As we all know, universities’ tutorial and staff rooms are awash in climate-doom hysterics. But academics are not just horrifying their late-teen paying customers, they’re also traumatising each other. Here’s a real-life local example:
Another educator that my co-researchers and I surveyed mentioned that after their [sic] class one day they [sic] ‘had a long cry on my commute home, and wound up cancelling plans I had to meet friends that evening.’ Such experiences demonstrate that trying to support others to engage with and navigate their own ecological distress often leads to feelings of inadequacy and despair becoming contagious.
We can again be grateful to Dr Blanche Verlie of the Sydney University’s Environment Institute for this glimpse of mortar-board mayhem, further to her disclosures about high school brainwashing. She ran climate courses herself for five years and did her Monash PhD on climate education. She’s followed up with peer-reviewed papers and last week, launched a whole book on the traumas of climate educators and their students. It’s called Learning to Live with Climate Change (free to good homes) and I took part in the Zoom launch, one of the few males present. The book “draws on and contributes to eco-feminist, posthuman, multispecies and affect studies.” Her particular villains causing global warming are — surprise! surprise! — white Western heterosexual settler-colonial male managerial capitalists.
She warns that everything is connected and “leaving the lights on in Australia may mean death for polar bears”. I must have inadvertently slain thousands of the beasts.
As a tutor Dr Verlie taught 45 Melbourne students at RMIT University for three months on climate justice. She describes the shimmering “cloudy collective” that evolved in her classes. In my young days of hormone-clouded tutes, my focus ranged from skirts to staying awake, rather than shimmering cloudy collectives. In those years the looming threat of global cooling was keeping climate scientists in a tizz.
Verlie’s book “is written with climate change ‘educators’ in mind: teachers, activists, communicators, young people, parents, researchers, policy makers, community members, artists, politicans…” She describes herself as “a white settler-Australian” determined on “decolonial climate action”. Her co-authored papers include Becoming Researchers: Making Academic Kin in the Chthulucene.
Whatever “the Chthulucene” might be, it’s dynamite on the Scrabble board — even if the concept remains thickly opaque about its
form of refuge from academic stressors, creating spaces for ‘composting together’ through processes of ‘decomposing’ and ‘recomposing.’ Our rejection of neoliberal norms has gifted us experiences of joyful collective pleasures. We share our experiences here in the hope of supporting and inspiring other emerging and established researchers to ‘make kin’ and challenge the potentially isolating processes of becoming researchers.
Dr Verlie’s book does help normal people understand why universities need safe spaces for their tribes. As Dr Verlie writes,
It is worth noting that these vignettes include stories of distress; I encourage you to approach them in a mode that cares for yourself and is responsive to your own ability to engage with the pain of climate change at the moment. As this book documents, climate change is deeply traumatic and while I believe we need to avoid the pitfalls of an individualistic approach to emotional resilience, this is not to say that practices of mindful self-care or professional counselling services have no value.
Dr Verlie provides dramatic quotes from her undergrad students. I suspect that before the kids had even hit RMIT, teachers groomed them through 12 long years of wallowing in climate hysteria, not to mention cravings for socialist world governance. There is so much insanity in the excerpts below the most extreme symptoms of derangement warrant underlining to make them stand out from the pack
♦ I’ve been crying myself to sleep a lot lately. And crying at random times too. It’s not as though I watch a video about climate change, and I cry during it. I mean sometimes that happens. It’s more like, something little happens, like my toast burns, and I have an existential breakdown because I think it’s a metaphor for how the world is burning because we aren’t paying attention.
♦ I found myself dry retching in the shower for over an hour one evening. The contractions of my stomach muscles, sense of my throat exploding, and my whole body convulsing, felt like I was trying to spew up some kind of demon, a wretchedness, a loneliness and desperation, a sense of loss for all that could have been but probably won’t, for that which is but will no longer be.
♦ I feel bitter towards individuals and systems and fail to understand why people are not being charged for climate crimes.
♦ It [climate] is a constant reminder that the Earth is f****d.
♦ The future, for me, is dark, cloudy, a black hole of uncertainty. I don’t know how it will play out.
♦ Our knowledges and ignorances about climate change will impact who will live and who will die.
# I am constantly butting heads with sceptics and non-believers (particularly my father-in-law) regarding climate change. It is so frustrating that fellow inhabitants don’t understand the magnitude of the situation, and worse still, they don’t care to learn more about it.
