Environmental Grief: Not Only Can I Help You Define It, I Have an Even Bigger Term

The Earth’s patience with our continual abuse is coming to an end, and many of us are feeling the consequential loss of something very, very dear. It has a name: environmental (or ecological) grief.

Defined by Washington State thanatologist Kriss Kevorkian as “the grief reaction stemming from the environmental loss of ecosystems from natural and man-made events”, it often goes unacknowledged or misidentified. Reported as far back as Jul-2016 by Jordan Rosenfeld for Scientific American, Kevorkian recognized the profound sense of loss she felt in her study of the death of whales. She likened the intensity of the grief to that which she would feel upon the death of a family member.

I feel that grief.

Family holding Earth in hands. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

In his article, Rosenfeld reported that in a National Wildlife Federation report, “John McIlwain, director of the Garrison Institute’s Climate, Mind and Behavior Program, described the effects on natural scientists of ecological loss as “secondary trauma,” saying, “It takes a rare and brave human being to continue to do what needs to be done in the face of hopelessness.”

The 2012 report states “that 200 million Americans will be exposed to serious psychological distress from climate-related events and incidents.”

Do you recognize this grief?

Do you feel it when you see a bewildered polar bear adrift on a piece of ice? When you read about the sale of shark fins, or are confronted with the imagine of a dead elephant, killed for nothing more than his tusks? When whole geographic coastal regions are being forced to migrate inland?

How are we not responsible for this?

For increasing numbers of us, living with this grief is both a feature of every day life and completely unacceptable.

I’ll go farther. There is what I term an “environmental conscience“, meaning the living conscience of the whole – all systems – which we are only a small part of, that constantly informs us of the damage we do and the destruction we wreak as surely as our own individual conscience does.

Just sit in the silence of nature and listen for it.

Galvanizing our collective grief and coalescing around – and in fact demanding – solutions is action whose time has come.

One more important idea.

Lori Garver is the chief executive at Earthrise Alliance, and was deputy NASA administrator from 2009 to 2013. She wrote a couple of days ago in the Washington Post that, “NASA was not created to do something again” [meaning to go to the moon or Mars.] The agency was “created to push the limits of human understanding, to help the nation solve big, impossible problems that require advances in science and technology.”

“The impossible problem today is not the moon. And it’s not Mars. It’s our home planet. NASA remains one the most revered and valuable brands in the world, and the agency is at its best when given a purpose. In a July Pew Research Center study, 63 percent of respondents said monitoring key parts of Earth’s climate system should be the highest priority for the United States’ space agency. NASA could create a Climate Corps — modeled after the Peace Corps — in which scientists and engineers spend two years in local communities understanding the unique challenges they face, training local populations and connecting them with the data and science needed to support smart, local decision-making.”

Reading the article may change your entire perspective on a collective solution to restoring the earth to wholeness.

In referencing the smallness of our anthropomorphic vision of God or Nature or Source or the Universe, the glorious author, Brian Doyle, wrote, “how incredibly foolish to [even] assign human gender to something we all admit is so unimaginably epic.” I say this because it’s time to ignore the small voices.

It’s time to ignore the small anti-environment voices, the corporations who would pillage, the single-minded developers, those who suppress their own bit of environmental conscience in favor of some anthropomorphic ideology. We no longer have the luxury of time to debate smallness.

It’s time to stand up: in personal conversations, in town hall meetings with political candidates and online where your voice for restorative wholeness can be magnified.

We need big conversation and big solutions.

Use your voice.