Tips From the Experts on How to Deal With Climate Anxiety

Tips From the Experts on How to Deal With Climate Anxiety

‘Antarctica sea ice reaches alarming low for third year in a row’ 

‘Public transport workers join climate activists for week of strikes across Germany’

‘Cholera: An overlooked outcome of climate change’

The headlines keep coming. And with them, inevitably, comes a spike in our climate anxiety. But when does normal concern tip towards thinking which can negatively impact our mental health, and how do we stop this from happening? And can eco-anxiety be framed as a positive force which brings people together and drives action?

We know that lawyers are under immense stress at work, with evidence suggesting legal professionals are at a higher risk of burnout than the general population. According to research carried out by LawCare, a mental health charity in the sector, over 60 per cent of lawyers reported suffering from anxiety ‘often, very often, or all of the time’ over the preceding 12 months. Despite workplace intervention, the problem is not getting better. The charity reported a 24 per cent increase in contacts in 2023.

So what about lawyers who are working on the front line of sustainability?

Climate anxiety is defined as how we respond psychologically to the climate crisis. Our responses may go beyond anxiety to include grief, anger, overwhelm, betrayal and guilt. It is not a mental health condition in its own right, in fact it could be argued it’s a normal response to an existential crisis. However, an excess of climate anxiety can lead to a range of secondary problems related to mental health, such as panic, insomnia or depression.

It’s an issue impacting a large, and growing, proportion of the population. Youth non-profit organisation Force of Nature found that more than 70 per cent of young people feel hopeless in the face of the climate crisis and as many as 56 per cent believe humanity is doomed. At the same time, only 26 per cent feel that they know how to contribute to solving the problem.

Research carried out by York University showed young people are more likely to feel anger than fear about the climate crisis. But Rowenna Davis, director of the Global Future think tank, says that can be positive: “Fear can make you risk-averse and sometimes it can make you go inwards, but anger is much closer to hope, it’s a motivating force, it forces you to confront, it’s more active.”

Meanwhile, work done by Yale University in the US shows that collective action can form a buffer against climate anxiety. Clinical psychologist Sarah Lowe says her work in this area suggests that engaging in collective action has a multitude of benefits, including social connectedness with people who share similar goals and values.

“We know from a large body of literature that social support is one of the strongest predictors of mental well-being” Sarah said. “We also thought that individuals who engaged in collective action – particularly if they saw those actions as having an impact – could have a stronger sense of self-efficacy and hope for the future. On the other hand, there’s some research that people who engage in activism can be at risk for burnout.”

Most research in this area points to one main principle: the best way to address climate anxiety is to take action. But it’s important to maintain a level of self-care while doing so. Dr Emma Lawrence, mental health innovations fellow at Imperial College London, said: “As individuals and communities, we can work towards a more positive vision of the future. There is a way to take action and create that positive future yourself. But we need to take care of ourselves in the process.”

Some thoughts from the experts:

  • Take action – but be kind to yourself

It’s important to avoid burnout. If your job involves these issues allow yourself to step away and switch off in the evenings and at the weekends.

  • Acknowledge the truth of the situation, while knowing you are having a positive input

In the face of the news about climate change, it’s understandable to feel anxious. But don’t get stuck in these feelings.

  • Forge connections and support others who are taking action

Youth climate activists reported feeling positively connected to a global community.

  • Do not hold yourself overly accountable

No one person should feel they have to carry the burden of the climate crisis on their shoulders. The real difference will be made by systemic change, do what you can to support that.

  • Create hope

The creation of hope can be an active process, not a passive thing you have to wait for. If you are taking action you are part of the solution.

  • Notice and celebrate the actions you are taking towards protecting the planet, however large or small

Everything counts.

  • Spend time in nature

This can be balancing and replenishing, helping you to work from the positive. This can help counter feelings of overwhelm.

  • Journal

Record how you are feeling and how you are responding to those feelings. This will give you more insight into knowing when you need to step away and give yourself space.

“We don’t want people to feel stuck in their sadness about the climate crisis,” says Emma. “What can be helpful is when people hold their anger and sadness about wider inaction, and about the losses we face, but alongside this hold that there is hope and a reason to take action.”

The LSA is here to support you in taking action. If you are facing a challenge at work in tackling the climate crisis, we can help. Contact us and we will explore solutions throughout our network. And we would like to celebrate your successes! Email [email protected], we would love to hear from you.

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Blog written by Rachel Millichip, Millichip Media.

Navigating Climate-Related Legal Risks and Opportunities

Navigating Climate-Related Legal Risks and Opportunities

LSA members are eligible for a 10% discount when booking this new course from The Oxford Sustainable Law Programme at the University of Oxford.

