Reflections on Climate Grief

Climate change has been described as a hyperobject, something too great in time and space to be perceived in its entirety by an individual. It’s hard to find any end or resolution to climate grief when everyday there is a new victim, a new species extinct, a new damning study or report, a new catastrophe. Climate change is so great that our grief can’t even catch up with it. It spills over. It’s the flood in Germany and the hurricane in Puerto Rico. It’s the acid in the Earth’s oceans and the algae strangling its lakes.

Sherman Alexie writes, “I know that death is never added to death; it multiplies.” As we push the Earth towards mass extinction, death cascades around us and the weight of each loss is multiplied by the consequences of the last. Animal populations have fallen by an average of 68% since 1970, insect life specifically has plummeted by 75%, and wild animals now make up only 4% of all mammalian biomass. Why do I grieve the loss of an insect I had never known existed until l learned of its extinction? And how can anyone possibly grieve enough for the suffering of tens of billions of sentient beings born to become cheap hot dogs and big macs? These animal neighbors and captives are part of the world as we know it, and the lag time of our remorse for their abuse is our own death sentence.

Climate grief is a confrontation of the cruel irrationality of the Anthropocene. I grieve when one of Antarctica’s largest emperor penguin colonies has seen all of its chicks die for three years in a row while the United States faces a generation of babies born to unwilling parents with no way out. What a world we’ve created to annihilate life that yearns to live yet force into existence life that isn’t wanted at all.

If climate change is a hyperobject, what word could possibly make sense of climate grief? How can we mourn death beyond measure? Why mourn today when so much more will be lost by tomorrow? I have no answers for your grief or mine. All I have is a plea for your courage to fight for what we still have.

[Note: image of the parent emperor penguin with offspring by by Vladimir Blyufer from Pexels.]

About Shaun Christean

Shaun Christean is a climate justice and animal protection organizer who works full-time at Mercy For Animals. He believes that climate justice is impossible without animal liberation and that we can create a more compassionate food system that equitably supports humans, animals, and the earth.


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