Sharing the Eco-Grief: Hope to Propel Us Forward
Jayanti Jha (United States)
A couple summers ago, I took an Introduction to Sustainability class at a local community college. I knew the basics: be vegan; make zero waste; walk everywhere. I’m a pescatarian, and it’s difficult for me to switch completely to veganism because I still live with my parents, and they make my meals. But there was this pressure that I felt when I realized that, if everyone doesn’t completely transform their lives, we’ll be doomed in just a couple of years. And I had no idea what to do about it. There was no way that I could take on this challenge alone.
I walked into the class nervous about what was awaiting me. Were my concerns about the future going to get worse? We began the class with the basic science behind sustainability: the water cycle, climate change, and consumerism. We dove into the history of the Bay Area in California and the Native American tribes that inhabited the area first. The Ohlone Tribe had their land and customs snatched away from them and must have been worried about the colonizers’ effects on nature that colonizers did not appreciate at all.
I found myself resonating with the stress they felt. How was it possible that I was the only one who could see the grave state of our Earth, I wondered?
I looked this question up on Google, since I’m only 16, after all. How could I be the only one who cares? So, I did my research. The first results that I found about climate change and the deterioration of our climate were negative.
“Ocean Heat Waves Are Directly Linked to Climate Change.”
“Climate Disruption Is Now Locked In. The Next Moves Will Be Crucial.”
“California faces dire consequences if climate change unaddressed, report warns.”
All I see is the negative side. Obviously, we want the environment to stay healthy for generations to come. But we’re surrounded with bad news that makes us feel hopeless, like nothing even works.
Later that year, I went to the CA Democratic Convention in Long Beach. I met influential presidential candidates, from Amy Klobuchar to Bernie Sanders. I attended one caucus about the environment, and I was exposed to policymaking and all the different ideas in the air.
Change was being made. And while it isn’t seen on the big screen or on our laptops, it is, indeed, being made, even in the highest levels of government.
Scientists and professors are continuously making progress; in fact, one facet of climate change and environmental studies that has only recently come up is the idea of “eco-grief.” Eco-grief is a term used to describe feelings of disbelief, hopelessness, or sorrow over the fact that we live in an unsustainable world. It’s that feeling that you get when you realize that big corporations are having more of a negative effect than any positive impact you could make on the crisis. When you realize there’s only one world, and you, alone, are living an unsustainable life. When your friends and family are only thinking of themselves, but you know that your efforts are useless if the big companies don’t change.
Those feelings can manifest in two ways: fear or hope.
Fear paralyzes us. We feel like we’re stuck, like the climate crisis is inevitable. We perpetuate this idea to everyone around us, so fixated on the negatives that we’re blinded from any positivity that comes around. We struggle to change our perspective or feelings despite the progress being made.
Hope, on the other hand, propels us. Hope means understanding that, while there will be obstacles, we can still make a change. We can look at the positives, and those are the stories that can resonate with us and push us forward. Hope does not mean being oblivious and thinking that it’s all okay, but rather that the good overpowers the bad, and that the planet will be okay if we all channel hope into action.
But before we can be scared, before we can be hopeful, before we can feel anything, we have to be informed. We have to immerse ourselves in our environment by going out and experiencing it firsthand, learning about all stories and studies, not just the bad or just the good. And we must communicate. Let’s share our eco-grief and foster feelings of hope within our communities. There’s no reason to put emotional pressure on our individual selves; that's counterproductive in achieving what we want to accomplish, which is only possible through collective effort.
We are not helpless yet.
Let’s work together.