We are in a unique position as human beings: to be alive right now, at this precise point in the earth’s history. Never before have we knowingly faced the possibility of our own extinction, and never have we known that we have brought this situation on ourselves. Human actions have caused climate breakdown and biodiversity loss.
Not only that, but, knowing that our actions were leading to the destruction of our world, we have continued, even accelerated, down the same path through ignorance, avoidance, denial, greed, or short-term gain. Our powerlessness to halt our own destructive stupidity should be the trademark of our species, rather than our intelligence.
Is it any wonder that these realisations are causing us to recognise a new kind of affliction which is facing so many of us? Feelings of grief, anger, desolation, hopelessness, guilt, fear, frustration, anxiety, depression, emptiness, and denial are rife in the world today. It may well be that our existential concerns about Earth and humanity’s future are what are underlying the mental health epidemic which is facing Western society today. This ‘climate grief’ is a newly recognised phenomenon, but one which is increasingly being talked about and taken seriously.
And it isn’t just our own future destruction that we are grieving. We have created a situation in which we are facing a massive extinction on this planet, through loss of habitats, the introduction of invasive species, and climate disruption. We are losing so many species, the most since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and we know that we are causing this mass extinction phase ourselves. Currently we are losing around 200 species every day (1,000 times the ‘natural’ rate), and are facing a potential loss of 50% of all species on the planet within the next 30 years. According to the IUCN, more than 27,000 species are threatened with extinction; and that is just the species we know about.
We are causing the loss of well-known animals such as rhinos and tigers and polar bears, as well as those we have never had the chance to see, or to name. Many have been destroyed before we had the chance to see them. Not just animals, but plants and trees and other organisms. They are disappearing forever, these unique beings who are the final results of millions of years of evolution. Gone. Because of us. They are impossible to replace and our ecosystem, what survives of it, will be immensely poorer for their loss. Every creature had a place in this system, and the system is diminished without them.
This kind of grief is almost the opposite of a death loss. This is the absence of a birth, any birth, ever again. It is almost unimaginably vast, as a loss.
As Joanna Macy says, “This is a dark time, filled with suffering and uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, because these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings.”