Book Review: A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety

Just from reading the introduction, I knew this book by Sarah Jaquette Ray was going to change my life. The opening sentence alone challenged my mindset about the world: “Imagine yourself thriving in a climate changed world.” If you’ve read my earlier blogpost, you’ll know I don’t hold much stock in having a future, let alone thriving in one. With that one sentence though, I started to imagine, and what a future it would be. 

Take a moment for yourself and imagine. What does a climate changed future look like? Not one of desolation and destruction, one where people can thrive. Because the latest IPCC Report shows we aren’t getting out of this without some change. But what does a thriving future you look like? What does your community look like? Once I started imagining, I realized that I couldn’t stop! I do want a future! I want a future where I can thrive!

The book is split into 7 chapters, plus introduction and conclusion. Professor Ray blends her own personal experience as an environmental humanities teacher, with world philosophies and religions like Buddhism and Affect Theory. The research, words, and stories of other activists to show a few main points. We cannot continue a mass movement if we’re all burnt out; environmentalism can be a movement of connection, abundance, well-being, and joy instead of fear, sacrifice, denial, and doom; and we must incorporate healing from oppression of all forms in our work as climate/environmental activists. 

Professor Ray tells us that personal resilience is critical to the climate movement. She weaves environmental justice into everything she says. She acknowledges that marginalized communities everywhere are going to face the worst of the crisis, and that that makes resilience all the more crucial.  She reminds us that all systems of oppression are intertwined, and we can’t expect to see immediate results when working against something so large. That all kinds of action are important, and reframing what “action” itself means can help us feel that we can make a difference. That we don’t need to understand or empathize with people of different viewpoints in order to find common ground to work together.

And as Professor Ray herself says, the most important takeaway from this book is this: “thinking of ourselves as ineffectual in our ability to address climate change makes us so.” A doom and gloom approach, where we shout about how we are all going to die, is not a long-term way to mobilize people.  We must build resilience in our movement to avoid falling into apathy.

Of course, no book is perfect, but this one truly gave me perspective I desperately needed. I think partly it was so impactful to me because it’s written for me, a Gen Z climate activist who grew up hearing only doom and gloom about climate. I’ve never been told that I can live my life fully while also living sustainably. It won’t be for everyone, and that’s okay. But hey, if you need some help with feelings of grief, loss, and anxiety around the changing climate maybe try giving it a shot. While reading, I was reminded about how important regenerative culture and practices are, which made me incredibly thankful for our own XR regen team.

And Extinction Rebellion gets a shout out on page 6, so why not check it out! It’s available at Multnomah County Library and Powell’s.  Side note: the library has opened up “Suggested Purchases” again! Are there any climate books you’ve been wanting to get your hands on? Suggest them to the library so others can read them too.

About Tri Sanger

Tri Sanger (they/them) is XRPDX's Youth Outreach Coordinator and a contributor to the XRPDX newsletter and Instagram account.

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