Twenty-One-Plus Days from Desolation to “Acceptance & Hope”

I’ve been working through and experiencing climate-crisis grief for the past three-plus weeks and I didn’t even realize it.

For the two weeks before that, I suffered with all of you through a string of egregious Supreme Court rulings, one after the other, like sledgehammer strikes on a railroad spike. They were all bad, but the worst (besides Dobbs) came on June 30th. Or maybe it was just the last straw. I don’t know. 

Either way, there’s only one word to describe how that last blow made me feel – 

Desolate.

June 30th was the day the Court released its ruling in West Virginia vs. EPA, which struck down the Clear Power Plan. The upshot is that, besides a few very narrow exceptions, the Environmental Protection Agency can no longer regulate heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil-fueled power plants. The Court effectively crippled the U.S. government’s ability to address global warming and climate change.

A Serious – Potentially Fatal – Blow 

I anticipated this illogical, unconscionable result, as did most climate-crisis warriors.

And yet… 

When the words streamed across my computer screen, letting me know the court had ruled against the EPA and, therefore, against humanity, it felt as if I’d been struck by a Mack truck. A leaden, burning, sinking sensation followed, with a stone in my throat that made it difficult to swallow, let alone breathe.

The rest of the day, in a shell-shocked state, I read missives from the environmental and climate-crisis organizations and movements I follow, belong to or support. They began bursting into my inbox just a few minutes after the announcement of the ruling, like so many useless, semi-popped old maids in a bag of microwave popcorn. 

“There’s still hope,” they all said. “We just need to change our focus. We need to think and act more locally, in groups and individually.”

All due respect to the big thinkers in those groups/movements, but I found no solace there, and I sure as hell wasn’t feeling very hopeful.

For years the same folks have been saying that while individual actions are great and necessary, the climate crisis cannot be solved without governments and corporations doing the right things or, at minimum, stopping doing the wrong things. 

I slogged forward over the next several days, dragging my mind down Dylan’s infamous “Desolation Row,” where “The fortune telling lady has even taken all her things inside / all except Cain and Abel and the hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Our fortunes had become painfully clear. As for Cain and Abel, in the USA it’s brothers killing brothers all over again.

I broke.

I stopped reading news. I removed all social media apps from my phone. I unsubscribed from the sources of every environmental/climate crisis email that hit my inbox.

I was too exhausted, too empty, to even feel anger, anymore.

Desolate. 

Yep. That was the word, all right.

Uncharted Territory

I was on unfamiliar ground.

For years anger, mostly with Republicans but with Democrats, too (there’s plenty of blame to go around) has been a powerful force behind my climate-crisis advocacy and activism. 

I’ve been angry since 1988, when Climate Scientist James Hansen informed Congress of the dangers of continuing to burn fossil fuels. 

Immediately after the U.S. presidential election in 2016, my rage drove me to finally start writing and posting about global warming and governments’ inaction, after years of publishing politically neutral posts. It’s why I’ve read all the news stories, commentary and books as possible about climate change and its impacts. Finally, rage was the impetus for starting the nonprofit Knights of the Climate Covenant; I wanted to do more to get more people engaged in climate advocacy and, ultimately, activism, sure, but mostly I needed somewhere to channel all that anger. 

Social scientists say anger in the face of eco-anxiety and eco-depression can be a good thing. It spurs us to action that is absolutely critical to securing a livable future of our species. 

But after West Virginia vs. EPA, I was in a bad place. My rage deserted me, leaving a cavernous empty space in my purpose.

For several days I seriously pondered dropping out of the climate-crisis struggle altogether. A dark voice kept telling me I wasn’t making any difference, anyway. “We only have so long on Earth to live, build memories with family and friends and try to be happy,” it said, “why waste that precious time on a fight that is so obviously failing?” The voice went on: “And not just your time, but others’ as well?”

< depression >

I wallowed in it.

Turn the page. The next part is much longer. It’s the healing. The rise. The comeback. It’s the birth of the new you. And it’s not easy. But you are strong and brave and worth it.


“BEAUTIFUL GIRL” BY STEPHANIE BENNETT-HENRY

Even as the storm rages on…

Then, a few days ago, I awoke with a new feeling. I wouldn’t call it optimism, exactly, but it was, as healthline.com calls it, a “calm and relaxed state.”

Maybe I’m beating my head against a wall of solid stonewalling. Maybe we all are. Maybe the blood is dripping down our foreheads into our eyes. Maybe we can’t see very clearly right now. But maybe that’s O.K.

Pain often brings focus.

I knew exactly how to move forward, or as healthline.com puts it, to reconstruct and work through. Besides…

I can’t stop. 

Environmental and climate-crisis advocacy and activism are too much of who I am. This means too much to the futures of my kids and their kids (if they change their minds and decide to have some). Like it or not, I’m driven to do everything in my power. The other thing social scientists also tell us to be careful. We can’t allow anger to consume or overpower us. We have to practice self-care or risk… desolation.

I didn’t realize it, but I’d been doing just that for nearly three weeks, even as I unconsciously worked through the grief.

< acceptance and hope >

Desolation Can Wait

So I’ll continue being a loud voice for climate-crisis action while not, as the old saying goes, “letting the bastards get me down.”

I’ll focus on the individual, group and community actions that people smarter than I am tell me can still make a difference. 

I’ll keep fighting the best I can, whatever and wherever that might take me. 

And I’ll enjoy the genuine caring, company and intelligence of people who are fighting with me. 

I shall be desolate no more.

I am a climate-crisis warrior. Bring it on.

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3 Comments

  1. Hello Martin, I know your pain, your frustration and your feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. I know it, because I feel it all myself.

    My anxiety hasn’t been as laser focused on the climate crisis as yours, though I will say that the fact that the world is on fire and where it isn’t on fire it’s baking, has me pretty damned scared. You have children. I have children and grandchildren and my fear is over what we are leaving them.

    My anxiety has had a wider focus. I’m afraid of the Trump cult and I hope that he is indicted and convicted or bound up in trials or simply loses enough appeal that he becomes irrelevant (I’d pray but I’m not into that. My wife takes on that duty).

    America is on a razor’s edge right now and if we fall the wrong way, the whole experiment explodes.

    It’s time for Independents and Democrats to fight the fear and the urge to crawl into a fetal position. If Trump is reelected, fleeing to Canada or what we would consider another safe haven will be useless because a Trump administration will seal the fate of the world’s climate and politics in a bad way. Right wing nationalism is on the rise everywhere and if America falls again it will be a hard fall that reverberates around the globe.

    We need to even encourage Republicans not currently riding in the clown car. We cannot throw in the towel.

    Living in California, it’s easy for me to find solace in the notion that I’m not affected. It’s phony comfort. If Trump and/or the cult take power, California will end up sinking with the rest of the ship.

    Hang in there.
    Paul

  2. Two pronged attack as a start:
    1. Get “dark money” out of politics.
    2. Take back our public schools and educate the children. It’s a two-fer… you get the parents more educated as that happens. Better education results in fewer voting for the do-the-worst-possible-thing Republicans.

Let me know what you think!