Climate grief: Embracing loss as a catalyst for collective action
Journalist and climate activist Naomi Klein joins Indigenous scholar Yuria Celidwen and posthumanist thinker Bayo Akomolafe, both senior fellows at UC Berkeley's Othering and Belonging Institute, to discuss climate grief and why they see it not as a reason for apathy, but as an invitation to feel the loss deeply — together — and to use it as fuel for collective action.
"The moments that we face loss, and we really embody the grieving process, is the total moment of surrendering," said Celidwen at the May 4 event, hosted by the Othering and Belonging Institute. "Realizing that arrogance that keeps humans in a hierarchical organization, feeling that they are somehow exceptional from and different from all others, that arrogance dissolves the moment that we realize we are powerless, really, to the process of life, to the process of spirit, the process of nature.
"That idea of bringing not only the possibilities of the mysterious, the possibilities of the stories, that not everything can be measured as Western sciences, but rather as how Indigenous sciences speaks about what we don't know, what we can't know, and how we can make meaning of precisely that unknowing, and resting in that unknowing by finding the right insight to the action that we need to do as a collective."
"I was really struck, Yuria, that you said that grief is surrender," Klein said in response. "Because, right before, I was making a couple of notes, thinking about why so many people I know in the climate justice movement are afraid of grief. And I wrote down just now, 'It's because they equate grief with surrender.'
"But, what I meant was political surrender. I think there's a fear that if we fall down, we'll never get up. And that, if we let ourselves feel the depths of the loss, the depths of the fear, that we'll just somehow never be able to be galvanized again. And it's the opposite, really. That grief is uncontainable, including that surrender.
"I work with these students I mentioned, it's not a course on climate anxiety or climate grief. It's a course on climate feelings. And that's the first thing I say is, 'It can be rage, it can be just loss, it can be hope, it can be homesickness. There are so many emotions, and why do we prescribe just this one?'
'But the main thing I want is just feel anything, feel it a lot, because I feel like what is the source of the hopelessness or despair — those are legitimate emotions — but it's a deadeningness, really, that is what I'm most afraid of in myself and in the people I work with."
Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News (news.berkeley.edu).
Photo of Naomi Klein by Kourosh Keshiri via Flickr. Photos of Yuria Celidwen and Bayo Akomolafe courtesy of the Othering and Belonging Institute.
Music by Blue Dot Sessions.
View all episodes
179. Poet Ishion Hutchinson reads 'The Mud Sermon' and other poems41:06In Berkeley Talks episode 179, Jamaican poet Ishion Hutchinson reads several poems, including "The Mud Sermon," "The Bicycle Eclogue" and "After the Hurricane." His April reading was part of the UC Berkeley Library’s monthly event Lunch Poems."I take this voyage into poetry very seriously," begins Hutchinson, "and take none of it for granted, because of the weight of history, both growing up in Jamaica and knowing the violent history that comes with that. But also the violence, too, of canon, and seeing that my work as a poet, in part, is to figure out what sort of emancipatory forces I should summon. Luckily, I stand in great shoulders within the Caribbean tradition of many poets and writers that I admire, and envy, and wish they hadn't been born. Don't tell them that. This isn't recorded, of course."Here’s “A Mud Sermon,” one of the poems Hutchinson read during the event:They shovelled the long trenches day and night.Frostbitten mud. Shellshock mud. Dungheap mud. Imperial mud.Venereal mud. Malaria mud. Hun bait mud. Mating mud.1655 mud: white flashes of sharks. Golgotha mud. Chilblain mud.Caliban mud. Cannibal mud. Ha ha ha mud. Amnesia mud.Drapetomania mud. Lice mud. Pyrexia mud. Exposure mud. Aphasia mud.No-man’s-land’s-Everyman’s mud. And the smoking flax mud.Dysentery mud. Septic sore mud. Hog pen mud. Nephritis mud.Constipated mud. Faith mud. Sandfly fever mud. Rat mud.Sheol mud. Ir-ha-cheres mud. Ague mud. Asquith mud. Parade mud.Scabies mud. Mumps mud. Memra mud. Pneumonia mud.Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin mud. Civil war mud.And darkness and worms will be their dwelling-place mud.Yaws mud. Gog mud. Magog mud. God mud.Canaan the unseen, as promised, saw mud.They resurrected new counter-kingdoms,by the arbitrament of the sword mud.Ishion Hutchinson was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He is the author of two poetry collections: Far District and House of Lords and Commons. He is the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize, the Whiting Writers Award, the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, the Windham-Campbell Prize for Poetry and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, among others. He is a contributing editor to the literary journals The Common and Tongue: A Journal of Writing & Art, and teaches in the graduate writing program at Cornell University.Lunch Poems is an ongoing poetry reading series at Berkeley that began in 2014. All readings happen from 12:10 p.m. to 12:50 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month. A new season of Lunch Poems will begin on Oct. 5 with Inuit poet dg nanouk okpik in the Morrison Library.Find upcoming talks on the Lunch Poems website and watch videos of past readings on the Lunch Poems YouTube channel. Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News (news.berkeley.edu).Photo by Neil-Anthony Watson.Music by Blue Dot Sessions.
