I have been researching and writing about anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) for Truthout for the past year, because I have long been deeply troubled by how fast the planet has been emitting its obvious distress signals. On a nearly daily basis, I’ve sought out the most recent scientific studies, interviewed the top researchers and scientists penning those studies, and connected the dots to give readers as clear a picture as possible about the magnitude of the emergency we are in. This work has emotional consequences: I’ve struggled with depression, anger, and fear. I’ve watched myself shift through some of the five stages of grief proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance I’ve grieved for the planet and all the species who live here, and continue to do so as I work today. I have been vacillating between depression and acceptance of where we are, both as victims – fragile human beings – and as perpetrators: We are the species responsible for altering the climate system of the planet we inhabit to the point of possibly driving ourselves extinct, in addition to the 150-200 species we are already driving extinct. Can you relate to this grieving process?
The degree to which we love is the degree to which we break open when we lose what we love. Grief is the central emotion associated with heartbreak. It´s there under the we might feel. But, in order to get to grief we must eventually allow ourselves to let go, even temporarily, of anger and feelings of vengeance. This is difficult for some because anger gives us the illusion that we are in control and powerful. Yet, to reclaim deep power we must let ourselves grieve.
We are all witnesses to the Great Dying, a sixth mass extinction, the last one being 65 million years ago which wiped out the dinosaurs. This is not hyperbole; it is a defining feature of our age.
“Many indigenous peoples have a pact with mother Earth that said we would hold on to the principles of thriving life, and that one day the world would turn back and come to us again,” she says. “To be ready for that, we must also go through our grief in order to truly be able to come back into alignment of our mind, body and spirit.”
The idea of outrageous courage touched me. I could feel this was the invitation that was nested inside of this despair. I/we are being asked to cultivate outrageous courage in the face of outrageous loss. What I came to realize was that nothing had changed; the outer conditions of death and potential collapse are all very present, but something in me had shifted ever so slightly, allowing a new bottom to begin to take shape. I had been deepened by this descent. Despair was my human response to too much death, too many losses—of friends, forests, cultures. My heart, in all its beauty and fragility, was overwhelmed and couldn’t find bottom. Now, the barest inklings were setting in.
Everyone ought to be sad at what the beautiful old dream of Jewish redemption has come to. Everyone ought to grieve the death of innocents.
Your grief is your love, turned inside-out. That is why it is so deep. That is why it is so consuming. When your sadness seems bottomless, it is because your love knows no bounds.
Contrary to our cherished assumption of vanquishing all forms of injustice, we must ask ourselves if we are willing to put love into action even if we don’t physically survive. The extremity of the crisis does not limit Sacred Activism, but rather expands it because we make ourselves available to 1) Bearing witness to the likely irreversible horrors of climate chaos and 2) Commitment to compassionate service to all living beings who suffer with us. This requires unwavering engagement with serving the earth community and practicing good manners toward all species in order to make their demise, and ours, easier. Taking one’s own life or succumbing to escapist self-medication is easy. Commitment to a life of service and fortifying one’s own connection with the sacred, thus deepening one’s sense of meaning and purpose, constitute a far more daunting and painful path.
Why do grief work? So that we can register the sorrows of the planet and we do whatever we can, whatever we are obligated to do morally and spiritually, to try to prepare whatever is coming, so that they have a better chance to survive and continue. They have a right to that.
Grief is subversive, undermining the quiet agreement to behave and be in control of our emotions. It is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live numb and small. There is something feral about grief, something essentially outside the ordained and sanctioned behaviors of our culture. Because of that, grief is necessary to the vitality of the soul. Contrary to our fears, grief is suffused with life force.