Grief for the Planet? How to Heal
I am a bleeding heart when it comes to the Earth. I well up with tears when I see a deer dead on the side of the road, when I see a pond choked with algae from fertilizer runoff, when I hear of a newborn whale too entangled in plastic to drink its mother’s milk, when I think of polar bear cubs drowning without icecaps, when I think of maple trees dying.
The truth is, my grief about the disintegrating environment is overwhelming sometimes, it just seeps out of me. This must be what it means to be a bleeding heart. You feel like you are losing your life blood about something.
I am not sure how to manage the grief I feel for dying trees, when I hear that the songbird population is dwindling. It crushes my heart so that I can hardly breathe.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the five stages of grief as a way to help in the process of recovery from terrible loss. When it comes to the losses on the Earth I have long since evolved past the first stage, the denial stage. The “this can’t be happening,” stage. H-e-l-l-o. I read the newspapers and witness the destruction with my own eyes. I’ve also gotten past the anger stage, the “I can’t accept this” stage. I made that transition when I went from the rage I felt from being poisoned by pesticides that were so neurotoxic they were eventually taken off the market, to wanting to help others avoid being damaged by the accepted policy of putting products on the market until they are proven unsafe. I will forever be a proponent of The Precautionary Principle.
OK, so what about the third stage, the bargaining stage? In the case of the Earth, maybe the bargaining stage manifests in haggling with a school board to stop toxic VOC use in the schools, or with a neighbor to stop spraying their lawn with herbicides. I am not sure I am over this stage, because I know every little bit helps, and I will speak up when I am threatened or asked to help, yet in the end the greenhouse gases relentlessly keep growing and the haggling didn’t really make much difference.
I presume I am at least partially in the fourth stage, the depression stage, hence my need to share my feelings in this forum. I dip in and out of this. “We’re not going to be able to fix it, so give up.” Actually, I never dip into the “give up” part, so maybe I am not as depressed as I thought. Actually, that isn’t true. I am very depressed when I see a well-intentioned mom put toxic insect repellent on her child thinking she is doing the right thing. I am very depressed when I see politicians blindly squander our Earth’s resources, all for money in the now, not thinking of the future.
And the fifth stage of recovery from grief, acceptance? I wonder if I will ever be able to accept how human beings are degrading the Earth. But I know someone who has reached that high pinnacle of grief and been able to move on productively. I once went to hear the primatologist Jane Goodall speak. If anybody knows about the grief felt because of humans’ impact on the Earth, it must be her. How can she bear it when she hears about her beloved chimpanzee’s being slaughtered? How can she stand to hear about the bushmeat trade? When someone in the audience asked that question, she answered, “I just do the best I can every day.”
I had placed that quote on my desk for a number of years. I need to put it back, so I, too, can remind myself to just do the best I can for our planet. Every day.
Please share how you cope with this difficult time in human history.