178. Michael Brown's family on keeping his memory alive01:48:27In Berkeley Talks episode 178, Rashad Arman Timmons, a fellow at UC Berkeley’s Black Studies Collaboratory, joins in conversation with the family of Michael Brown Jr., whose 2014 killing by police in Ferguson, Missouri, ignited a wave of protests across the country.During the March 8, 2023, discussion, Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., his stepmother, Cal Brown, and Timmons consider the enduring significance of Ferguson in the nation’s racial landscape and ponder Black grief as a resource for social transformation.“A note on grief,” begins Timmons. “We grieve because we care. We grieve because we love. And we grieve because we remember. I feel a responsibility to say this, to acknowledge grief for what it truly is: an ethical act of care, a radical act of love and a persistent triumph of memory.“When we grieve the Black dead and dying, we enact an urgent care for them. We profess a vigilant love over them and nurture a commitment to remember them. Christina Sharpe in her beautiful theorizing calls the unison of these practices ‘wake work.’ ‘Wake work,’ she writes, "describes how we attend to physical, social and figurative death, and also to the largeness that is Black life, or Black life insisted from death. Wake work describes how we imagine, defend and care for Black lives always already threatened, in our present or the future, that chattel slavery made possible.”Read more about the event and learn more about the Black Studies Collaboratory.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News (news.berkeley.edu).Music by Blue Dot Sessions.
177. Oppenheimer's Berkeley years01:27:34In Berkeley Talks episode 177, a panel of scholars discusses theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and how his years at UC Berkeley shaped him, and how he shaped the university.Oppenheimer, the subject of Christopher Nolan’s summer 2023 film Oppenheimer, came to Berkeley in 1929 as an assistant professor and over the next dozen years established one of the greatest schools of theoretical physics. He went on to direct the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos Laboratory during World War II, during which the first nuclear weapons were developed. He’s often referred to as “the father of the atomic bomb.”“Exceptional students and postdocs flocked here to Berkeley to work with him,” began Cathryn Carson, a Berkeley professor of history and a specialist in the history of 20th century physics, who moderated the July 28 discussion at Berkeley.“As we’ll hear today,” she continued, “the style of work that Oppenheimer unfolded at Berkeley was collaborative, pointed, directed at hard problems, not always successful. His modus operandi, you could say, was, ‘Work hard, play hard.’“He landed in the Bay at a time when much else was in ferment. At the same time that he devoted himself to physics, he got engaged with contemporary left-wing politics. In the Bay Area in the 1930s, that included the fight against fascism in Nazi Germany and Spain and struggles for economic justice and labor in California. The Communist Party was part of that setting, and Oppenheimer immersed himself in the life of the Berkeley faculty, efforts to unionize it and intellectual currents across the university — this broad liberal arts institution that fed his roving mind.”Panelists include:Cathryn Carson, chair and professor of Berkeley’s Department of History, whose research includes nuclear history and the history of 20th century physics. She co-edited a volume of papers about Oppenheimer, Reappraising Oppenheimer: Centennial Studies and Reflections.Mark Chadwick, chief scientist and chief operating officer for weapons physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who edited and published a suite of papers on the technical history of the Trinity test.Jon Else, professor emeritus of Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, who created the documentary The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb.Yasunori Nomura, a Berkeley professor of physics and director of the Berkeley Center for Theoretical Physics.Karl van Bibber, professor of nuclear engineering at Berkeley, who spent 25 years conducting nuclear energy research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News (news.berkeley.edu).Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt, courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.Music by Blue Dot Sessions.
176. Jessica Morse on how we can live with fire01:25:31In this Berkeley Talks episode, Jessica Morse, the deputy secretary for forest and wildland resilience at the California Natural Resources Agency, discusses the current wildfire crisis in California and how we got here, strategies the state is implementing, and lessons they've learned in order to decrease catastrophic wildfires and create more resilient forests.Morse began her Nov. 4, 2022, lecture with a story about the Camp Fire, the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century that killed 85 people and destroyed more than 18,000 structures in Northern California. "The story for me starts Nov. 8, 2018, almost four years ago to the day the campfire broke out in Paradise," began Morse. "I think all of us have some story of knowing where we were that day. It was a game-changer in terms of the deadliest, most devastating fire we've seen in California history. I went up there a couple days later to go help out and volunteer with the relief efforts. And what I saw was striking: We had 54,000 people displaced in the blink of an eye. Most of the people, even a couple days after the fire, were still meandering around in pajama bottoms and slippers because they had fled from their homes from this fire that was moving so quickly.""It was a level of trauma in people that I had not seen firsthand since I had been in an active war zone in Iraq," she continued. "And I thought, 'This is my community. These are our neighbors. This is our state. How is this happening? And how did it get this bad? And what do we do about it?'"And so, I dedicated then my time and energy, as well as many of you have to, trying to solve and answer that question. And so, I joined the Newsom administration. The governor on day one, he declared an emergency on these fires so that we could start investing in the prevention work. And so, that's what I'm going to tell you a lot about today, is how we've transformed and transitioned in California to the scale we're at today."This talk was the Berkeley Rausser College of Natural Resources' 2022 S.J. Hall Lecture in Industrial Forestry.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News (news.berkeley.edu).UC Berkeley photo by Scott Stephens.Music by Blue Dot Sessions.
