During my time in Paris, I was constantly inspired by the work I saw represented by activists I met from across the globe. This is where I feel our strength lies: We will not progress, we will not save our planet by relying on mainstream NGOs to represent our interests, but rather by joining together our grassroots campaigns. Whether it was acting as a peacekeeper for the Indigenous Environmental Network and It Takes Roots (a coalition of several frontline POC and Indigenous environmental and social justice groups), providing media support for a European coalition treesit, or helping blockade the doors of a major Paris-based energy utility with Australians impacted by the company’s mining practices, the deepest connections I built and strongest friendships I made were forged by directly supporting the work of other warriors. It is the desire to continue to build those relationships that currently fuels the fire in my heart. It personalizes these struggles, makes them that much more real, that much more urgent. Our strengths come from ourselves and from each other, and the more we lend support in direct and meaningful ways to each other, the stronger our “movement” gets. As a network of small grassroots groups, all acutely aware of the dire situation we’re in, we are resilient and capable of building the future we want. We do not require the “leadership” of major NGOs who are interested in compromise. In a declaration put out by the It Takes Roots delegation, the failures of our climate leadership were juxtaposed with the need for our work to continue: “We leave Paris only more aligned, and more committed than ever that our collective power and growing movement is what is forcing the question of extraction into the global arena. We will continue to fight at every level to defend our communities, the earth and future generations.” It is that dedication that will save our planet, and nothing less.
Climate scientists overwhelmingly say that we will face unprecedented warming in the coming decades. Those same scientists, just like you or I, struggle with the emotions that are evoked by these facts and dire projections. My children—who are now 12 and 16—may live in a world warmer than at any time in the previous 3 million years, and may face challenges that we are only just beginning to contemplate, and in many ways may be deprived of the rich, diverse world we grew up in. How do we relate to – and live – with this sad knowledge?
Across different populations, psychological researchers have documented a long list of mental health consequences of climate change: trauma, shock, stress, anxiety, depression, complicated grief, strains on social relationships, substance abuse, sense of hopelessness, fatalism, resignation, loss of autonomy and sense of control, as well as a loss of personal and occupational identity.
This more-than-personal sadness is what I call the “Great Grief”—a feeling that rises in us as if from the Earth itself. Perhaps bears and dolphins, clear-cut forests, fouled rivers, and the acidifying, plastic-laden oceans bear grief inside them, too, just as we do. Every piece of climate news increasingly comes with a sense of dread: is it too late to turn around? The notion that our individual grief and emotional loss can actually be a reaction to the decline of our air, water, and ecology rarely appears in conversation or the media. It may crop up as fears about what kind of world our sons or daughters will face. But where do we bring it? Some bring it privately to a therapist. It is as if this topic is not supposed to be publicly discussed.