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Phoebe Moore riding to fight climate despair

Meet Phoebe Moore, the captain of Team Moms Biking Off Steam. She is a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders in children, teen, and adults. She has been deeply concerned about climate change and knows that we all need to take action. As a mom and child psychologist, she has chosen to take on the challenge of riding from Bar Harbor to Boston to spread the message that we can all work hard, face our fears and make the changes needed for everyone to thrive. In Phoebe’s work, she is seeing more and more climate anxiety. Her answer to this growing psychological phenomenon: build a sense of agency so we do not all collapse in despair. This is her Climate Ride interview. Why are you participating in Climate Ride? “I have been deeply concerned about climate change for several years now. I know that we all need to take dramatic action to change the course we are on. As a Mom and as a child psychologist who cares deeply about my children and all children, I know I need to act to protect their future, and I need to do so immediately, loudly, frequently, and as effectively as possible. Taking on a very challenging task like riding this distance, when I am in no way a seasoned road biker, seems to me to be a good message for others – we can work hard and face fear and make spaces in our lives to make the changes needed for everyone to thrive. I hope I can inspire other people to take action too.” Have you run into climate anxiety in your work? Any thoughts on the subject? Is it just a buzz word or a real and growing concern? “It is interesting how this tends to come up – it feels like it shows up as an existentially terrifying background subtext for my patients’ day-to-day anxieties. They will be talking to me about their regular day-to-day fears about job performance, or anxiety about relationships, and will then suddenly allude to things like “of course everything is falling apart anyway” or “well I guess I shouldn’t worry so much since the world is ending soon at any rate,” and then there will be a kind of helpless laughter or else glum depression. It feels like we jumped over the phase where anxiety can actually be a positive force – where it can motivate us to take effective and immediate action – and instead, we landed in a hopeless and terrifying place right away. I am seeing this more and more. I feel it is the heart of my job to help people find what is important to them within all this fear and anxiety (because what we feel anxious about usually is very closely related to what matters deeply to us), and to take meaningful and committed action to build a vital and connected life for themselves. For those with climate fears, I work to build within them a sense of the ways in which they might impact the world around them in a positive or nurturing way. I hope to build a sense of agency so we do not all collapse in despair.” Do you have suggestions to help people who feel like their anxiety about our environment is affecting their lives? “It is a delicate balance – we need to understand where we actually are with our climate, and really, to grieve all the loss that has already happened and all the losses we and our children will face going forward. It can be so overwhelming and I recommend finding groups of like-minded folks with similar concerns to process feelings – and then to start to work on taking action. As Greta Thunberg has said, so cogently, “Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then and only then, hope will come today.” And when we do this together, we build communities of hope.” What’s motivating you to ride? “Well, I do love to ride a bike. Not particularly fast, and not over tricky jumps and logs and stuff like my husband likes, but I love to spin and look at the world around me go by! So, in terms of biking – I just needed kind of an excuse. This is the best excuse ever.” How has climate change impacted you and/or the area you live in? “I live in Central MA and we are a family of devoted skiers. The ski season is changing, shortening and warming, and this breaks my heart as I realize our family days on the slopes are dwindling. This is such a tiny thing in the greater scope of climate change, but we feel it in a big way, and it hurts. The larger way that climate change has impacted me personally is through the daily realization of impending loss. Now, when I see fireflies in the backyard, it feels more bittersweet; I wonder how long we will get to have such amazing creatures to share our world. This makes me sad but it also makes me grateful for all the beauty we have around us still.” Which beneficiaries are you supporting, and why? “I am supporting because Marshall Ganz at the Kennedy School of Government told me in 2014, when my climate worry began to become intense, that they were the most effective activist group on climate change at that time, and I have supported them ever since. I am supporting the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy because these two have always been supported by my family and I know they do strong, solid work and advocacy. And, as a social scientist, I am supporting the Union of Concerned Scientists, because I think that scientists should be leading voices at the table as we work to find solutions and adaptations as the world changes around us. I also want to shout out to Mothers Out Front, who are not on the Climate Ride list – perhaps they will be added in the future! They are a great group of committed and active mothers fighting for a livable future for our kids. My sister is the head of the Worcester MoF group!” Are there any personal challenges you’ve confronted or foresee in preparing for the ride? How did/will you overcome them? “Well, honestly I finally had to go get a new and very expensive bike seat. And now things are much better. The other personal challenge was balancing my mom role and family life, my work life, and my other activism work, and training for this ride. A lot of balls have been dropped and some people have gotten frustrated with me. It’s actually not possible to do everything and I’ve learned, yet again, that I am finite – I have to keep relearning this it seems. As a result, my physical training was not quite what I had hoped it might be – but I know I am going to have fun regardless.” Has preparing for and participating in this event spurred you to take any action on climate (personal, locally or nationally)? Action examples include joining marches, signing petitions, getting press, meeting with representatives, joining groups, changing habits/household purchases, installing solar/energy efficiency, and more. “Well, it kind of happened the other way – I was doing that other stuff (e.g. forming, with friends, an Environmental Action Committee in my hometown; participating in the People’s Climate March in 2014 and 2017; activism with Mothers Out Front; meeting with representatives about the omnibus energy bill in MA; installing home solar array) and that helped me find the Climate Ride. I hope to learn more ways to be involved and to take effective action as part of the ride!” Is there anything else you think we should know about? “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to participate and to be part of this! The last time I did a long bike ride was when I was 14 and did a weeklong ride from Provincetown to Boston, and I did have a bit of an accident in which I got anxious in a construction area and ran over a bunch of traffic cones. The cones and I were OK but that was embarrassing. I am hoping I can complete this ride without a repeat of that.”