Climate Emotions with Nocturnal Medicine

September 5, 2023

Last month, artist duo Nocturnal Medicine welcomed hundreds of guests to the Bentway for “Earth Dreams,” a summer party for climate grief and urgency. Here are some other recent reflections we’re turning to on how people are processing their responses to major environmental changes.

The Bentway’s Beyond Concrete summer season explores the urban ecosystem beneath the Gardiner Expressway, where human-made infrastructure intertwines with flora and fauna. In this story series, we’re hearing from experts who engage with these themes in their daily work and have unique perspectives.

As Nocturnal Medicine cofounder Michelle Shofet put it in an interview, “A lot of our work … is about helping people move past guilt, past shame, and into a place where they can actually feel their feelings, … like sadness and grief. And those can be very mobilizing emotions.”

Recently, in the New Yorker, essayist Jia Tolentino spoke with activists and psychologists as she processed her own feelings. “I was drawn to the idea that the right kind of therapist could channel such emotions in a way that prompted serious and sustained efforts to combat climate change. I was also wary of the possibility that a therapist would simply dispel those feelings, helping me to feel more calm about a world on fire.” She asks the central question: “If the goal is for the planet to remain habitable into the next century, what is the right degree of panic, and how do you bear it?”

With August heat baking our cities and wildfire smoke turning city skies a hazy, unreal orange, here are some other recent reflections we’re turning to on how people process their responses to major environmental changes.

  • “We can make meaning out of suffering. We can make meaning out of discomfort in order to bear it, and then actually find some deeper purpose.” A twenty-minute video interview with researcher Britt Wray, whose book Generation Dread offers perspectives on how to stay sane amid climate disruption; see also this half-hour podcast episode if you’d prefer to listen
  • For Atmos, Daphne Chouliaraki Milner speaks with author and activist Tori Tsui about the limitations of the term “climate anxiety” and the how the effects of climate change are unevenly distributed
  • Nocturnal Medicine’s Larissa Belcic cites Anohni’s 2016 album Hopelessness as spectacular and foundational to their work. Listen to the album here, or to this six-minute NPR interview with her about the power of speaking out.
  • Using the rare Matsutake mushroom as an example, anthropologist Anna Tsing’s Mushroom at the End of the World proposes an ecological perspective on the idea of environmental catastrophe, one in which ruin can lead to new life. A beautiful book that has inspired countless artists, scholars, and activists.
  • In The Guardian, author Rebecca Solnit argues that “fighting defeatism is also climate work” and encourages people to balance their doomscrolling by seeking out the scientists and others proclaiming incremental gains
  • “What does it mean to teach a child to live in a time of perennial crisis, always in the shadow of loss? I think about trying to teach him love and wonder first, before he inevitably learns fear.” Author Jedediah Britton-Purdy on “becoming a parent in the age of the climate crisis.”
  • This article, available for subscribers to The Star, offers a Toronto angle, discussing the city’s thermal-comfort study, the largest such undertaking in North America. Learn more about the study in Canadian Architect.