Osher Günsberg Climate Anxiety | Men's Health Magazine Australia

Fear of a Cracked Planet: Osher Günsberg on Climate Anxiety

No one could blame you for assessing the state of the world and resolving not to bring new life into it. But while Osher Günsberg knows exactly how you feel, he makes a strong and uplifting case for thinking again

We’re hurtling towards a time – yep, Christmas – when instead of being in distant orbit of Planet Family Tension, we’ll be crash-landing on it.

It’s a time when interrogations into our lives are all but unavoidable, ranging from, “Are you sure you’re gay – maybe you just haven’t met the right woman yet?”, to, “We’re having lamb, but the lamb was vegetarian – does that mean
you’ll eat it?”

As you move through your 20s, those kinds of questions get replaced by just one: “So, when are you gunna have kids?”

Reasons for not having kids are many. But from the emails I get in to my podcast each week, one reason is becoming increasingly common. 

Taking into account the facts of the climate emergency, it’s understandable that someone would hesitate to bring a child into a world that, by the time they’re an adult, could easily be underwater, on fire and at war – all at once. 

The science is undeniable (despite what your mum’s older brother who’s down from Kingaroy has learned from his “research”). 

Me, I know and understand that hesitation very well.

Early in 2014, I began experiencing paralysing climate anxiety, sometimes kicking up into episodes of psychosis that manifested as paranoid delusions. I’d see and feel climate apocalypse as if it were all happening right then and there. 

For years, I would recoil in horror as I drove past a school of squealing five-year-olds playing at little lunch. I’d think, “You are going to grow up into a world that’s on fire, underwater and at war. What have we done to you?” 

I’d visit mates, and when their children would run up and hug me hello, instead of their gorgeous giggles transporting me from my grown-man worries, I’d plunge into a pit of shame with a face that said, “What a clusterfuck we have
passed on to you. I’m so sorry.” (Uncle Osher was heaps of fun to have around.)

Six months into this traumatic time in my life, I met Audrey and her daughter Georgia. Things got serious quickly, and not long after I’d proposed we were all up at Mum’s place in Brisbane for Christmas lunch. Mum really loved Audrey, and adored that Georgia was now in her life. 

I never hid how sick I was from Mum and she could see that even on this perfect summer’s day, I was terrified. Her apartment was right on the Brisbane River and I was still experiencing glitches where I’d look out the window and see the the raging flood of 2011 – a nightmare of ruined homes, dead livestock and raw sewerage.  

Mum caught my face and read my mind, and somewhere between lunch and the kettle going on before the cake came out, she took me into the kitchen. 

You see, my mum was a refugee. When the Russians invaded Lithuania to drive out the Germans in 1943, Mum and her family fled with the retreating German Army. 

Choosing between gruesome and ghastly, my grandfather loaded his wife, two kids and whatever they could carry onto a cart, hooked his cavalry horse to the front, and off they walked into the Baltic winter. 

For months and months, they slogged their way south, an endless column of plodding humanity searching for safety. Death came daily, either from sickness and starvation or from the sky, as warplanes strafed them. 

Mum at the time was my son’s age now, a tiny three-year old who still remembers my grandmother telling her to crawl between the rows of the cabbage farms and steal the outer leaves so that her family could have some precious nourishment. 

On that Brisbane afternoon, as the kettle first began to whistle, the woman who’d lived through this told me, “You’re right to be worried. But when we were on the road for those months, amongst all that death, just because the world we knew was gone it didn’t mean that life stopped. People still laughed, kids bickered at dinner and mums and dads found comfort in intimacy. Your grandfather was an obstetrician, and delivered a lot of babies between Lithuania and Germany. Your uncle was born as allied bombs fell all around us.”

These were people who knew they were never going back to their country and couldn’t see the world beyond Europe at the time, a bloody pile of rubble with the smoke of genocide thick in the air. But still, these people were choosing to bring children into the world, finding joy and purpose with each new life. 

Mum looked me in the eyes and said, “It’s going to be okay. We’ll figure it out. And worrying about what might happen isn’t worth denying you and Audrey and Georgia the joy, love and transformation that comes
with a new baby.”

When I became stepfather to Georgia it changed me as a man because life was no longer about me. Every thing I did became about making sure that this incredible girl would have the best chance at whatever life she chose to have. 

I already had a strong desire to take climate action, but when G came into my life it became an unstoppable drive to
get cracking. 

I worked hard on getting my mental and physical health right, and then got to work. A few years later, when Wolf was born, I levelled up in ways I could never have imagined. I actively pursued climate action both publicly and privately. 

I can now wade into intense conversations that once paralysed me with a sense of empathy, power and possibility. 

Choosing to be a father or stepfather isn’t for everyone. But if worries about the future are holding you back… please, consider what I’m saying. 

Don’t deny yourself the chance to raise a child who will be born into a world with challenges. They will overcome those challenges in ways you can’t imagine. 

Climate fears are no reason to deny yourself the joy of fatherhood, the deepening of your relationship with the child’s other parent, or the daily transformational experience that comes with explaining the world to someone who’s still learning how it works. 

Because it’s in those moments of explanation we figure out that, just because we’ve always done something a certain way, doesn’t mean that we always should. 

Those are the moments that change us as people, and those are the moments that will change the world.    

In less than twenty years, the world G & Wolfie were born into won’t look a thing like it does now.

And yes, that’s scary, but remember you won’t be alone. 

I’ll be there, you’ll be there, Bernard Fanning, Ash Barty, Fev, Abbie Chatfield, Lee & Keith from Gogglebox… everyone you’ve ever known and everyone that’s to come will be there, too. And because life goes on, we will figure it out. 

By Osher Günsberg

A fixture on prime-time TV for two decades, Osher Günsberg is Men’s Health’s growth and personal development expert. Having carefully navigated his own journey of self-discovery and sobriety, Günsberg knows how difficult it can be to make the necessary changes in life that can facilitate inner peace. Now, he wants to help you make transformative changes in your life. For more of Osher’s insights listen to his bi-weekly (every Monday and Friday) podcast, Better Than Yesterday.

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