“We need as much leadership as we can get”

An Interview with Margaret Klein Salamon, climate expert and clinical psychologist about what we can learn from a year of crisis.

We recently chatted with Margaret Klein Salamon, Executive Director and founder of The Climate Mobilization, and author of the new book Facing the Climate Emergency. Margaret began her career as a clinical psychologist, a background that informs all of her work. Read on for her take on what the Covid-19 crisis can teach us about the climate. 

What surprised you about the Covid-19 response? What can we learn from this to help solve the climate crisis?

We’ve given Covid-19 the emergency treatment: fundamentally altering our lives and the economy, emergency spending, constant headlines. Climate is a much greater threat, and yet our response has been nowhere near as urgent. 

Humans evaluate risk socially, not rationally. People demonstrate their fear of Covid-19 by wearing masks, canceling events, and posting on social media, making it clear to all that this is an emergency. We must help people understand that climate is an existential emergency, too, and that we all have a part to play in the response. 

Encouragingly, we’ve seen that most people value life more than the economy. In the case of the climate and ecological emergency, we've collectively acted with such a wanton disregard for human and non-human life, so it’s absolutely heartwarming to see people and institutions taking extreme measures to protect life in this moment.

The same spirit of fiercely protecting life and demanding systems transformation because the system is a threat to life is also at the forefront of the mass uprisings against police brutality and racism.

In your book, you ask an important question: “Do we want to live? If we do, we need to wake up and grow up — right now.” Do you think this pandemic will help us do that?

There’s an opportunity for that, yes, but I don’t think it's certain. The forces of chaos, greed, passivity, and despair are strong, especially in the United States. It’s possible that the public will lose focus on climate. There are still people who think that environmental measures hurt the economy. But I do think there’s an opportunity here.

The botched response to Covid, the endemic police brutality and racism of our justice system, and the accelerating climate emergency... it’s becoming clearer every day that our system is fundamentally broken. It’s time to explore how to trigger an emergency-speed transformation of our economy and society. This will happen only if individuals step up, take responsibility, and make it happen.

We need as much leadership as we can get. We need to wake up and grow up as individuals, take responsibility for solving the climate emergency, and then lead others to do the same. This is how that kind of collective awakening and collective maturation process will unfold.

For people who want to take tangible climate-healthy action now, what would you recommend?

Many of us are dealing with feelings of grief as we realize the future is going to look very different than we hoped. Use this time of great social upheaval to mourn the future you thought you had so you can emerge from quarantine a stronger, more focused climate warrior. My new book Facing the Climate Emergency, how to Transform Yourself with Climate Truth can help you with this process. 

Secondly, talk about it: This is very impactful and you don’t even need to go outside! There is a spiral of silence in the US around the climate. While 30% of Americans are alarmed by the climate emergency, only 24% of Americans say they hear people they know talking about global warming once a month or more. This cultural silence around the climate emergency means much of our society doesn’t think about it that way. Many think: Surely, if it were an emergency, people would be talking about it, right?

You can help change this by telling the truth loudly, all the time. Schedule a conversation to talk with your friends and family, either one on one, or in larger groups. Don’t make it about science. Talk about what you see happening, what you think the future holds, and how you feel about it. Talk about your grief and your terror. Then ask them how they feel. You may be surprised how many people will say, “Wow, thanks for sharing, I thought I was the only one.”

Lastly, start organizing! Many local chapters of Extinction Rebellion, Sunrise, 350.org, and Fridays for Future have begun organizing online — no leaving your house required. Now is a great time to start making connections with local organizers so you can hit the ground running. These groups are also carrying out activities like digital climate strikes, phone banking, and letter-writing, all of which can be done from home.

Lastly, how have you been staying busy during this crisis? 

I’ve been extra-busy launching my book! It was published at the end of April, so I’ve been busy full-on with interviews, video events, and writing op-eds. In my free time, I’ve been re-watching Downton Abbey.

You can find Margaret on Twitter and visit The Climate Mobilization on their website. Her book, Facing the Climate Emergency: How to Transform Yourself with Climate Truth is a radical self-help book that helps readers face climate truth, accept their fear of collapse, and become the heroes humanity needs. Learn more and download the first chapter here

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Brenna Foster
by Brenna Foster
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