It's Your Planet, You Can Cry if You Want To
A Post About Climate Change & Grief (Plus, Perhaps a Smidge of Hope).
A few disclaimers at the start of this potentially polarizing topic:
If I'm at risk of losing you at "climate change," please keep reading. Someone I was once very close to used to grumble that we initially called it "global warming,"then changed the wording when it no longer applied. They seethed about Al Gore and his massive mansion, hypocritically warning the world about an inconvenient truth. I don't share that perspective (well, he has a point about Gore); yet it was still important to hear. I listen for wisdom in every voice at the table, and hope you'll be open to hearing some in mine.
To those of you who find strong emotion––grief in particular––to be scarier than volatile weather, I tenderly extend this post as an offering of permission, perspective and perhaps a smidge of hope.
In case it's the "hope" that turns you off, just hear me out, call me out, and we can hash this out together. I don't want to stumble blindly into a field of naive dreams, but I'm also not quite ready to say Game Over.
Caveats aside? Well then, it must be game on.
I've been wanting to write on this topic for a long time, and though it's big enough to easily bite off more than one can chew, the whole angle I've wanted to take is one breaking things down into manageable pieces. So with that in mind, in bite-sized doses, we'll proceed.
I can't recall what originally seeded the idea in my mind, if it was watching Seaspiracy (an action-inspiring––apparently controversial––documentary about the devastation of our oceans leading straight toward planetary demise if unaddressed), or living through months of inescapable, suffocating smoke that's become commonplace for California summers. Or shall we can it "fire-season"?! As I search my memory, I realize it must have been after separate visits to two trusted women, upon witnessing their unique and emphatic approaches to combatting the latest in climate change. First, "Lucid:"
Upon learning the water supply in her home county is down to one year of clean water for residents, she jumped on the all-too-empty bandwagon of extreme water conservation. She saves not only"warm-up water" from showers (now taken sparingly), but attempts to catch every last drop of dish, hand, and produce-washing water used in her home, minimizing waste at every possible turn. These precious catchments are then carefully distributed throughout her decades old three tiered garden, still gorgeous, yet eerily evolving under the dire circumstances of the state. While visiting, I participated in the effort, and even won an imaginary prize for least water used to wash hair! Small victories...
Next, "Flora,"who thankfully has no trouble keeping her garden green due to persistent moisture of the Northern California coast:
When I arrived to her brightly lit home, unpacking goodies and treats from the drive, it took mere moments to learn she is doing to her best to avoid consumption of anything wrapped in plastic. Graced by a community supporting her cause, and an excellent Co-op to back it, she is able to purchase bulk food, cleaning and bath products to refill reuse previously purchased packaging. She's committed to recreating homemade versions of beloved products usually sold in plastic, including salsa, yogurt, and sauces. And any plastic wrap or baggies she owns have been washed and dried countlessly, proving their bittersweet timelessness.
Seeing these women, both so strong and influential in my life, taking such care––with such intensity and persistence––to make a difference, was striking in every sense of the word. It was at once impactful, inspiring and painful to lean into.
Still now, on my reverse mental journey, I recall yet another event that precipitated this year's next-level-awakening to our ever changing world:
This July, I was lucky enough to revisit a farm on a river I've been fortunate to enjoy for a blissful week almost every summer for the past several years. Highlights of the trip usually include refreshing outings to swim, and lounging on acres of green grass, garden and orchard.
Hit hard first by the 2019 fire season that included mandatory evacuations, then Covid and a season of shutdowns, the farm managed to revive itself somewhat with a partial reopening in 2021 and retain its sweet charm. While undeniably blessed to be able return to this place at all, a haven for families and friends, I was shocked at the farm's dwindling greenery (consistent with the water supply), and to find the once-flowing river below shallow, bug and algae invested, and warm as bathwater––hardly the sweet respite from the midsummer heat we're used to.
There's a little voice nudging me now, asking if I am being too negative or a downer? Despite the [fading yet] familiar refrain of questioning my emotional intensity, I don't actually think... and I may be wrong here... but I don't think I'm portraying any of this in a particularly emotional manner. I'm conveying the impressions as objectively as I can. It's just... they were, INTENSE.
I guess that leads naturally to the second part of our topic today, my friend, our dear, old friend, Grief. I keep having the urge to capitalize "grief," and I'm tired of resisting it, so I think I will for the rest of the post, at least. Why not personify and show respect to this process, so inherent to the human condition it's earned its own utterance, "Good Grief!"?
Personally, it's nice to see myself literally befriending Grief. It's been a steady companion, though usually downplayed in its worth, like reducing a loyal pet to fur and feeding. Yet Grief is nuanced, multi-faceted and broad enough to contain an expanse of experiences so distinct Elizabeth Kübler-Ross gave them stages and names, with an acronym to help remember them:
And I'd like to add a final "A," if I may, without altering the sound or essence of our mnemonic:
So, there you have it: DABDAA.
I doubt it's entirely necessary to spell out how the stages of Grief might show up in regard to climate change. It's a helluva lot more obvious than how to spell mnemonic, of that much I'm sure. But I'll give it a go anyway; then we'll get into "Action," and the smidge o' hope I lured some of you in with from the get-go.
Without specifying the science, statistics, timelines, temperatures, mass extinctions or planned excursions to Mars, it's relatively easy to see that our climate is changing, in my lifetime, probably yours, and certainly our children's. Yet, some still fervently deny it. And, there you have it! Phase 1, Grief: Denial.
