‘I’m profoundly sad, I feel guilty’: scientists reveal their personal fears about the climate crisis

Feelings of powerlessness and despair for the future are evident in letters written for a six-year ‘passion project’

In 2014, Joe Duggan started reaching out to climate scientists to ask them a question: how did climate change make them feel?

“I was just blown away when I started getting the letters back,” he says.

Related: Scott Morrison’s duty is to protect the Australian people and there is no greater threat than climate disruption | Ian Dunlop and David Spratt

When these people start to speak up about being frustrated, desperate, worried, angry or scared, then we really should listen very carefully

How do I feel about it? I am still very worried. I am also profoundly sad. I am probably sadder than I was five years ago.

I feel powerless and, to a certain extent, guilty. I feel like I have failed my duty as a citizen and as a mother because I was not able to communicate the urgency of the situation well enough to trigger meaningful action in time.

What we are doing right now is an uncontrolled, risky experiment with the planet we live on.

I’m angry because the lack of effective action on climate change, despite the wealth not only of scientific information but also of solutions to reduce emissions, has now created a climate emergency.

The students are right. Their future is now being threatening by the greed of the wealthy fossil fuel elite, the lies of the Murdoch press, and the weakness of our political leaders. These people have no right to destroy my daughter’s future and that of her generation.

My emotions haven’t really changed since I last wrote one of these letters, but things around me have. The beacon of light that is Greta Thunberg, speaking truth to power. Our own wonderful, passionate school kids taking to the streets, making me cry with pride.
The only way to cope with all of this is to focus on what I can do, what I’m best at, and hope like hell that enough people, doing what they do best, can overcome.

I have some very dark moments, but more than ever before, I feel wrapped in a blanket of collective determination. Hope is a necessary emotion, but more than that, it must be our fundamental strategy to keep us going. Lose it, and we are lost.

For the most part my comments of 19 September 2014 still apply except that the glimmer of hope has diminished if not vanished entirely. With Obama as US president and the Paris agreement in late 2015, a glimmer of hope seemed to emerge, but with Trump and his ignorant accomplices, the hope has vanished.

I am close to retirement and as I was cleaning up in 2019 I found some old VHS tapes recording me on shows, such as the Lehrer News Hour on PBS in 1988, and the message then was much the same as now except we are now more confident and the progress has been nil. It was depressing. My solution has been to move back to New Zealand along with my daughter and family (grandchildren).

Realistically, we are already too late to meet a 1.5 degree target and will struggle to achieve 2 degrees.

So, the future, basically, looks bad. Hard to stay hopeful. Change is too slow, too late.

Yet we have to stay optimistic.

Dear Joe,
Climate Change feels very real and I think this summer we reached a tipping point in Australia. As I write this my husband, a bushfire fighter, is battling a fire in Canberra and I’m working from home as a freak hailstorm destroyed my car three days ago. In four days, we’ve been smashed by our climate: hail, extreme winds, toxic smoke and fire.

…. So how do I feel? Frustrated, angry that our science is ignored by politicians, scared for my husband and all the others who are on the frontline fighting these fires and trying to help.

I feel scared for the future when faced with simple downright ignorance from some political leaders.

I feel tired, tired that in spite of bushfires, floods etc I still seem to be banging my head against a brick wall to convince people that the threat of climate change is severe.

I feel relieved that now I am retired I don’t have to live and breathe this every minute of every day.

I feel guilty that I am stepping back from the frontline, so even though I am retired I feel compelled to carry on working.

I feel unspeakable joy at the news that I am to become a grandfather for the first time, but fearful of the world my grandchild will grow up in.

I feel relieved that when my grandchild grows up and asks me why we did nothing to stop climate change I can at least say that I did my best.

As I sit writing this on a bench looking out over the moors I feel uplifted that despite everything the world is still the most beautiful place.

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