Waking up early in a foreign country always gives me such joy. The unfamiliar sounds of nature preparing for the day, the unexpected noises flooding the morning sky. This morning, I found it difficult to sleep in as I listened to the pater of small feet crossing my tin roof. Animals gathering food for the day, before the blazing sun makes work impossible. In the distance, the sounds of monkeys waking up the neighborhood and dogs declaring their territory. Large and soft calls from a myriad of animals announcing their presence in this great world, a noisy and gentle reminder that there is room for all of us. There is room for all of us, right? Daring to look futureward, I do believe there is room enough in this world for the young and aged, the old and new, two legged, four legged, feathers, and fins. Yet, I wonder: will this continue, and if so, for how long?
I never had a child of my own; I’m a dog lady. Gifted with a stepson, nephews, hundreds of adult clients and thousands of other people’s children through my work and passion, I have always carried a deep understanding that we are family. All of us are born into one family by birth right, whether through blood line or not. The child walking to school past a homeless community of tents in a city to the young mother walking to the creek to wash clothes in a remote village nestled between mountains. We are one. One heartbeat, shared needs, and all of us – even the animals – looking for connection, safety, joy and experience.
I believe at the very center of each living thing, there is an innate need to grow and prosper. So, what is this big change called “Climate Grief”, and how is it affecting each of us on our path of experiences on this beautiful planet we call home?
The term Climate Grief seems to be flooding my reading. It is becoming not only a focus in our conversation on landscape, but also in our discussion of mental health, education and the wellbeing of society at large. Climate Grief, also known as Ecological Grief, is defined as, “grief, pain, sadness or suffering that people identify as experiencing when they lose a beloved ecosystem, species or place.” Researchers Ashlee Cunsolo and Neville Ellis observe that climate grief is, “A natural and legitimate response to ecological loss, and one that may become more common as climate impacts worsen.”
The world is changing, as things must do. Many feet, many mouths, many ideas and experiences. One must wonder if the rate of change has gotten out of control. Did we not work together enough? If so, where will all this end up?
Our use of land, entangled with natural disasters, is said to be becoming an epidemic. There is an increase in anxiety in direct proportion to an increasing awareness of habitat loss, melting polar ice caps, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, typhoons, and wildland fires.
We are trying, yet is it enough?
There is evidence of an effort to change all around us: people sipping drinks without straws, grocery stores without plastic bags and “No Smoking” signs more prevalent than ever. Yet, is this enough for us to offer the same experience we have had to those who will come after us? What can we do to ensure that there is something left, and while we work toward this, how do we reconcile with our need to change our behavior while also sustaining our mental health? What can we do as individuals in collaboration with one another to work towards healing this planet and, in turn, healing the grief that swells inside us?
As in any relationship, business or otherwise, apathy is pitted against action. You may be convinced, as I am, that apathy has no place in the push for change. There are lots of intelligent minds currently at work developing systems and processes to deal with humanity’s unsustainable consumption of natural resources. Some of these systems are already being implemented. If and when we band together as communities singularly advocating for sustainability, our solutions will work. In the meantime, we can all take small steps towards progress – right now, in this moment.
Let’s look at some simple things we can do to affect positive change in the face of Climate Grief:
1. Acknowledge your grief
Jennifer Atkinson is a professor at the University of Washington and teaches a class called “Eco-Grief and Climate Anxiety”. She teaches that “recognizing your grief is the first step of a survival strategy.” Facing your anxiety can empower you to act. According to Atkinson, “civic engagement is the best answer to grief”. Being drawn into community with others who share your sense of loss and fear can help you manage your grief and will also provide you with an important platform for change. As the writer and activist Rebecca Solnit observes, “It’s not hope that drives us into action, it’s action that drives us into hope.’”
2. Promote climate education
Ignorance is so often the hidden force behind destruction, environmental or otherwise. UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) provides free material and excellent resources for climate education that focus on climate change and sustainability. Increasing “climate literacy” among our youth and within society will encourage people to change their behavior and attitudes and can help us all adapt to new trends directly related to climate change.
3. Change your mindset (and therefore your behavior)
Joanna Macy is an eco-psychologist, activist, and social leader who offers useful strategies for advancing through the stages of climate grief into an attitude of action. She suggests that we recognize our gratitude for the world, afterwards we can “honour the pain” and give our grief time and space to be felt. By allowing ourselves to grieve, we can learn to “see with new eyes” and we can go forth with purpose and intentionally build community that promotes a “life-sustaining culture.” Joanna is one among many who believes that rebuilding close community and actively tackling climate issues as a unified community is key to healing the planet.
4. Intentionally seek and build community
More and more climate leaders and informed professionals, such as climate activist Bill McKibben, are proposing the same basic concept: the most important thing someone can do to address the climate crisis in the here-and-now is to step beyond being an individual and think and work alongside others, altogether. Part of what has gotten us into so much trouble is that our modern world is so individualistic. With so many people and both small and large corporations acting in total self-interest, the long term needs of the whole herd and the herd’s habitat are ignored. Humanity is a large herd, and when we as individuals intentionally reconnect amongst ourselves, it inspires a ripple effect of community building. Since we all play a part in climate change, we all need to be a part of the solution.
5. Take a hike
Or walk in a nearby forest, or find a natural body of water to sit alongside, or get yourself outdoors and in as much wilderness as possible. Getting in touch with the outdoors accomplishes a few things: first, you can pay attention to the news and signals that nature is sharing. Instead of only paying attention to the headlines that flash across our screens, we can go straight to the source. Second, being among the natural landscape is the best antidote to grieving over the loss of our natural landscape. Third, being more in tune with our natural environment will inspire motivation to protect our natural environment. Psychologists have discovered a simple truth: the closer or more affected you are by something, the more motivated you’ll be to change your behavior. If we draw closer to nature, we will naturally modify our behaviour to protect nature.
6. Build sustainability into your daily life
Our daily actions and decisions matter – bigtime. There are simple changes we can make to reduce our contribution to unsustainable climate change. Buying anything brand new is never the greenest option. When you do shop, bring your own reusable bag into the store. Look for reusable water bottles, bring your own mug into the coffee shop and make a scene if they won’t fill it. Buy local products whenever possible, avoid buying pre-washed produce in bags – these use more plastics. Buy fresh produce and try to buy it in season. The state of our world is a result of the sum of all our actions, so think about how your consumption affects the big picture.
Christiana Frank is a consultant, speaker, coach, and program developer. For over 21 years, she has been helping corporate teams, educational institutions, and mental health facilities grow their organization, connect with their clients, and engage the world at large. Christiana’s passion is to meet her clients’ needs and embed her expertise into their existing methodologies, thereby creating stronger, healthier systems. Along with her team of experts, Christiana ensures the growth and success of every client by embracing all perspectives and cultural differences. For a free consult, or to bring Christiana and her team to you, please email [email protected]