Climate Grief and 11 Things You Can Do
It’s a Saturday morning, and I’m preparing to lead a day of Teacher Training when I read about the estimated number of wildlife that had perished in the Australian bush fires. At the time, it was 500 million (it’s now estimated to be over a billion, but the loss is impossible to calculate).
I read that number. And I feel numb. So I go on a walk. I play a Jack Kornfield podcast, which usually touches my heart and soothes me in some way. Today, it does not. When I return home, I crawl into bed and sob for the charred flora and fauna. I cry for the folks who lose their homes. I cry for the original caretakers of this land, who I imagine are shaking their heads sadly from another realm. I cry for myself and the children I want to carry but morally feel I cannot bring into a broken, burning world.
So, OK, even writing this makes me feel heavy. However! I set out to write this because I also believe that while really feeling the weight and the gravity of this issue is imperative to moving the needle on it, we must roll out of bed, put our feet on the floor, and take care of what we can take care of. Here is a list of how I take care of myself and the world as it relates to the staggering impacts and loss of climate change.
I want to be clear with this list: I don’t think any of this is easy. I wish we lived in a world where the population wasn’t ballooning, where sentient beings were valued over money or corporations, and where the global temperature was not rising. And the truth of the matter is, this is what we’ve got. We are here. I choose this world, and the people on it, because I’ve got no alternative. And because I’ve got no alternative, I believe sacrifice on an individual and global level is necessary. Sacrifice is not easy, convenient, or comfortable. And I believe that our collective care for the planet and its inhabitants are more powerful than those things.
One more thing. I believe that, while personal sacrifice is necessary, it is not the thing that will move the needle. This article does a great job about how to address systems and work in groups for greater impact. While my list focuses on the individual, I am not interested in self-flagellation - I'm interested in aligning my daily actions to what I say I care about, and walking as lightly on this precious planet as possible. I encourage you to ask yourself how you can engage with systems for change and look at your own habits, and be in the balance of those two things.
So, without further ado, here are some things that can be done:
Feel. Let yourself be completely and utterly moved by whatever emotions arise for you. I don’t suggest living here, but that Saturday was important to me because I felt the crushing weight of loss and heartbreak. If I live here, I am paralyzed. If I visit here and sip some tea with my grief, talk to her and hear her, she compels me to move.
Trust. You were born here, to this world, at this specific time in history. Consider trusting that you are here at exactly the right time and will contribute exactly what’s needed to alleviate this crisis. When I feel swallowed by grief and pointlessly wishing things were different, I lean into this trust. It helps.
Implement daily, manageable practices on an individual level (see 4-8).
Stop eating meat. Or reduce your meat consumption. Or beef consumption. Especially beef. Even the best local, grass-fed beef has environmental impacts. For the love of goddess. This is one of the most high-impact ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Plus, when you stop eating meat, you are saying “no” to an industry that promotes immense pain and suffering of sentient creatures at the expense of our taste buds and cultural norms.
Stop buying new clothes. Or reduce your new-clothes consumption. Read this article on the fashion industry and the staggering amount of waste and carbon emissions generated by this industry.
Track, for a week, your use of single-use plastics. I did this and was shocked at how my, “I know it’s not ideal, but just this once” mindset overrode everything else. My need for and reliance on convenience ultimately dictated my decisions. And seeing these numbers was essential to changing the habit.
Carry a fork and spoon. Especially if you get a lot of to-go meals.
Carry a water bottle and a to-go coffee cup. When I LOVE my items for their amazing functionality and hella cute aesthetic, I’m more likely to carry them around. Looking at my big Yeti with hot tea in it gives me joy, and when I have that experience, I’m WAY more likely to carry these babies around (and to care about not losing them).
Declare which practices you are committed to changing to at least one person. My success in changing habits is contingent upon making a verbal declaration that I am doing so. It has never worked for me to say to myself, “you know, yeah, I think I'll stop using coffee cups.” I had to make an Instagram post declaring that if I didn't have my to-go cup, I would either drink my coffee to stay or not buy any, at all. I was immediately accountable to my community, and that year, I bought a total of 6 coffee cups. Declare. It. And it will be so.
Vote. This might seem obvious. Vote for candidates who prioritize the health of the earth. Vote for candidates who are sounding the alarm bells, who see this as a crisis. We need urgency and we need those candidates making decisions. Choose earth over party.
Donate. This is last because not everyone has the good fortune to donate. But if you can spare $5 a month, consider this. Do research. Find an org you love. Love it so much that when you look at your bank statement and see the withdrawal, you are filled with love. Cultivate a feeling of gratitude and abundance for the money you can give that can do so much good in the world. If you need ideas, here is a list of environmental orgs you can donate too.
I hope this list is somewhat helpful. My disclaimer here is that I am not perfect - I still have much to work on. I'm especially working this year on single-use plastics, and I'm committed to carrying a spoon and fork at all times, making them as essential as my wallet or keys.
That Saturday morning, I was positively swallowed by helplessness. Overcome with a sense of small-ness in a problem that feels too big for me to wrap my arms around. But here is the thing. I am not helpless. And neither are you. Neither are we, and the more we operate above individuality and helplessness - the more we can elevate this conversation as a collective - the more we grow a collective voice of care, concern for, and love of this great earth of ours. I love you. Let's go.