After a day of grey clouds and drizzly rain, I woke up to the silence of deep, dry cold powder snow across the mountain. I jumped on the skis and meandered up through the old trees to one of my favourite hills, to be greeted by views of the higher mountains. It was pure, blissful magic. The world felt perfect. If you have ever seen the psychedelic ski film Valhalla, the words will come back to you: you can always find ‘brilliance, awe and magic running through life‘ if you wish to see it.
Two days later, more rain and a warm burst, and the snow was gone from the lower elevations and I was walking through green forest. It is mid August – when snow pack should be at its deepest. After that brief moment of bliss at feeling that things were ‘right’, I felt back in the ‘real’ world, where climate change is coming for all the places and people we love.
If you’re paying attention to what’s going on in the mountains – longer fire seasons, more erratic weather, variable snow pack and shorter winters – then its natural to feel anxious and depressed. It’s a human reaction to what is happening to the world – and the specific places – that we love. It’s the same story everywhere, from the deserts to the rainforests to the mangroves, to the forests of the Central Highlands and south west WA.
Sometimes this knowledge immobilises me, but mostly I try to feel it, reflect on it, and figure out how I can be more effective in my activism. I always love the quote from the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard who says that the cure for depression is action. That is my answer to the despair that would otherwise immobilise me.
Recently, Joelle Gergis, writing in The Conversation, discussed the reality of climate grief and how she manages it.
She says ‘we know exactly what we need to do, but we still aren’t prepared to do it. Instead, we watch extreme weather increasingly ravage every corner of the world with every passing season’.
She writes of the fact that our society is lacking in an ability to acknowledge these feelings, and notes ‘when we talk about climate change, people are often nervous to acknowledge the painful feelings that accompany a serious loss. We quickly skirt around complex emotions, landing on the safer ground of practical solutions like signing up for renewable electricity to feel a sense of control in the face of far bleaker realities. We are afraid to have the tough conversations that connect us with the darker shades of human emotion’.
I see this in my life and in many parts of the activist community. It’s easier on the spirit to focus on the good things that are happening rather than sit with the fear of what is coming.
Many people understand what’s going on. They feel it in their bones that ‘something isn’t right’. And positive change IS happening. Just not yet at the scale that is required. Finally, mainstream media and many politicians are ‘joining the dots’ on climate change. More and more, reporting on heatwaves, droughts and bushfires makes the link to climate change.
But, of course, its actually way worse than many people realise. Once you factor in compound events (where, for instance, drought and heatwaves and increased lightning strikes combine to produce much more intense fires), feedback loops (for instance, the loss of arctic sea ice is leading to the warming of Arctic waters, thereby in turn accelerating the melting of sea ice), and tipping points (the fact that some climate impacts, once triggered, are irreversible) we are already well past the chance of being able to avoid climate catastrophe. We know that climate change is actually happening earlier than we had modelled. For instance, the recent heatwave affecting the UK, Ireland and much of Europe is consistent with the UK Met Office’s projections for 2050 — that is, it has arrived one human generation early.
We are locked into climate change and denial does not change that. The fossil fuel companies, the PR firms, the Murdoch press, and the conservative politicians will continue to do their best to slow the change. Individuals will continue to feel broken, distracted, or powerless. But the pace of change is speeding up.
Skiing through that forest, weaving through snow gums bowed down under the weight of powder, with a pale sun shining through, I felt the sharp pain and the beauty of this life, its transience, and the hope.
As Joelle says:
‘The longer we delay, the more irreversible climate change we will lock in. Any young person can tell you that stabilising the Earth’s climate is literally a matter of life or death. It will impact the stability of their daily lives, their decision to start families, and their chance to witness the natural wonders of the world as their parents did. The ability of current and future generations to live on a stable planet rests on the decisions the world collectively makes right now’.
Let’s get to it.