In A Word: Hyperobject

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hy·per ob·ject
noun: /ˈhīpər/ /ˈäbjək(t)/

a real event or phenomenon so vast that it is beyond human comprehension, for example: global warming


Britt Wray is here to help all of us calm down. Or to teach us, as she put it in the title of a recent talk, “How to Cope With Climate Change.”

No easy feat. In part, as Wray said, because we’re dealing with a hyperobject. A … what was that?

A hyperobject, explained Wray (who’s the author of Generation Dread and creator of the Gen Dread newsletter, focused on factoring mental health into climate action) is something so large that it feels overwhelming. Or, as author Timothy Morton put it, hyperobjects are “entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place.”

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Such as climate change. Such as the impacts of climate change: The melting glaciers, the wildfires, the rising seas. We might not have been aware of the word “hyperobject” before this, but we’re all too familiar with the feeling, aren’t we? The crisis feels so huge, it covers so much territory, and the news arrives in such an onslaught that we’re tempted to tune it out, to shut our eyes, to pull the blankets over our heads. 

But Britt Wray has a different suggestion. “Create community,” she urged us. “It’s the key to emotional resilience … and a buffer against climate anxiety.” A community gives us people with whom we can process our feelings, and reminds us that we aren’t alone. 

Cultivating that support is a big part of Wray’s work and she points to where we might find it, including at Climate Cafés, via the Climate Psychology Alliance, Climate Awakening, Climate Psychiatry Alliance, the Work That Reconnects Network, Climate Critical Earth (focusing largely on support for BIPOC), and the Good Grief Network (which operates something like a twelve-step group).

This community, sought out or constructed by all of us longing for a home for our climate distress, can become something of a hyperobject itself — an entity of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that it defeats traditional ideas of what a thing is in the first place.

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Leslie Garrett
Leslie Garrett
Leslie Garrett is a journalist and the Editorial Director of Bluedot, Inc. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, and more. She is the author of more than 15 books, including The Virtuous Consumer, a book on living more sustainably. Leslie lives most of the year in Canada with her husband, three children, three dogs and three cats. She is building a home on Martha's Vineyard.
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