Friday, 29 March 2019

environmental melancholia: part one

I'm taking a serious turn in this blog post to talk about the grief, anxiety and apathy that can accompany environmentalism. It can come about from working in the area or as a result of hearing endless news reports about the climate, drought, rising sea levels, deforestation, you name it. It is sometimes referred to as ecological grief or environmental melancholia.

Good times at the beach?


This post has been on my mind for awhile, and though I'm sure I won't communicate everything I want to about it, I figured I may as well just dive in and get the conversation moving.

For example, I started writing a post in January (and because of working-motherhood never returned to), and it included the following:
As I've awakened on another steamy Sydney morning, during this summer of record-breaking heatwaves, I find myself thinking about the future. As a climate activist it's hard not to make the connection between these extreme weather events and our changing climate. Not to sound too apocalyptic or anything, but the early stages that climate experts have been warning about for decades are starting to occur. 
One-third of Australia's flying fox population died in a two-day heatwave last November. In addition there has been the mass death of hundreds of thousands of fish in the Darling River due to extreme heat and low river flow, and over 100 wild horses perished in extreme South Australian heat this past week. This is what biodiversity loss as a result of climate change looks like. I'm not going to sugar coat it, it is bleak.

Uplifting stuff, right?

Ugh.

I've also started working on a new project with the Sydney Environment Institute and speaking with a number of sustainability researchers from all faculties on campus. Normally talking to brilliant minds who are furiously working on climate and environmental issues energises me. But every now and then I realise, some of these people have been working on this stuff for decades. And we are still in a global political stalemate over concrete and revolutionary action (and it's only revolutionary because we have waited for decades to extricate our lifestyles from fossil fuels after learning of their impact - don't even get me started on that issue).

Oh yeah, the latest UN IPCC report was a real doozy, too. Did you miss it? The key takeaway is that we need to enact swift and immediate action to avoid catastrophe. We will reach a world of 1.5 degrees warming in 12 years (we've already reached 1 degree), at which point several hundred million human lives are at stake. I've taken the following from Grist:
We only have a decade left to finish our initial coordinated retooling of society to tackle this challenge. The scientists were quite clear about this. By 2030, we’ll need to have already cut global emissions in half (45 percent below 2010 levels, according to the report), which (again, according to the IPCC) would require “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in “all aspects of society.”
The language in this report is markedly more urgent than anything they've published before, which should highlight the gravity of the issues.

And then last night I was playing with my son at the beach, and as he was being adorable, crawling about on the sand, exploring the seashore, he made his way to give me something - a little styrofoam ball. How depressing. Is it human nature to clean up the planet? Or, more likely, he's watched his dad and I religiously take 3 (or 12) for the sea every time we are at the beach. This is something I wish I didn't have to teach my son, to clean up polluting litter from the beach and oceans. Let alone what's to come as the climate continues to change throughout his life (I must blog another time about the decision to procreate in a time of climate crisis).

So there you have it. Some of the causes of my current state of environmental melancholia. I have started reading a book of that same title by the very clever psychologist Renee Lertzman, and will give you a mini book review in the next post. I'll also share insights from other experts in the area, in case you have also experienced similar feelings of grief or anxiety.

As environmentalists or activists or simply humans living in this changing world, it is important to look after ourselves, acknowledge our emotions, and learn how to help each other move forward, don't you think?

More soon,
xLisa

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