Episode 3: Eco-Grief: Our Greatest Ally?
If you suffer from climate grief, you know what it's like to feel hopeless, alone, or bewildered by society's business-as-usual response to our existential threat. Wanting those feelings to go away is normal, but grief can lead to awareness and compassion in ways that actually advance political action and climate solutions. Paradoxically, grief can also provide a kind of strength and clarity when conventional hopes are shaken. As climate activist Tim DeChristopher once said, “In happy times the weight of despair is oppressive, but in stormy times that weight is an anchor that can get you through.” This episode explores the value of grief as a way to overcome collective denial as we move into an uncertain climate future. While most environmentalists are urging us to focus on hope, Dr. Jennifer Atkinson points out that grief and hope aren't mutually exclusive, and for many, grief may even be our best ally in an age of climate crisis
"Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel you are beyond that pain."
Written and narrated by Jennifer Atkinson
Music by Roberto David Rusconi
Produced by Intrasonus UK
Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England
Dr. Jennifer Atkinson is a professor of environmental humanities at the University of Washington, where she leads seminars that help students cope with the despair, anger, and anxiety that arise from environmental loss and mass extinction. Her teaching and research have helped activists, scientists, and students build resilience to stay engaged in climate solutions and avoid burnout. She has also spoken to audiences across the U.S. about the global mental health crisis arising from climate disruption, and advocated for addressing emotional impacts in the fight for environmental justice. This episode introduces some of the experiences and insights behind that work, and explores how we can move the public to action by addressing the psychological roots of our unprecedented ecological loss.
References and Further Reading:
Jalal al-Din Rumi. The Essential Rumi. HarperOne; Reprint edition, May, 2004
Carl Zimmer. Birds Are Vanishing From North America. New York Times, Sept. 19, 2019
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating.’ May 6, 2019
Kulp, S.A., Strauss, B.H. New elevation data triple estimates of global vulnerability to sea-level rise and coastal flooding. Nature Communications 10, 4844 (2019).
Emily Atkin. The Blood-Dimmed Tide: Climate change is poised to alter the face of global conflict. The New Republic, September 16, 2019.
Brad Plumer. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Hit a Record in 2019, Even as Coal Fades. New York Times, Dec 3, 2019.
Paola Rosa-Aquino. The life-altering, world-ending topic they’re still not teaching you about in school. Grist. June 4, 2019.
David Corn. It’s the End of the World as They Know It: The distinct burden of being a climate scientist. Mother Jones, July 8, 2019.
Head, Lesley, & Harada, T. Keeping the heart a long way from the brain: The emotional labour of climate scientists. Emotion, Space & Society, 24, 34–41 (2017).
Livia Albeck-Ripka. Why Lost Ice Means Lost Hope for an Inuit Village. New York Times, Nov. 25, 2017
Indigenous Peoples, Lands, & Resources. Bennett, T. M., Maynard, S., Cochran, P., Gough, R., Lynn, K., Maldonado, J., Voggesser, G. Wotkyns, S., & Cozzetto, K. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment (297- 317). U.S. Global Change Research Program. 2014.
Cunsolo, Ashlee. "Climate Change as the Work of Mourning." Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss & Grief. Ed Cunsolo & Landman. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017.
Scaramutti, Carolina, Vos, S., Salas-Wright, C., & Schwartz, S. "The Mental Health Impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico & Florida." Disaster Medicine & Public Health Preparedness. Nov 2018.
Ron Reed and Kari Norgaard. Emotional impacts of environmental decline: What can Native cosmologies teach sociology about emotions & environmental justice? Theory & Society 46 (463–495) November 2017.
Stephen Running, The 5 Stages of Climate Grief. Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group Publications. 173. 2007
Douglas Burton-Christie. The Gift of Tears: Loss, Mourning, and the Work of Ecological Restoration. Worldviews 15.1 (29–46) 2011.
The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise. North Atlantic Books. April 14, 2015.
Chris Jordan. This Image Shows the Tragedy of Mass Consumption – But Change is Possible HuffPost, April 1, 2018.