It’s all too much: COVID’s sly resurgence, the war in Ukraine, the controversy over Roe v. Wade, the threats to democracy, the cost of an apple.

And then there’s the climate crisis. The U.N. secretary-general, the pope and 244 scientists from all over the world warn in a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that not only are we way behind in our need to reduce our use of fossil fuels, we’re headed, in the next eight years, for unimaginable destruction.

What are the options for living a happy life in the face of all this unraveling?

I’ve been a psychotherapist for over 50 years now, so I should have some good answers to this question. If you were to consult me about your anxiety and despair, I would give you the formula: Don’t face your anxiety alone, find some action that, even in the smallest way, will give you a sense of agency over the situation that’s causing your worry and despair.

Then last fall, when the morning sun rose scarlet from all the fires out west and the U.N. warned that climate change was a “code red for humanity,” I was the one walking around in despair and feeling isolated. I was the one crying and raging when I read about the failure of 195 governments at COP26 to make resolutions that would in any significant way get us out of immediate, devastating danger.

“OK, sweet pea,” I said to myself. “You know how to do this. Don’t walk around like a gray ghost, resentful others aren’t doing enough. Get going.” So, out of the skills I honed over 77 years and the particular set of talents and advantages I was born with, I did something. Eight months later, I feel very alive. In the long run, I have no idea what impact my actions will have for life on this planet, but I can now say I am living as responsibly and lovingly as I can.

Here’s what happened: I had an idea and it mingled with other ideas until a community, a “we” came together and now we have FreeportCAN, Climate Action Now, an organization whose mission is to reduce the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels. We are committed to the idea of making Freeport a model community for living in harmony with the biosphere. That phrase may sound bombastic, but here’s what it looks like: not mowing your lawn as much to save carbon and butterflies, repairing your fridge instead of buying a new one, replacing your oil burner with a heat pump, not eating as much meat, shopping locally and at the Freeport Farmer’s Market we are sponsoring, riding your bike more often, taking the Breeze to Portland, putting solar panels on your roof.

But you don’t have to go out and start an organization. To quote Mary Oliver, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Find the one thing you love and are afraid you will lose: democracy, the beach at Winslow Park, the snow-capped mountains, women’s reproductive rights. Find one thing and talk to others who share the same worries and together do something, something that reflects your skills and talents, something that when joined with others makes a glorious new “we.”

Kathleen Sullivan is a long-time resident of Freeport, a psychotherapist, writer,  grandmother and the acting leader of She blogs on “Substack: Code Red” and “Me, Rethinking Everything.”

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