A month ago, I drove through Pemberton and one of the most beautiful 14 year old kids I know, was standing in the middle of the roundabout, shaking a sign and punching his fist in the air. The Climate Strikes had come to Pemberton. Nice work, gang, I thought. Good for you. I honked my horn in solidarity and caught his eyes, and he looked at me with an intensity that could set the world ablaze. It took me out of my grab-milk-pick-up-kid-cook-dinner headspace for a moment. Yeah, I feel you, kid. And I see you accusing me, too, and fair call. It is outrageous, ridiculous and complete bullshit that we are standing here on this precipice. And what have I done and why have I let you down? I hear you. And I, in turn, shake my fist at the generation above me.
So how will we channel that rage?
Elisabeth Kubler Ross famously outlined the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It makes sense, when we wake up from denying the facts about this climate emergency we are in the midst of, that the next emotion to surge forth will be anger. But perhaps the most important thing to acknowledge is that what we’re experiencing is a stage of grief.
Trained fisheries technician and Stewardship Pemberton founder, Veronica Woodruff, recently shared that this season’s sockeye salmon levels are the lowest ever seen on the Birkenhead River. By an order of tens of thousands.Fewer than 1,000 have been seen this year. It is essentially a complete collapse of the sockeye run. “Two of the lowest counts on record since 1938 were in 2017 (18,634) and 2018 (15,066),” reported Woodruff. “Less than 1,000 is crazy.” The bears are feeling the impact – having to look elsewhere for food, and so neighbourhoods throughout Pemberton are noticing more habituated food conditioned bears raiding gardens and fruit trees and poaching chickens, trying to fatten up for winter.
Pair this local reality with the shocking photos of starving grizzlies spotted wandering the shores of Knight Inlet, and the weight of what feels like grief sits hard on my chest and compresses the air out. I’d like to just hand it all over to Greta, whose Warrior energy seems indefatigable. How dare I.
Joanna Macy, a scholar of Buddhism, systems theory and deep ecology, and author of Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy, says it’s important to acknowledge that this is grief. This is something to grieve. And like grief, we need to find ways to honour the pain we feel for the world, be it fear, sorrow, outrage, or overwhelming feelings of futility.
What Macy has been teaching so radically for years is that we don’t have to do it alone. “We are a culture addicted to feeling good, appearing to be sunny. We are scared of the dark emotions. The industrial-growth society, the consumer society, can persuade us that these feelings are some private pathology or personal craziness.” They’re not, she says. They’re logical. They’re sensible. They’re responsive. Don’t privatize the grief, she says. Stop blocking the despair, because when you do, “all this energy comes through you – creativity, passion, even hilarity. It’s unblocking the feedback loop.”
Every month, for now, my body reminds me that it is creative to its core. It is constantly priming itself to create the ultimate expression of the Life Force – a human being. It’s utterly embedded in our being and our biology: to create. There are so many ways we can express this. Often, bringing something to full term – a human, a novel, a house, a painting, a one-woman show, a harvest – is gruelling. It’s super hard work. It’s daunting. It’s a dance with all your devils and naysayers… But it’s in us. As much as we need to rise up as warriors right now, we also need to cultivate the creator in us… to keep the balance.
As is shared every time people lose someone they love, “grief is just love with no place to go.”
These words, of Jamie Anderson, apply equally to this world as it shudders and collapses and tries to rebalance. “Grief is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest.”
The love we might suddenly realize we had for the salmon becomes grief when they don’t swim back to the spawning grounds that have sung them home for aeons. I need to find a place, not for my devastation about that, my shock, or my anger… but for the love.
This whole climate emergency is not a battle, as much as people say that we need our governments to declare war, so they can mobilize the way they do when we are in conflict with an enemy we can kill. It’s a love story, not a battle. We’ve been doing this adversarial thing for thousands of years, it’s baked into all of our systems, and all we have got for our binary, you versus me, kill or be killed ways, is bloodshed.
My mission is to focus on what fills me with so much love I could almost explode – he’s right here, downstairs, practicing his letters, kicking around a soccer ball, slow-working his dad around into letting him have fish, then a cat, then a dog, as he proves his pet-worthiness – and then, try to love the planet in the same way. To have that shape my decisions, my words, my actions.
When we love the earth in the same way we love the people who make our heart explode, the solutions will emerge. Also, it will hurt like hell. How to open up to that amount of pain? But it’s out of that space, I believe, that the solutions will emerge.
This column ran in the October 18 2019 issue of the Pique.