Eco-grief was somewhat responsible for starting off on this adventure and documenting the journey. Part grief for what’s already been lost, and part anticipatory grief for what we’re losing and will lose. It’s a trip to share love and care for a family member in deep, deep trouble. At the same time, I’m aware it’s in the nature of existence to change. It makes the pain no less sharp, nor the love less meaningful.
What is Eco-Grief?
Eco-grief is the feeling of sadness and loss for the places, animals, plants, and intangible cultural experience we’re losing to climate change and other forms of human-fueled environmental destruction.
It can be something that happens on a very large scale, like a researcher’s life’s work studying a reef disappearing as the reef is bleached in rapidly warming seas. Or its entire rivers disappearing, like the Slims River in the Yukon, which once flowed down from Kaskawulsh Glacier until the glacier receded so much and so rapidly, that the Slims disappeared.
It can also be something very personal. Maybe the seasons don’t happen in the same way anymore at your childhood home. The rainy season has shifted later in the year,, or the autumn has disappeared between a too-hot summer and a record-breaking winter. Maybe you remember when you could get fresh drinking water outside of your home, and that’s long since been destroyed by industrial waste and government neglect, like the Grassy Narrows mercury poisoning in Canada.
What should we do about Eco-Grief?
Feel it. It’s an emotion. Maybe many emotions. Your emotions are not problems to fix. This is pain we need to touch and understand. It’s not a disorder. It’s awareness of love we can’t give anymore, of wonder we’ll never experience again. It’s care we can give to the natural world we still have. It’s honesty. It’s the pain of injury. If we cover it up, we might only injure ourselves more.
In the mental health work I do, I often work with people on learning how to accept loss. Us humans hate loss. We don’t want to lose relationships, resources, control, our health, our minds, our lives. But in trying to avoid even thinking about loss, we can get wrapped up in a lot of unhealthy compulsions. On the other hand, when we can contact the reality and possibility of loss, personally, or for our communities, we can make much healthier decisions. We don’t take things for granted. We don’t have to chase excess. The focus can shift to cultivating and growing.
Aware that you can lose the beauty and support of your natural environment, what do you want to grow? What do you want to care for?