The Green Tau: issue 51

7th September 2022

What is this about Climate Grief?

Sometimes I feel so emotionally charged up about the present and impending reality of the climate crisis that  I want to shout and scream. I want to run away. I want to lash out and throw things. But against whom would I shout my abuse and fury? Where would I run away to? Against what would I lash out and what would I throw?

I bottle it up inside. It screws my insides into knots and squeezes against my head like a metal vice. My words become trapped inside, choked back and unable to escape. I cannot voice how I feel. I retreat inwards, cutting myself off for anyone or anything that might give joy – for joy has no place here. How can you contemplate being happy when all is doomed? How can you have fun whilst across the world others are suffering? That is what climate grief feels like for me. 

It comes from the loss of biodiversity – the diminishing numbers of birds and butterflies, the lack of insects on car wind screen,  the death of trees. It comes the rampant spread of vast mono-cultured fields, satellite images of rainforest destruction, the inexorable spread of towns across the landscape. It comes from the rising summer temperatures and the devastating winter storms. It comes from the constant stream of airplanes overhead and the repeated jam of cars on the streets. It comes from seeing retreating glaciers and knowing the next generations will not see snowy alpine peaks. It comes from watching the news and seeing wild fires and droughts, heat waves and mud slides, storms and destructive rainfall. It comes from realising that heatwaves are going to be the norm in the UK and yet none of our buildings – our homes or schools or hospitals – are being adapted to reflect this. It comes from hearing of cuts to bus services when policies should be making public transport more widely and readily available. It comes from hearing of the ongoing investment in fossil fuels by companies claiming green credentials. It comes from hearing politicians saying we don’t want solar panels and wind farms marring the landscape. It comes from pictures of industrialised cattle farms and chicken factories, hearing of chickens whose lives are shorter than a school term. It comes from seeing people carrying on their lives, their acquisitive consumption,  their shopping, their travelling and house re-modelling as if nothing is amiss.  

I can’t control my grief and I can’t control what other people do. I feel disempowered and alone. 

Yet I am sure that other people are grieving too. That other people are feeling lost and helpless. And when I do chance to meet them, when we get to talk and share our concerns, we find comfort that we are ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. We find reassurance that we are not alone in our thinking , that our thinking isn’t completely ‘off the wall’. We find encouragement that there are others taking action – some even putting their liberty and their careers at stake as they risk arrest and even imprisonment. 

Climate grief is not an issue that is going away. Nor is it a problem waiting to be ‘fixed’. Climate grief is an expression of the love that people have for the world around them. It is a knock on from caring for and being connected with the environment. But does it have to be debilitating and overwhelming?

No. Climate grief needs to be recognised, and those who feel it, validated. We need safe places where this grief can be expressed and we need to develop ways and means – new traditions and liturgies – so that people can more easily articulate and acknowledge their feelings. We need to use different creative mediums to enable a free flow of expression. We need to develop sympathetic listening ears that can absorb someone else’s grief and astute words to help them understand the emotions they are feeling. We need practical therapies so that people can sooth the physical pain caused by grief.

We cannot remove the loss. But we can help build up resilience. We cannot diminish the threat of impending future losses. But we can help develop support mechanisms and networks. We can find ways of adjusting the way we live to accommodate a new normal. We can develop new occasions for celebration to acknowledge what is still good. We need to find ways of expressing joy that do not diminish the reality of suffering. We need to develop activities and actions that are both  worthwhile and which genuinely do protect the God-given environment that we prize so highly. 

Reading list:

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200109-is-it-wrong-to-be-hopeful-about-climate-change

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200402-climate-grief-mourning-loss-due-to-climate-change

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/15/rebecca-solnit-hope-in-the-dark-new-essay-embrace-unknown?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

https://www.climateandmind.org/what-is-climate-grief

http://rebeccanestor.co.uk/2020/08/10/what-exactly-is-a-climate-cafe/

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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