♦ It’s like, on warm, sunny winter and early spring days, with the light glistening through young green leaves. Everyone is happy due to the nice weather. But knowing about climate change, you know it means someone somewhere is not getting the rain they need. [Actually warming promotes rain, check with Prof. Andy Pitman at UNSW]. So it’s sort of, you can’t enjoy it, it’s an uneasiness amongst the glory that everyone else seems to be celebrating.
♦ I was thinking of the dark, foreboding nature of climate change, its creeping horror masked by invisibility in the here-and-now of hyperconsumptive capitalism. Sometimes I see climate change as a chasm opening up before me, and I stand on a precipice overlooking the deep ravine, teetering on the edge.
♦ My totally cynical view is that non-fossil-fuel-based energy production will only become the norm once the renewable-energy corporations can provide more money than fossil fuel corporations in bribes to political interests.
Against these morbid undertows, others of Verlie’s students were uplifted.
♦ I’m so glad I changed into this class – it’s more of a climate change therapy group than a university subject.
♦ This class has given me hope as … I feel everyone is so smart, powerful and brilliant
♦ One day after class, I felt like I was floating on the way home. Maybe I was delirious because this subject matter is so exhausting. But I really felt buoyed by the energy everyone brings to class.
♦ I have been overwhelmed by joy, fear, and passion.
♦ But it’s [climate apathy] disheartening. You look around, and it’s like, where’d everyone go? And they’re running away…It’s like, (sigh), Jesus guys!
♦ I really valued the ferocious intensity of information that was shared with us.
No student expresses the least scepticism about the horrow-show material: ‘I remember a unanimous feeling of frustration shared by the whole class.’ The groupthink sadly reflects today’s “monoversity” culture. The class also needed a renewables-powered spa retreat after class. Verlie writes:
As students and I discuss the systems that expose society’s most marginalised to lethal heat stress, our bodily reactions such as sweaty armpits, flushed cheeks and croaky voices belie the ‘thermal monotony’ of our air-conditioned comfort.
Outside the universities, climate derangement has been spreading like COVID Delta, as Verlie’s examples suggest:
♦ A marine biologist vomits because of her distress about coral bleaching, mimicking her beloved polyps who purge themselves of their symbiotic algae in warming water. [Hey marine biologist! Barrier Reef coral cover is actually at record heights].
♦ Gender expert Rebecca Huntley, a frequent guest luvvie on the ABC, recounts a sensation that ‘actually felt physical, as if vital organs had moved inside my body’ when watching youth climate activists implore adults to ‘do something.’
Verlie confided to her own diary:
Sometimes when I think of climate change, I see this dark, vague, tsunami towering behind me, a frothing wall of utter destruction of which we have felt tremors, but by turning our backs, have not fully comprehended. I catch glimpses of it over my shoulder, about to crash down upon me, obliterating everything, but in front of me, life goes about its daily flow, oblivious to the imminent disaster.
Here’s her summation regarding climate undergrads:
In one semester my students stated that climate change made them feel anxious, frustrated, confused, uncertain, cynical, scared, overwhelmed, emotional, devastated, depressed, frightened, angry, gloomy, resentful, challenged, isolated, desperate, disheartened, shocked, concerned, confronted, unsettled, bitter, sad, sick, upset, perplexed, guilty, stressed, amazed, daunted, defeated, dismayed, pessimistic, uneasy, tired, appalled and terrified. Given the incomprehensibly rapid and traumatic changes being wrought upon our planet’s climate, it is unsurprising that many of us are overwhelmed with climate anxiety.
Actually, July’s measured global temperature now is no higher than it was 20 years ago. Blanche, can this be “incomprehensibly rapid” climate change?
More seriously, Verlie and her feminist educators are concerned their proteges’ fanaticism might gravitate to eco-fascism. At Verlie’s Zoom book launch last week, Dr Sarah Jaquette Ray (Humboldt University, California) said she was “very nervous” about climate anxiety creating big emotions leading acolytes to aggressive eco-fascism. She praised Verlie for offering “an alternative path”.
Ray wrote in Scientific American (of all journals!) just last March:
It is a surprisingly short step from ‘chronic fear of environmental doom’ to xenophobia and fascism … Early environmentalists in the U.S. were anti-immigrant eugenicists whose ideas were later adopted by Nazis to implement their ‘blood and soil’ ideology. In a recent, dramatic example, the gunman of the 2019 El Paso shooting [22 people murdered] was motivated by despair about the ecological fate of the planet: ‘My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist.’ Intense emotions mobilize people, but not always for the good of all life on this planet.