See the course brochure – Navigating-Climate-Related-Legal-Risks-and-Opportunities FINAL

Dates 24 – 28 June 2024
Duration  5 day residential
Location Oxford
Accommodation En-suites at historic St Peter’s College

In a world grappling with disruptive climate change and an unprecedented transition of our societies towards net zero, climate-related legal action has emerged as a critical force shaping the future of business, government, and society. For senior leaders and their advisors, understanding the intersection of law and climate change has become paramount. The University of Oxford is proud to introduce its first executive education course specifically designed around these challenges.

LSA Members can claim a 10% discount by registering here.

The Course

This new five-day course – delivered on-site at the historic and picturesque University of Oxford – offers a deep dive into the state of the art and future directions of the law in the context of climate change, studied through the lens of climate-related legal risks and opportunities. Delivered by world-leading Oxford faculty and other world class experts, we will examine and discuss key legal and regulatory developments in the context of climate change against the backdrop of relevant scientific, political, and economic developments. Topics include:

  • Current trends and future directions in net zero policy, regulation, and climate litigation
  • Understanding international legal frameworks relating to climate change
  • Latest advances in scientific understanding of climate change impacts
  • State of the art in the science, politics, and economics of net zero
  • An economic analysis of legal risks and opportunities resulting from climate-related legal actions.

Whether your work and interests lie in government, law, professional services, business, non-profit advocacy, or elsewhere, this immersive and interactive course will equip you with the knowledge, insight, and connections to understand and navigate the rapidly evolving legal landscape. You will be equipped to anticipate future directions in climate-related legal action, and thrive in a world where climate, economics, policy, and law are increasingly salient and intertwined.

Course Objectives

Throughout the programme participants will:

  • Obtain a birds-eye-view of the key trends and future directions of climate-related legal actions and their impacts on society and businesses
  • Gain proficiency in analysing and interpreting complex legal issues related to climate change, enabling you to identify and evaluate potential solutions and strategies, and their impacts on businesses, government and non-profit activities
  • Dive deep into critical topics at the intersection of climate change, including the latest developments in net zero regulation and policy, climate litigation, and climate science
  • Appreciate how climate-related legal actions affect the nature, magnitude, and distribution of financial climate risk exposures – gaining a deep insight into the economic and financial implications of climate-related legal actions that builds on the latest available science
  • Build a strong international network of like-minded professionals from diverse backgrounds and industries, fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing
  • Immerse in a unique academic and cultural environment including traditional Oxford customs such as candlelit college dinners, Oxford Union-style debates, punting on the River Cherwell, and historical city tours

Find out more about the course online here and in the PDF brochure here: Navigating Climate Related Risk Brochure.

 

Capsticks LLP has reached the next milestone on its sustainability journey by achieving ISO 14001

Capsticks LLP has reached the next milestone on its sustainability journey by achieving ISO 14001

Specialist healthcare lawyer and LSA member Capsticks LLP has reached the next milestone on its sustainability journey by achieving ISO 14001: The international standard for environmental management.

“Our vision is to be the firm of choice for those that work to make a difference”, explains Chief Operating Officer Neil Middleton, “and where many of our clients – particularly in the public sector – have now aligned procurement with sustainability and have a clear net zero supplier roadmap which sets out how we need to align our aims with their own targets.”

Sustainability has been a key theme with law firms that typically look for independent certification to add both transparency and credibility to their commitments.

 ‘’We recognise that, as a business, we ourselves have a responsibility to make a difference and that’s at the heart of one of our foundational values, doing the right thing.  A key part of this is having a Responsible Business strategy that includes environmental sustainability. Doing the right thing means ensuring we’re doing all we can to reduce our output of greenhouse gases through our infrastructure, processes and systems. That’s where ISO 14001 comes in and where we know that with some key changes, we can become a much greener, cleaner firm and in doing so play our part as a responsible business.”

Capsticks are located across five UK offices and Business Services Manager, Rosie Chahal, led the team that ensured ISO 14001 was integrated as part of the day to day business in each of the offices.

“We found that we already had many of the processes needed for environmental compliance but were able to build on and improve them.  There were huge benefits to us in going through the process and it helped us make the most of the compliance data from energy, waste and refrigerant which will reduce the time taken to quantify our emissions” explains Rosie. “We ran awareness sessions for key members of staff and it certainly strengthened and helped develop the team, as well as being a really positive experience.”

