you need to know to slice through the greenwashing.

PEOPLE DANCING:

OMG I love Atsuko and her grandmother, and am thinking about them very much this week.

The end

Thanks much for reading. If you’re new here, I’m Sarah Lazarovic. I work on communicating the importance of good climate policy and carbon pricing by day, and this newsletter and my dance moves by night.

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