Last week I read this Guardian article on the effects of climate change in Kenya. It's upsetting, and angering, and it left me with a feeling of empty helplessness. As I read the final paragraphs, I felt my ability to engage with the issues sliding away, beaten down by a layer of "well, shit, this is just too bad, too awful, for me to do anything".
"Best not to think about it," my self-protection told me.
I'm sure this wasn't the aim of the writer. But it is often the risk with this sort of disaster story. Faced with however-many hundred words of bleak doom, the easiest reaction is dissociation. Thinking about it is too miserable; there's nothing in it to indicate that there's anything that you as an individual can do; so the self-protective response is disengagement.
Which isn't helpful: to those affected by climate change, to us (so far only minimally affected if at all), to anyone. To counter that, here's some things that you can do about this, and about other climate change disaster stories.
- Change your own consumption habits. There may be a limit to the impact that you all by yourself can have, but it's not just about you all by yourself. It's about many people - everyone - changing their habits, and that is one of the things that must happen for us to have any hope of minimising the changes in the climate. Check out 10:10 as a possible starting point.
- Campaign for other, bigger changes: Climate Camp (the Great Climate Swoop is upcoming in October!), Climate Rush, Plane Stupid... Direct action really can make a difference, and the more people are involved, the greater the likelihood that we'll have an impact.
- To help people in Kenya (and other affected areas) more directly: Farm Africa are working in Kenya, promoting projects that empower local communities to manage their own resources and increase their own resistance to water (and other) problems.
- The charity Concern are also working in this area.
It's important not just to throw money at the problem (however good the charity in question is) and forget about it: that's another form of disengagement. To halt climate change (and thus to make real long-term changes for those worst hit by it), we all need to act. You yourself can make a difference. We can react to distressing news like this, not with helpless dissociation, but with action. That's the only way we can make the future better.