A Call For Greater Transparency from Law Students for Climate Accountability

A Call For Greater Transparency from Law Students for Climate Accountability

By Haley Czarnek. Haley served on LSCA’s first National Leadership Committee as a 3L at the University of Alabama, and graduated in May 2022. Haley has since begun developing their role as LSCA’s first National Director, and is excited to support the committee and student organizers as they build a movement to change the culture of the legal profession.

 

The legal industry benefits tremendously from a lack of transparency. The average person, certainly in the Global North but frequently beyond, has decent familiarity with oil giants like Chevron, Exxon, Shell, BP, and Saudi AramCo. Moreover, many people associate certain companies with specific catastrophes, such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. But even global behemoth Kirkland and Ellis is likely to be known by a relatively small section of the population, given the billions of dollars they rake in annually. Spectacularly bad press about Jones Day’s involvement with some of Donald Trump’s many legal cases stuck in the public eye more strongly than any other BigLaw representation I can recall—but it remains a multi-billion dollar firm.

Law firms are thus able to facilitate many hundreds of billions in fossil fuel transactions with little to no public scrutiny, in spite of the critical role lawyers play in the process of development and extraction. Many law firms also lobby for weaker regulations, and dozens of the largest firms in the world lend their litigation services to defend Big Oil’s profit margins in court, often against communities they’ve poisoned. Of course, this is all in addition to the oil majors’ sizable in-house teams. If every law firm in the world dropped their fossil fuel clients, those companies would still have better access to representation than most frontline communities that have been harmed by dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure—to say nothing of all those suffering from the present-day effects of climate change.

It might seem strange, then, that I belong to an organization, Law Students for Climate Accountability (LSCA), that is focused on getting firms to do exactly that: drop their fossil fuel clients. What’s the point, if those clients will always have representation anyways?

My organizing journey has its roots in Alabama’s labor movement, and I’ve been privileged to know incredible people who are fighting David-and-Goliath style battles every day. Of the many lessons I’ve learned from them, two are particularly relevant here. First, it matters how we do (and don’t!) use our labor. Workers that are very organized can use petitions, pickets, slowdowns, sickouts, and strikes, while even small groups can leverage whistleblowing to hold their management to account for malfeasance. In the legal profession, students can also play a potent role by collectively making it known that they care about their future and understand that firms’ fossil fuel work is endangering that future. Because the product that law firms sell is their talent, law students and associates have more leverage than many of them realize at present.

The second lesson that sticks out to me is the power of a supermajority. Good organizers don’t spend all their time talking to the most hostile segment of the group they’re engaging. Instead, they start by seeking out two categories of people: the individuals that are most primed to join them, and the leaders that are capable of bringing the largest number of people along. If they are successful at recruiting those two groups, hostilities are likely to soften, even if they don’t abate. Regardless, a supermajority can achieve big wins in spite of naysayers. And because the legal industry is incredibly gatekept and elite, a cultural shift is likely to ripple out to every hall of power. It is my firm belief that even this conservative and profit-driven profession can build a supermajority of people who are self-interested in a habitable world, and willing to not just turn down fossil fuels work, but also to tell their peers they shouldn’t spend their valuable time exacerbating climate chaos, either.

These are some of the principles that animate my work with LSCA. The organization grew out of protests in early 2020, with students at Yale, Harvard, NYU and Michigan showing up recruitment events hosted by Paul Weiss calling on them to #DropExxon, which has long been on the firm’s client list. It was unusual in such a risk-averse field and drew media attention, but to date, Paul Weiss has yet to respond.

Determined to keep momentum, a subset of the protestors decided to expand their focus and ultimately created the first Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard as part of a report that outlined the critical role that lawyers play in maintaining and expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. They decided to name the project Law Students for Climate Accountability, but at the time they chose the name, had no idea their work would go farther than that. After its publication in October 2020, the flurry of attention that resulted—drawing the eyes of reporters, academics, activists, and of course law students and lawyers—made it clear that this information was both crucial and not available elsewhere. Thus LSCA was born, and the original crew set out to find a group of student leaders from across the US to formalize the group and chart its course.

Around that time, I was beginning to think much more seriously about the scale of the climate crisis. I was born in California, and the state’s record-setting 2020 wildfire season made it clear to me that climate migration was already occurring, and not just in the Global South. I started to wonder incessantly about the fine line between habitable and uninhabitable land, and how many people were already living in that gray zone but still rebuilding, either out of love for their home or a lack of other options or both. I decided to organize a few virtual panels exploring climate migration, and that ended up being one of the best decisions of my life. It was through that little conference that I met Camila Bustos and Alisa White, both Yale Law students who were beginning to turn the Scorecard into a national organization. I eventually became one of LSCA’s inaugural student leaders, and spent that year working alongside more than a dozen other students to determine what, exactly, LSCA should be.

