For it is only unacknowledged trauma that prompts us to act out in ways that make the problem worse. If what we have been calling “climate change” is, in fact, an unprecedented form of trauma that is prompting us to act out in such perplexing ways as questioning the validity of facts themselves, then there is tremendous potential for societal and global healing in simply bringing awareness to the nature of our collective wounding. As anyone who has walked a 12-step path will tell us, awareness is a powerful elixir.
Is there more to us than Thanatos? I believe there is. Art, medicine, literature tell me so. A little child’s laugh tells me so. The water against the waves does, too. But I also believe that we’ve been told for so long that there isn’t more to us than Thanatos — that all we are is little walking vessels of greed, rage, spite, and hate — that Thanatos is all we know how to be anymore. Let us, then, begin the difficult, beautiful work of discovering a greater truth about ourselves.
A willingness to live without hope allows me to accept the heartbreaking truth of our situation, however calamitous it is. Grieving for what is happening to the planet also now brings me gratitude for the smallest, most mundane things. Grief is also a way to honor what we are losing. “Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them,” thinker, writer, and teacher Martín Prechtel writes. “Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.”
The animals know this and now all humans know this as well. Sensing the imminent death of all species, the cellular understanding of our common fate is making us ill. Our nervous and physical systems cannot bear this terrible knowledge. The growing understanding of the reality of the human caused 6th Extinction is resulting in Extinction Illness.
When it comes to the climate crisis, what nobody wants to talk about is precisely what everybody needs to be talking about. Up until now, the climate debate has been premised on a false dichotomy between climate science deniers and everyone else. What the Paris accords have revealed is that this overweening emphasis on the science of anthropogenic climate change fails to answer the real question: Why the disconnect between what we know to be the threat and how we are choosing to respond to it?
As the world grows ever darker, I’ve been forcing myself to think about hope. I watch as the world and the people near me experience increased grief and suffering, as aggression and violence move into all relationships, personal and global, and as decisions are made from insecurity and fear. How is it possible to feel hopeful, to look forward to a more positive future? The biblical psalmist wrote, “Without vision, the people perish.” Am I perishing?
The elephant in the room that is not seen in the United States or in Canada or in most parts of the world is the trauma we experience each day as even a small part of us feels consciously or unconsciously the gargantuan loss of our ecosystems, the loss of species, the loss of each other, and the loss of our own souls.
My friends, catastrophic climate change is not a problem for fascists — it is a solution. History’s most perfect, lethal, and efficient one means of genocide, ever, period. Who needs to build a camp or a gas chamber when the flood and hurricane will do the dirty work for free? Please don’t mistake this for conspiracism: climate change accords perfectly with the foundational fascist belief that only the strong should survive, and the weak — the dirty, the impure, the foul — should perish. That is why neo-fascists do not lift a finger to stop climate change — but do everything they can to in fact accelerate it, and prevent every effort to reverse or mitigate it.
If it is true that Climate Trauma is continually triggering all our traumas, creating a psychological milieu of perpetual powerlessness, what does healing our trauma look like? The first step is the most obvious. What do we do in the natural world when a threatening storm is approaching? We find a place of refuge