My daughter lives, works, and plays in Los Angeles, California. I have grown accustomed to being anxious during fire season; the recent extreme weather has me checking in more often. As I write, 18 people have lost their lives in these storms, more than 4.5 million people are under flood watches, hundreds of thousands are without power, and a heartbreaking search is on for a 5-year-old boy who was swept from his mothers’ arms by raging flood waters. Experts say the cost of the damage from these storms will top $1 billion.
Reading these impacts alone is overwhelming; I invite us to take a deep breath. We are also seeing impacts of our fossil-fuel based society locally: Minnesota is currently experiencing the worst winter air quality situation seen in the state since December 2005. There is not enough wind to disperse the particulates and air pollution.
The impacts and realities of the climate crisis are part of the daily news cycle. New words are entering our vocabulary that define our sweltering planet: Heatflation (when hot temperatures send prices soaring), Nature-rinsing (using natural imagery in advertisements to give the appearance of being environmentally friendly) and Danger Season (the period of the year from May to October plagued with wildfires, hurricanes, and heat waves) among them.
Mental health professionals are talking about climate grief — feelings of sadness, loss, and anxiety in response to climate devastation. A 2019 poll by the American Psychological Association revealed that 68% of US adults are experiencing at least a little anxiety about climate change. Another 2021 study surveyed ten thousand 16–25-year-olds across ten countries and found that 84% were at least moderately worried about climate change, and more than half (59%) were very or extremely worried.
In a recent staff meeting, as we talked about wellbeing and the intersection of personal practices and organizational culture, we talked about climate grief. We talked about the transformational power of story and relationship-based work. Someone told a story of a conversation with a college professor and the realization that we are here—in this work—because we have hope and because we believe that a different way is possible. If we didn’t believe that, we would give up and disengage. Someone else shared an article by writer and activist Rebecca Solnit.
“Not acting is a luxury those in immediate danger do not have, and despair something they cannot afford.” — Rebecca Solnit
The paralyzing despair of climate grief is a privilege. The folks whose lives are being literally turned upside down don’t have time for despair, “they simply can’t afford,” says Solnit, “to lose hope.” Solidarity with Indigenous and front line communities means showing up and taking action while holding the despair and anxiety.
“Hope doesn’t preclude feeling sadness or frustration or anger or any other emotion that makes total sense. Hope isn’t an emotion, you know? Hope is not optimism. Hope is a discipline… we have to practice it every single day.” — Mariame Kaba
Kaba’s words remind us that we can be hopeful and still experience all of the feels. That our hope can be grounded in the nitty gritty reality and not a rose-colored space of unicorns and rainbows.
“I’m not saying we’ll live to see some sort of paradise. But just fighting for change makes you stronger. Not hoping for anything will kill you for sure.” — Leslie Feinberg.
Fighting for change makes you stronger. Taking action relieves despair. We get to build community, learn from one another and stitch together all of our hyper local actions to create a giant net of love surrounding the planet. Let’s not let despair take over 2023, let’s fight like our lives depend on it. Because they do, and it’s time.