Over the course of the year, we worked to release a new Scorecard and make it an annual publication; we restructured our student committee and recruited new leaders; and we landed on our mission and vision:

LSCA activates and mobilizes the power of law students to transform the legal industry’s role from exacerbating climate injustice to meaningfully supporting a just transition away from fossil fuels. We aspire to move legal ethics and practice towards a just transition for our planet, in solidarity with frontline communities, to build an equitable and sustainable world in our lifetimes.

That year, we also successfully raised enough funds to expand our work and bring on our first staff person—which, I am incredibly privileged to say, ending up being me. It’s been a whirlwind journey developing my role alongside incredible colleagues who have become my friends. I deeply cherish our commitment to building an internal culture that is strong and supportive enough to counter the hegemonic forces in the legal industry that have long stymied progress in favor of profit. It is that commitment, I believe, that has kept us going for several years now, and has helped us connect with an ever-widening audience, including abroad.

Our strongest international interest has come from the UK, and with support from a number of academics and attorneys, we gathered together a group of students to replicate what the team was doing in the US. Last summer, they produced our first report on UK law firms, and six of those report authors have since stepped up to serve as our first UK student leaders. They are building connections with students and lawyers across the country, and we are excited to turn last year’s report into an annual production. We’re also working with a number of clinics to produce additional research that can be used to spur organizing, and have already had the chance to connect with a number of employees at major law firms. I have been heartened by the reception that our work has received in the UK, and believe our young and growing transcontinental movement is already making waves in the industry—but we need all the people power we can get.

If you’re a current or aspiring legal worker who values a consistent food supply; access to clean water; weather that doesn’t cause many thousands of excess heat deaths; and the prospect of a liveable world for future generations, I hope you’ll join us. Together, we can and will build an equitable and sustainable world in our lifetimes.

Mewburn Ellis – Our Sustainability Journey

Mewburn Ellis – Our Sustainability Journey

   

An interview with Eleanor Maciver, Partner and Sustainability Champion at IP firm Mewburn Ellis.

 

Why is being sustainable so important to Mewburn Ellis?

At Mewburn Ellis, we recognise that the goal of achieving net-zero by 2050 is both a complex and multifaceted endeavour. Not only do our own people and clients want it but, the planet needs it. We understand that contributing to achieving net-zero is the right thing to do and vital for the world we live in.

Sustainability has been on our agenda for many years with our first public five step climate action plan announced in 2022. Since then, our approach has rapidly developed and matured, and it holds a rightful place on our Board agenda.

What are the main features of your sustainability strategy?

As a service-based industry, we recognised that our carbon use would be a key area for us in understanding and improving the sustainability of our business.  One of the first key steps we took was to measure and understand our energy use and carbon emissions. We first formally reported our carbon emissions in 2022 for the previous financial year.  We now have two years of formal data, have greatly increased our understanding and matured our approach to carbon accounting implementing measures internally that will have the biggest impact. Thus far, as a result of these measures, we have been able to reduce our overall carbon emissions by 48%. In 2023, we used this understanding to produce our net-zero transition plan and had this verified by the Science Based Emissions Targets Initiative (SBTi).

Alongside this we have developed, and acted on, a more comprehensive climate action plan.  Our overall strategy contains five key steps:

  1. We ask questions and are accountable
  2. We offset our carbon and are reducing it as much as possible and have set a near and long-term emissions-based reduction targets approved by SBTi
  3. We plant a tree for every new matter we open and have created a Mewburn Ellis Forest of over 50,000 trees
  4. We enable and support the sustainability conversation and take personal responsibility
  5. We support sustainability charities as part of our Forward Community Programme

Our approach remains: We take action now on the things that we can, whilst working to understand and implement larger changes for the future.

How are you keeping colleagues, and in particular fee earners, engaged and on board with your sustainability ambitions and programme?

We work alongside many innovators in green technology across a variety of sectors- sustainable technology is very much in the DNA of the firm.  Many of our team have impressive academic backgrounds in these areas meaning that the work we do is also our passion. To this end, the engagement levels for our initiatives are often high and our ‘audience’ is quite switched on to start with.

Of course, this does not mean there are never any challenges with any programmes and our goal is to always be improving our sustainability.

We know that promotion and engagement both internally and externally is vital in order to take people on the journey with us.  We do this chiefly through publishing regular blogs and articles and commenting on the key issues in the media. Internally, we hold regular discussions with our collaboration group and welcome suggestions from anyone in the firm often via consultations.

Through this, we aim to promote and encourage sustainability in those around us.

What challenges have you faced – from colleagues, clients and other stakeholders – and how are you overcoming these?

