Dr. Mollie Marti on Building Resilience to Climate Challenges

By path2positive

Mollie Marti, PhD, JD, is President and CEO of the nonprofit National Resilience Institute with a mission of growing human resilience before, during, and after trauma. She invites you to join the Institute’s efforts to pioneer a human resilience movement.


Recently, I had the privilege of moderating a webinar about the mental health impacts of climate change hosted by the American Public Health Association and ecoAmerica featuring Dr. Susan Clayton and Dr. Lisa Van Susteren.

I encourage you to listen to the replay to learn more about these impacts, strategies to help mitigate them, and opportunities for building resilience and improving health outcomes through climate action.

Awareness and education are important first steps toward preventing harm and unleashing our shared potential to transform ourselves through today’s most pressing challenges. As Drew Dellinger poignantly writes in his poem Hieroglyphic Stairway:

it’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?

surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?

as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?

what did you do
once
you
knew?

It’s normal to feel a bit unsettled after reading words like these because as we stand in greater awareness about the challenges we face, new challenges arise… and they can feel overwhelming. As one webinar participant asked: How can we acknowledge the reality of inevitable climate impacts and still motivate people to do what they can to avert the very worst?  

The most robust framework for moving forward is that of human resilience – defined as the strength and capacity to respond to, cope with, and grow through adversity. While climate-related challenges are real and urgent, there is no benefit to spiraling downward into fear, anxiety or blame. Rather, as we’re working to reduce the environmental impacts, we also must work together to reduce toxic stress, transcend despair, nurture hope, and equip people to take practical steps to adapt and grow.

How do we build resilience? A foundational underpinning is that human resilience is skills-based. People can learn how trauma and stress affect the mind and body, how without proper care these reactions can lead to destructive behaviors, and how simple breathing, mindset, and psychosocial skills can minimize harmful reactions and build capacity. The THRIVE Model is one example of putting research into practice to help people transform difficulties into opportunities to adapt, learn, grow, and even thrive. 

I encourage each reader to stay connected to this truth: we humans have the power to change our thoughts, tap deep inner reservoirs of hope and meaning, and choose behaviors that help heal ourselves and our world.

Despite dire challenges, we are living in extraordinary times. We reside on a planet inherently defined by regenerative life and awe-inspiring beauty. We access a growing body of trauma-informed research to strengthen our human capacity to cope with and grow through adversity. We boast powerful new technologies that can leverage solutions to preserve resources and improve collective wellbeing.

It’s important not to get so caught up in today’s challenges that we lose touch with the meaningful work being done from bottom up and top down to create a more safe, enriching, and just human experience. For an inspiring reminder of the power of grassroots efforts, you might watch The Crossing, a short film by Nick Triolo, a member of our Institute’s Speakers Bureau. As discussed in the webinar, we also are beginning to see more coordinated collaborations across federal agencies and organizations designed to enhance community resilience.  

Yes, time is of the essence in addressing the growing mental health impacts of climate related trauma. Yet, while the clock is ticking, let us never forget our ability – and responsibility – to tap our collective greatness to meet the environmental, psychological, social, and political challenges of modern day living.

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