(Let us insert a note here that these stages are not always sequential, nor are they necessarily complete once one has moved on. They are cyclical, swapable, and as I tried to put it kindly before, they're rather loyal til the end).
A for Anger is almost as obvious as Denial. I know many of us are experiencing this, at times to a maddening degree––towards ourselves, our forefathers, and our climate change-denying brethren. The most extreme manifestation of Anger I've seen looks something like misanthropy–hatred of humankind. I have a different perspective, that humans are part of nature too, therefore cannot inherently destroy it. Better yet, that we're on a developmental journey as a species much like the individual path to maturity; but these thoughts are too long-winded for today, so I'll share instead how this misanthropic take generally makes me feel (I say "generally" purposefully; I have my days of Anger at humanity, too, don't you worry): This perspective makes me incredibly sad. Which in the language of DABDA, I suppose, would be Depressed. (I'm so glad I skipped Bargaining, B. T. Dubs, not only because it's the hardest for me to define, but because now I get to model my point that these stages do not necessarily go in order). In contrast to the abstractness of Bargaining, Depression at this point is pretty darn tangible in most of our lives. What are the number one and two reasons people seek therapy these days? "Anxiety" and "Depression." And I'm perfectly confident stating that without a single footnote to back me.
Depression is the part of Grief most likely to take us hostage, keep us trapped. It threatens to suffocate us like the nearest fire's smoke, not as damaging as the fire itself, yet still causing immense difficulty after prolonged exposure without reprieve. Depression is where tears, fatigue, and lethargy thrive. It's the land of hopelessness, exhaustion and despair.
Somehow, it's also a fertile soil from which we can sprout sweet goodness. At least, I hope so, and yes, I know so... but I'm simultaneously stating and questioning my perspective, because doubt gets along remarkably well with Depression, too; and I'll admit to having been in a bit of a depressed state all day (so maybe I AM being a bit negative. Truth comes out!). My not-as-young-as-he-once-was Dad contracted Covid this week (although he's vaccinated and doing OK), and I've been heavily exposed. Between quarantining until my health status is confirmed, and standing by for Dad in case he needs a helping hand––but not so close as to risk unnecessary spread––I've been feeling burdened and blocked, and may not have made it to my blog without the support of a trusted friend.
I'm aware this may all be TMI, as your therapist, potential therapist, or therapist-person-you-sometimes-follow-online; but I'm sharing anyway because the days of blank-slate-therapists had better be over, or I'm out! And because this situation is so not unique. I know each and every one of you has been in one similar, better, and in best cases not worse.
Did I mention we're trapped inside?!? Not just because of Covid, no–– but because of the purple air blanket of smoke we've been sweating under for days!! Annd, a teensy taste of Anger emerges, even though I recognize the relative and immense privilege of my circumstances.
The last and final Kübler-Ross stage of Grief is Acceptance, as you already know (yep; I skipped Bargaining altogether! I'm currently busy Bargaining with Bargaining in the background, pleading with it to get lost!). Acceptance is the part where we finally acknowledge and find peace with what is. We can tell our story without getting pulled into the pain, and move forward toward a future not consumed by our past. This is the part where we shift into Action, and possibly, Hope. (Why not make all our good friends proper, hm?).
After two weeks of traveling around my home state California, visiting family, friends, and farms, upon watching inciting documentaries (again, Seaspiracy) and inspiring ones (I cannot recommend Kiss the Ground enough!), I started moving into action. I've cut out seafood almost entirely, reduced meat-consumption to roughly once a week and counting, distributed the all-but-abandoned compost pile throughout the yard, hauled fire-inviting heaps of needles, leaves and boughs safely away; and supported our local nursery buying copious [hybrid. lol] carloads of carbon-producing plants, which I've distributed throughout the yard, and more... (and all this before the worst of the smoke, thank GOODNESS!).
Do you wanna know my favorites? I've been replenishing the birdbaths with fresh water daily for the diverse populations of native birds (and squirrels), and filling the feeders Dad originally hung; and I've added two gorgeous, hand-blown glass, hummingbird feeders to the front yard and back, where the birds' shimmering jewel-toned heads gleam in the––albeit smoke-obscured––sunlight, bringing beauty, glory and LIFE back into these seemingly dark times...
Each of these actions, however large or small, have served to spread layers of peaceful mulch around any emerging buds of Acceptance. Our planet is changing, no doubt, and there are a million ways to orient to and prepare for that reality. My advice? As much as you can, embrace the process of Grief. Swim through Denial, summon your righteous Anger, dip into Depression, and banter with Bargaining, seeing if you can't broker a deal...
... and just as I thought I was finishing up, I realized, with my mental block around Bargaining, it's possible that's actually right where I am (insert bug-eye emoji)! I say this for the wisest of readers, because others (ahem––me), I might have almost convinced I'd come up with an answer, or some way out. It seems my contribution of "Action" wasn't so novel after all, but rather a manifestation of Bargaining all along.
One final though: Maybe that's the whole point. No matter what we call it, as long as we keep moving through It, we won't get stuck, not in outdated perspectives nor hopeless despair. Except... we might be "stuck" with Grief. It must be expediently clear by now that she's not going anywhere. So, Imma keep learning to love her, keep on trying to listen to her, and do my best to remember Acceptance is also a part of her. It ain't all bad, I promise! And as always, you're not alone.
(I'm signing this one...!)