Largely we have not faced challenges from our clients, they are generally very appreciative of our efforts and ability to help them with their own sustainability goals if anything.

From within the firm, the main challenge has been to get sustainability embedded into our culture and our way of operating.  This took time and efforts on multiple fronts but is now a clear focus for our Board and our people are engaging strongly with our efforts to improve in this area (see comments below on engagement with our recent commuting survey for example).

We also have a sustainability group consisting of people from across the firm who are working to improve our sustainability credentials.

Our ongoing challenge will be to continue to improve our approach and particularly reduce our carbon emissions for Scope 1 and 2 (see next question!)

Specifically, why is setting a science-based carbon reduction target so important and how are you going about achieving this?

In life as in business, setting goals and being ambitious is fundamental for progress and success. It is no different here. As a global community, we have to show the same ambition, aim high and ensure that we are regularly measuring our progress against our goals.

For us, SBTi is important because it represents our commitment to urgently reduce our carbon emissions in line with best scientific advice on how to avoid the worst effects of climate change.  The ‘why’ is really as simply as that.

Of course, the ‘how’ is very important and quite detailed.  For example, we have already taken a number of steps aimed at reducing our Scope 3 emissions (our biggest emissions by category) including a sustainability sense check on all business travel.  Taking this approach, we reduced our carbon emissions by 48 % last year.  For our Scope 1 and 2 emissions which are largely from our leased office space, we are working with landlords to apply the pressure we can to transition to renewable energy and importantly, considering our lease terms and putting sustainability at the heart of decisions on office space going forwards so we can reach our mid and long term targets.

How are you engaging your supply chain and measuring your Scope 3 emissions?

The majority of our emissions are Scope 3– primarily these come from travel to visit clients.  We measure these by requiring our people to fill out a ‘trip form’ explaining the reasons for their travel (our sustainability sense check) and their mode of transport.  We have actively worked internally to promote less carbon intensive forms of transport where these are feasible such as taking the train to European destinations.  For travel between our offices, our accounting department pick up the details through our ticket ordering system and these are then fed into our Scope 3 emissions.  We have also undertaken to improve our Scope 3 reporting to include commuting to our offices.  We developed a bespoke survey which went to staff and were thrilled to see a 64% response.

For our supply chain, we have surveyed all our suppliers to understand their sustainability plans and all new suppliers now have to complete a form confirming their credentials in this space. Where possible we choose sustainable business partners to work with.

Do you have any advice for other firms who are hoping to achieve a good score with supplier rating platforms such as EcoVadis?

Coordinating a sustainability strategy is a daunting task.  Of course, some larger firms will have ESG professionals to do this.  For our situation, we found that taking an initial, considered step was key (e.g. focussing on understanding our carbon emissions with plans for reduction to come later).

Also acknowledge that to get a good score on EcoVadis or similar platforms will take time because you will have to develop a good strategy and all the supporting information to go with it.  This “time” can be provided either by an ESG professional(s) working solely on sustainability or, as in our case, a team of people adding this responsibility to their other commitments.

We found that taking the first steps gave us the confidence to take more, and develop our ambitions at pace, taking on a sustainability team to help us implement and communicate internally and externally.  Celebrating successes is also key; it helps motivate the team and bring the wider firm with you on the journey.  Never underestimate the need and power of having the rest of your firm on board!

How are you ensuring transparency and accountability in relation to your sustainability actions?

Transparency and accountability are extremely important to us; we think very carefully about what we write and say to ensure we are as accurate in our representation as we can be.  We publish our sustainable communities report annually including our annual carbon emission data as well as what we are doing to offset this. The data is there just as much as to highlight where we can do better as it is to demonstrate our successes.

Business travel is always an issue when it comes to reducing our carbon footprints. How have you tackled this? 

As with many internationally based and minded businesses, our data has shown that business travel is our largest source of carbon emissions. To mitigate this, our sustainability sense check means that every external trip and event now has an assessment process which includes confirming the carbon footprint and a business case from a sustainability perspective. We encourage our people to combine trips, stay for longer and choose the lowest feasible carbon mode of transport.

Through this process, we can see from our 2022/23 data that we have been able to reduce business travel by 54% which has contributed significantly to our overall reduction in carbon emissions.

Do you have any other advice or insights can you share with LSA members?

Put simply, make sustainability part of the fabric of your organisation.

By normalising making conscious decisions that go toward producing less carbon emissions, reporting on your results, or working with external partners, sustainability becomes more than an arm of your wider ESG strategy, but another day-to-day part of the decision-making process and omni-present part of your brand identity capable of inspiring others around you.