I recently gave a college lecture about climate anxiety. One of the students e-mailed me to say she was so distressed that she’d be willing to submit to a green dictator if they would address climate change. It would be tragic and dangerous if this generation of climate advocates becomes willing to sacrifice democracy and human rights in the name of climate change.
The Christchurch mosque mass murderer (51 people slaughtered) also described himself as an “eco-fascist”.
Verlie gives similar warning in her book. She writes, “Throughout and following the fire season, approaches calling for a ‘war-like’ response to the climate crisis, including the suppression of democracy, increased in volume and frequency.” Her footnote points to one-time federal Labor Climate Minister (and later School Education Minister) Peter Garrett’s speech last year wanting to put Australia back into a 1939-style footing for war on the (non-existent) climate emergency.
Getting back to the RMIT kids, Verlie’s tutes had high turnover:
In one of my tutorials there were a lot of student absences in the first few weeks of semester, but it was not the same students missing class each week. Some would show up one week, then not again for a while, then suddenly arrive energised and passionate …
Accompanying our discussions about such disconcertment, people sigh; smile; sweat; frown; pause; laugh; cry; lean back in their chairs; wriggle in their chairs; close their eyes; rub their eyes; roll their eyes; wipe tears from their eyes; establish, maintain or avert eye contact; hug each other; turn away from each other; listen or talk over each other; get up and leave; put their head in their hands, or on the table; stare at the ceiling; shrug their shoulders; slump their shoulders.
In an odd way she feels climate fanatics’ bodies reflect the gassy air:
We are not just ‘like’ clouds. As breathing, sweating, radiating bags of gas and liquid that metabolise and reconfigure carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, human bodies are ‘only precariously contained in a skin sac.’
…These moody menageries emerge through, and in turn stimulate, our breathy practices of collectively storying climate change. Cloudy collectives are composed as our voices crack when we verbalise the violences of climate injustice; as we groan with exasperation at governments approving new fossil fuel projects; as we whisper our fears in climate grief workshops; as we shout ‘climate action now’ at rally after rally, after rally…
Don’t ask her students if they can unblock toilets or program a combine harvester’s sat-nav: “Some students took up roles facilitating environmental community building; others wrote and shared poetry; some made documentary films. Another organised a music festival and invited some of us to speak to the punters about climate change; as part of this we made a banner which read ‘loving low carbon life’ and took it to the People’s Climate March in the lead up to the Paris Climate Summit.
Verlie writes: “Climate protests are always atmospheric… chanting ‘climate action now’ when corralled under a baking sun leaves you feeling both exhausted and justified.” [Conversely, would sleet leave her feeling unjustified?] She doesn’t say whether she actually joined Extinction Rebellion bourgeois types “playing ‘dead fish’ in public places to symbolise the possibility of human extinction.” Those who did, she says, often experienced emotional burnout needing therapy from XR’s ‘regenerative culture’ specialists.
Last week’s book launch learned that Verlie sees her task as bringing people face to face with the most incomprehensible unfathomable injustices, which had led to spaces “where people are in tears and can’t speak, and it is really hard work. You always run the risk of just being traumatic and it is immensely difficult.” She agreed that it was better to work with schoolkids about climate rather than the small privileged caste studying at tertiary level: “It will require transformation of what education is and how it works and that alone is a pretty big slog.”
She conceded students could be “grumpy from arguments with their parents” and from “how do we live on this planet that many economic systems are bent on destroying”. Questioned about how kids can ever learn to dream happily again, she replied that climate change is more about their nightmares and how one in five British kids had reported bad dreams about climate.
For myself, I’m having bad dreams about university education.
 No male other than myself posted a question on Chat. Mine, unanswered, was “How can we persuade China to stop planning and building so many coal-fired power stations?”
 She mentions inter alia “a very specific version of the human, typically an entrepreneurial, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, male individual whose economic rationalism inevitably leads to planetary destruction.”
 Verlie adds: “We did, in some ways, go on to become a kind of climate change therapy group.”
 References cited by Verlie include “Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable.”
 Classicists will perhaps hear echoes of St Theresa: “The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”
 Emphases mine throughout