We Need to Talk About Global Grief

by Dorine Leisz

Grief about the world. It’s a pervasive feeling these days, whether or not we register it and recognize it for what it is. I have talked to people that experience it in grocery aisles—even in our local natural foods stores—looking at all the plastic packaging and realizing it will be around long after we are gone. Some may experience it at the beach or in the forest, noticing subtle changes in the environment. Others may feel a vague despair while walking or driving, for no discernable reason other than the sense that something’s deeply wrong.

“We are so f****d.” This sentiment has become a macabre mantra of sorts.

I’ve come to view it as one of the five stages of grief: acceptance. The five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Acceptance in this case does not always bring hope, but rather the facing/embracing of reality. We are beginning to accept that we live in a time of very serious upheaval. Mass extinctions. Fascism rising. Pollution everywhere. Increasing frequency of climate catastrophes.

I frequently find myself cycling through the five stages of grief—almost daily. I sometimes think that getting up, and going to work as if the house isn’t on fire (as Greta Thunberg says) is my biggest act of denial every day. The fact that I still buy things wrapped in plastic, knowing how bad it is, is another act of denial. Stopping to think about all the plastic items I’ve used in my life brings—there is no way every single toothbrush I have used in my life is still out there. Yet, I know in reality they are. More denial.

Then I feel anger at everyone, myself included, for not taking extreme actions to stop this. Bargaining is a more subtle aspect of grief, but every day I promise myself that this is my last (fill in the blank with an endless list of environmental offenders). Next, I often sink into depression, which I then try to climb out of by meditating, talking to friends, and gardening.

It was observing this cycle in my personal life, and noticing that very few friends broached the topic (but were always somewhat relieved to have someone else bring it up) that got me seriously thinking about the burden of grief that nearly everyone alive right now is carrying in some way.

Planetary grief comes in many different flavors, from just being aware of what is going on to actually having your life seriously impacted by climate catastrophes, such as a flood or wildfire. Our culture doesn’t like doing the deep, serious work that it takes to truly heal from trauma, leaving us as walking wounded. This is more true now than ever.

Mental health professionals are acknowledging that depression and anxiety resulting from concern about the climate and other environmental threats, in addition to our current political climate, are on the rise, with devastating effects on our sense of well-being.

It is hard coming to the realization that it may well be too late, no hero is going to save us. Each of us contribute to our collective demise daily, due to our choices of action or inaction. We have avoided talking about the elephant in the room for so long that now that we are finally ready to acknowledge it, the elephants are all dead, or on their way toward it.

What can we do, you and I?

I don’t have any answers, or solutions to this many faceted problem, but talking about our concerns with others can help us feel less isolated in our pain. A few months ago I started a Global Grief Group (GGG), so concerned friends (and anyone else interested) could meet once a month to commiserate and feel solidarity, and maybe even brainstorm ideas. Sometimes we just talk, sometimes we write postcards. We keep each other informed about current issues and try to support each other in our grieving.

If you are interested in joining us, send me an email at dor.leisz@gmail.com.