Lessons for 2020: How to Fight Back Against Ecological Grief

It’s a new year. Hell…it’s a new decade!!! I took a long break from this writing community… but now I’m back. I’ve spent a year and a half deeply involved in a civic action group I co-founded. It was a tough baptism, but I’ve learned a lot. An article in yesterday”s NY Times Sunday Review section by Emma Marris, Stop Freaking Out About the Climate, inspired me to reconnect today because it affirmed the lessons I have learned in the past year and a half and wish to share with you in the first days of this new decade.

As most of you already know, a third of Australia is burning up; thousands of families there are displaced and millions of unique animals are dying each day. People across the world are coping with floods, storms, droughts, earthquakes and other natural catastrophes undoubtedly due to climate change that are forcing them to flee their homes and sometimes their countries of origin. So what’s an ordinary person supposed to do to avoid despair? My daughter tells me the newly coined phrase for this feeling is “ecological grief.”

The above-mentioned NY Times article affirmed what I have spent the past year and a half learning and today want to share with those of you who might also be experiencing ecological grief. Here are the recommended steps from the article and my “take” on them.

Step 1: Ditch the Shame
“As long as we are “competing for the title of ‘greener than thou’ or are paralyzed by shame, we aren’t fighting the powerful companies and governments that are the real problem, and that’s exactly the way they like it.” (NY Times)
I dumped my own feeling of powerlessness in the face of our degrading environment when I co-founded our civics group, a very small cadre of like-minded friends and relatives who decided to join forces to oppose the decisions being made by our local government that were harmful to our town’s ecological health. We have had a few successes, several setbacks and even a defeat or two, but we have developed a following in out town and our efficacy has grown proportionate to our growing numbers.

Step 2: Focus on systems, not yourself
Our small group of passionate citizens bonded over the potential demise of a small business in our town to be replaced with high-rent apartments and boutique shops. To make matters worse the new construction was to be poised atop a crucial wetlands area. To fight this battle we had to dig deep. We searched the local archives and found documents that in fact prohibited anyone from building on this property. This discovery opened a can of worms that has led to the unveiling of the political “systems” at work in our town that demand our constant vigilance. We succeeded in stopping the project.

Step 3: Join an effective group
We became our own effective group through a lot of hard work and inviting others to participate. There are other groups in town that have banded together at different times for different causes and together we are learning that the more we work together and share information, the more effective we become when it comes to voting for or against an issue. We recently banded together to stop a zoning change that would have allowed continued overdevelopment; the town is now considering our input.

Step 4: Define your role
This is an important one. “Take care not to overdo it at first and risk burning out.” After our first year I was nearly ready to quit. And so were the others. We had to talk it out and decide what we could realistically continue to do. Each of us plays a role in our group that we feel comfortable with. “Set a sustainable level of involvement for yourself and keep it up.” I knew I could not continue to be part of a struggle that consumed my energy and attention 24/7. “As a bonus, working with a group will increase the richness and diversity of your personal relationships, and may well temper your climate anxiety and depression.” I now take breaks when I need them, allowing me to have the energy to step up to the plate when I am needed. I have made some great, lasting friendships. Right now we are all awaiting the results of our latest pushback against zoning changes in our town. While waiting, we took the opportunity to get together during the holidays and celebrate our successes.

Step 5: Know what you are fighting for, not just what you are fighting against.
“As we fight it is important for our mental health and motivation to have an image in mind of our goal: a realistically good future.” This is so important. I keep remembering how pristine my local environment was during my childhood. The beaches were never closed; the seafood and shellfish were plentiful and safe to eat; the air was fresh and our drinking water was safe. Life was not perfect; even then we lived with the pollution of cars and parents who smoked. My personal goal is to help restore the healthy conditions of my youth, for as many people as possible, in the area where I live. If enough people do the same in their neighborhoods, there’s hope for all of us.

It’s good to be back in this writing community. This decade really matters; I’m counting on you!