We all know what it’s like to feel despair about our future under climate change. But of course this is a dead-end and paralyzing emotion. How can we best understand our despair, and what can we do with it?

Some thoughtful writers have tackled these questions in the form of literary or personal essays. The two addressed here are honest, unflinching, and oddly invigorating in how they embody a kind of ethical or moral courage: Roy Scranton, in “Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene” (New York Times) and Brian Calvert, in “So What if We’re Doomed? Climate Chaos, Mass Extinction, the Collapse of Civilization: A Guide to Facing the Ecocide” (High Country News).

Scranton and Calvert tie their war experiences, as soldier and reporter respectively, with what they see and expect at home from climate change and other massive problems. In writing about their efforts to accept and cope with their despair and their loss of hope, Scranton and Calvert offer readers company and perhaps help in dealing with darker moments.

As philosopher Michael P. Nelson has argued (in “To a Future without Hope“), “Turning our backs on hope might be the best thing we can do at this moment in time.” Each of these writers offers a slightly different alternative: “learn to face the worst, then move on; focus on the beauty in wholeness; replace ‘I hope’ with ‘I resolve to do the work’ or ‘I will be this kind of person, I will live this kind of life’.”

Also see video post: “Scientists weigh public’s emotional responses to climate risks,” Yale Climate Connections.


This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to ICYMI@yaleclimateconnections.org any time. Let us hear from you.

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