Climate Grief And How We Should Use It

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Climate change has been an assumed part of my education (even in primary school, we were made acutely aware of ‘global warming’). I don’t remember a time in which I wasn’t aware of the earth getting warmer on average, of icecaps melting, of sea levels rising. As I’ve grown up in a more and more desperate ecological situation, it is hard to shift the feeling of impending doom about the state of the planet. Since the flash floods across Northern Europe this summer, the ramifications of climate change are now at our door; we must acknowledge the dangerous situations we will soon be faced with that others have had to go through already.

I say this because it is easy to disconnect yourself from the problems that happen halfway across the world and are not immediately urgent to you. Additionally, the environment is only just starting to get the mainstream press coverage that it deserves, and even then, it’s not always done right. It’s extraordinarily painful to see newsreaders on Fox News, one of the most popular news shows in one of the most powerful nations in the world, talk about climate change in outrage. The outrage isn’t at climate change itself but at the perceived intolerance towards climate denial. Instead of earnestly discussing the consequences of climate change and potential solutions, it devolves into a cheap talking point about ‘the right to be wrong’. Even in America, a country widely known for climate change denial, its citizens want more press coverage on environmental issues and they are getting proportionately very little coverage compared to entertainment.

Even though we have seen a significant increase of accurate news coverage in the UK in terms of the balance between natural and manmade causes of climate change, we are still shifting to “debates of delay”. Even upon agreeing on the extent of the effect of human activity on the global average temperature, the new debate is when we should do something about it, or even just resigning to climate change, and publishing articles on how to live with climate change rather than fight it. Mainstream press coverage of environmental issues is imperative to how seriously the general public takes climate change and how much pressure is put on governments and corporations that ignore the impending global crisis. Instead of outlining strategies to pressure governments into taking climate change seriously, we are instead seeing articles on what type of installations we should consider to offset the fatal repercussions of flash flooding.

Cunsolo and Ellis have divided ‘climate grief’ into three sections: the grief of immediate physical loss due to ecological destruction (greenery, ecosystems, etc.); the grief of the ecological knowledge we are slowly losing (our intuition around changing seasons and our relationship with nature), and the grief of what we might lose in the future. It is safe to say that experiencing even one subcategory of this term is distressing enough. For many people in urban areas such as myself, it is devastating to grieve a knowledge about nature that was tenuous in the first place, let alone farming groups and rural workers who directly rely on the land and water for their lives and livelihoods.

Can any good come of this unshakeable feeling? Well, perhaps. Already, we are starting to see an increased consciousness in tourists’ decision-making in response to climate change. Tourist and public opinion surrounding the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has plummeted since 2017. This doesn’t account for much in itself, of course, but the consequent decisions made by tourists may well encourage a kinder treatment of iconic natural scenes. ‘Hopeful tourism,’ as Crossley puts it, could be one element of the change that needs to take place. This is just one way in which the apprehension around climate change can be harnessed to foster meaningful action that may offset preventable ecological disasters.

Even during the darkest hours of national lockdown in 2019, didn’t we all find some joy in finding wildlife had returned to otherwise desolate spaces? Wasn’t it somewhat comforting to see the beauty of nature uninterrupted? Rather than feel this environmental anxiety by ourselves, we can reach out to one another and collectively bring about the same healing, beauty, and resilience that we are capable of. If the earth can undergo centuries of industrial stampede and start to coalesce in less than a year, think of what we have the choice to do!

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