During Laudato Si’ Week, together with the Society of African Missions (SMA) fathers we hosted a panel discussion bringing together voices passionate about climate change, climate fatigue, and ecological spirituality. Facilitated by Brian O’Toole of the Presentation Sisters Justice Desk, the event featured Nellie McLaughlin RSM, Jane Mellett, and Professor John Barry. Their conversation offered both profound insights and practical advice for those feeling overwhelmed by the climate crisis.

What is Climate Fatigue?

Brian O’Toole opened the discussion by inviting Sister Nellie McLaughlin to address the concept of climate fatigue. She described it as a sense of being inundated by discussions on climate change without seeing enough concrete action, particularly from political leaders. “Since the Paris Agreement in 2015 and the introduction of Laudato Si’, there’s been a lot of talk but very little action, especially from those in power,” Sr Nellie observed. This lack of progress contributes to public frustration and fatigue, further complicated by climate denial efforts funded by the fossil fuel industry.

Sr Nellie, who works in the areas of Creation Spirituality, Cosmology, Ecology, and Sustainable Living, and is a founding member of Green Sod Land Trust in Ireland, stressed the importance of reconnecting with the earth. “We need to come home to who we really are and work in companionship with the earth,” she said, urging us to see the earth not as a separate entity but as a living organism that we are an integral part of.

The Emotional Toll and Ethical Imperative

Jane Mellett, Trócaire’s Church Outreach Manager and previously their Laudato Si’ Officer, delved into the emotional and ethical dimensions of climate fatigue. She linked it to the overwhelming and complex nature of the ecological crisis. “Realising that the very fabric of our planet is unraveling due to our own actions can be deeply unsettling,” Jane explained. This realisation affects us mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Jane, whose specific focus is on climate justice and ecological spirituality as it pertains to Catholic Social Teaching, drew on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, which calls for a personal and collective response to the ecological crisis. “Pope Francis invites us to become painfully aware of what’s happening to the world and to make this our own personal suffering,” she shared, highlighting the need for a holistic understanding that fosters a deep commitment to addressing these issues.

Finding Strength in Activism

Brian O’Toole guided the conversation towards practical responses to climate fatigue, with Jane Mellett and Professor John Barry emphasising the power of activism. Jane spoke passionately about the need for “sacred activism”, where individuals, motivated by their spiritual and ethical values, engage in sustained climate action. “We need sacred activists, people deeply rooted in their spirituality and values, to become beacons of hope and catalysts for change in their communities,” she said.

She pointed to ongoing movements like Fridays for Future and stressed the significance of the upcoming local and European elections. “We all need to know what we are demanding from candidates and communicate these demands clearly,” Jane urged, referencing resources like the Friends of the Earth election toolkit as practical aids for holding political leaders accountable.

John Barry echoed these sentiments, highlighting the critical role of activism in driving political will. “During the pandemic, governments acted on the medical science. Why aren’t they acting on the climate science with the same urgency?” he questioned, pointing out the disparity in responses and urging for similar mobilisation and resource allocation to tackle climate change.

Embracing Hope and Intergenerational Collaboration

John Barry, Professor of Green Political Economy and the Director of the Centre for Sustainability and Just Transitions at Queen’s University Belfast, offered a compelling perspective on the need for hope in climate activism. He differentiated between false optimism and genuine hope, the latter requiring active participation and an acknowledgment of potential failures. “We don’t need optimism that assumes everything will work out fine. We need hope, which requires action and the courage to face possible failure,” John explained.

John also emphasised the importance of intergenerational collaboration, highlighting the vital role of young people in the climate movement and the responsibility of older generations to support them. “Young people didn’t cause this crisis, but they are leading the demand for change. It’s our duty to support them and work together for a sustainable future,” he said.

The discussion, steered with insight by Brian O’Toole, touched on the necessity of emotional resilience and creating supportive spaces for ecological conversion. Jane emphasised the significance of spaces where individuals can reflect, share, and support each other in their ecological journeys. “We need spaces that foster deep, nourishing spirituality and contemplation, helping us reconnect with the earth and each other,” she noted.

Legal and Structural Changes for a Sustainable Future

John discussed the potential of constitutionalising the rights of nature as a way to ensure long-term ecological sustainability. He pointed to examples from countries like Ecuador, arguing that embedding environmental rights in legal frameworks can help transcend short-term political cycles and align economic activities with ecological imperatives. “We need to disrupt the current rhythms of politics and economics that are out of sync with the needs of the planet,” John stated.

He called for a justice-based approach to climate action, linking climate justice with broader social and global justice. “The cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are the same. Addressing climate injustice is inseparable from addressing social injustice,” John argued, highlighting the interconnectedness of these issues.

A Call to Action

Brian O’Toole concluded the panel discussion with a resounding call to action, urging everyone to engage in sustained activism, advocate for political accountability, and foster a deep spiritual connection with the earth. The speakers emphasised the importance of hope, intergenerational support, and structural changes to effectively address the climate crisis.

This conversation was not just an exchange of ideas but a powerful call to action. It highlighted the importance of integrating our spiritual, emotional, and ethical responses to the climate crisis with practical activism. Through shared hope, intergenerational collaboration, and steadfast activism, we can navigate the complexities of the climate crisis and work towards a sustainable future.

In our experience of climate fatigue, the speakers highlighted the necessity of a multifaceted response—one that combines emotional resilience, ethical considerations, and active engagement. As stated by John Barry: “The struggle may not be one where you see the fruits of your labour, that’s why we need to see ourselves more as John the Baptist than Jesus.”

See the Friends of the Earth Election Tooolkit

Watch the discussion below and please share with anyone who may be interested.