175. Siri creator Adam Cheyer shares secrets of entrepreneurship01:26:58Siri creator Adam Cheyer talks about the long road to launching the virtual assistant, how to take an entrepreneurial idea from conception to impact and why he doesn't see anything as a failure."An entrepreneur and a magician are exactly the same," begins Cheyer, who also founded the startups Change.org, Viv Labs, Sentient and Bixby. "An entrepreneur needs to imagine an impossible future. Think about Siri: 20 years ago, if I told you that you could pull a device out of your pocket, it would know who you are and where you are and you could just talk to it using your words and it would not only talk back to you, but do things for you, book that reservation, buy a movie ticket, you would've thought that were magic."An entrepreneur has to imagine an impossible future that's desirable, that doesn't exist ... So, you have to reach far as an entrepreneur, dream big, dream magical. But you have to be very clear (and answer) 'Why would we want such a thing?'"This Feb. 9, 2021, talk was part of UC Berkeley's Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology's 2021 Newton Lecture Series. Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News (news.berkeley.edu).Music by Blue Dot Sessions.Photo courtesy of the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology.
174. Legal scholars unpack Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action01:01:35In this episode, three leading legal scholars — john a. powell, director of UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute (OBI); Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law; and Sheryll Cashin, professor of law at Georgetown Law School — discuss the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that public and private universities cannot use race as a factor in admitting students. The court, with its conservative justices in the majority, ruled that such affirmative action violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, reversing decades of legal precedent.In California, UC Berkeley and other public colleges and universities have been prohibited from considering race in admissions since 1996, when voters approved Proposition 209.“The Supreme Court ignores the tremendous difference between using race to harm minorities as opposed to using race to remedy past discrimination and enhance diversity,” said Chemerinsky at the July 3 event, moderated by OBI Assistant Director Stephen Menendian. “When John Roberts tries to invoke Brown v. Board of Education, he ignores that Brown was dealing with laws that mandated segregation. They were all about subordinating a racial minority as opposed to what Harvard and North Carolina were doing, which was about trying to remedy past discrimination.”Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News (news.berkeley.edu).Music by Blue Dot Sessions.Photos by (from left) Howard County Library System, Brittany Hosea-Small and Sara Yogi.
173. Poets laureate share works about creation, sacrifice and home01:18:31In this episode, three poets laureate — Lee Herrick, the first Asian American poet laureate of California; Kealoha, Hawai'i’s first poet laureate; and Nadia Elbgal, the Oakland youth poet laureate — perform and read their works in celebration of National Poetry Month in April.Kealoha, a slam champion who has a degree in nuclear physics from MIT, began by performing a scene from his film, The Story of Everything, a creation story inspired by his son that tells 13.8 billion years worth of time, from the Big Bang to human life on Earth. Next, Elbgal, a Yemeni American activist and recent Berkeley High graduate, read three works of hers, including "Product of a Blended Culture" and "Spark." The event concluded with a reading by Herrick, who shared several pieces from his latest book of poetry, Scar and Flower.This April 20 event was presented by UC Berkeley's Arts Research Center in partnership with Engaging the Senses Foundation, and co-sponsored by the Center for Race and Gender and the English and ethnic studies departments at Berkeley.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News (news.berkeley.edu).Music by Blue Dot Sessions.
172. Biden economic adviser on building a clean energy economy01:20:02Heather Boushey, a member of President Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) and chief economist to the Investing in America Cabinet, discusses Biden's plan to build a clean energy economy in the U.S. "The president has made clear, I feel like gazillions of times at this point, that his goal is to build an economy from the bottom up and middle out," began Boushey at the March 22 event at UC Berkeley. "He wants an economy where growth is strong, sustainable. Where gains are broadly shared. Where the economy is stable, not just strong. Where our industries are globally competitive. Where we have a strong and vibrant middle class. Where we run our economy on clean energy and we bring down carbon emissions. And where we move beyond longstanding inequities."And so, we at the CEA, we help the president as he is thinking about the economics behind how we're going to do this. And so, today's conversation, what I want to spend the next little bit of time talking to you about, is about the president's economic blueprint to reach his goals — what motivated it, what it is, why we believe that the evidence shows us that it'll be effective and what successes that we're already seeing."This talk was co-sponsored by the Berkeley Society and Economy Initiative, the Network for a New Political Economy, the Stone Center on Wealth and Income Inequality, and Social Science Matrix.Listen to the episode and read the transcript on Berkeley News (news.berkeley.edu).Executive Office of the President of the United States photo via Wikimedia Commons.Music by Blue Dot Sessions.