Finding Our Way Through Environmental Grief

It’s nearly Earth Day. Whoop! Let’s all go green! Hurry up! Recycle those cans. Compost that peel.  Ride that bicycle. Guilt trip? Maybe. Feeling a little sad? Maybe that too. Angry at the slackers? Very justified.  All of the above?  Read on.

A while ago, I read an article on environmental grief by Richard Schiffman, found here:

I printed it out, and have re-read it several times, letting it sink in to my mind a little deeper each time.  Earlier on this blog, I’ve considered these same ideas (look in the recent archives to read  Life Beyond Hope, The Snowflake and the Avalanche,  and Humanity in a New Place for starters).  The author of The Five Stages of Environmental Grief  takes a slightly different approach than I have, and applies Kubler-Ross’s familiar denial-anger-bargaining-depression-acceptance to our approach to global environmental matters.

I don’t know (and I doubt anyone does) how the Earth will look a hundred or a thousand years from now, but I do think it’s fair to say that biological diversity will be diminished, and long-term damage will still be very much in evidence.  Those of us who care even a little bit fall somewhere along the road from denial to acceptance, although we may not experience the stages in quite such a neat linear package since the object of our grief isn’t a person who has died, but rather a planet in a state of decline (for now).  I find myself at times bouncing around the various stages, depending on the latest bit of (mostly bad, but occasionally good) news. I have moments when I am filled with militant, righteous anger, and others when I am simply sad. I also have moments of serenity and peace, accepting what is.

Schiffman writes that in the bargaining stage of environmental grief, we obsess about doing all the right things: we change our light bulbs, we drive a Prius, we eat locally and maybe we even go full tilt and move off the grid. But, no matter what we do, we are still intimately connected to the larger destructive system. We are still guilty of crimes against Mother Earth.

It’s easy, after putting our own lives under the microscope and making changes, to feel smug and holier-than-thou toward those who aren’t as eco-friendly as ourselves. I know. I’ve been there.  I’ve been both the giver and receiver of eco-smugness.  I’ve gotten into arguments with the less-enlightened about how high to set the thermostat. On the other hand, I’ve received some judgmental comments about my driving habits. And back and forth it goes: guilt and shame, anger and blame, helping no one in the end.

As I’m learning (slowly, imperfectly) to be gentle with myself over my own limitations as one finite person, I’m also learning to be gentle with others who care about the Earth. Each of us is somewhere along the denial-anger-bargaining-depression-acceptance continuum, bouncing back and forth, sometimes in two stages at once, coping and compromising.  We are all doing the best we can given the reality of our own lives and circumstances.  Can we do better? Sure.  Will the Earth heal? Absolutely. Eventually. Maybe not until those upstart homo sapiens are extinct, but yes. Earth will heal.

That thought comforts me.  We are finite. Thank goodness!

In the meantime, here we are. We find beauty in what remains, and we work to preserve it. We seek a little peace for our spirits. We learn and we grow, and we can practice gentleness and kindness toward our fellow Earthlings. I can’t help but think that somehow, this is as healing to the Earth as it is to ourselves.

Peace and blessings to you.

Rebecca Hecking is the author of The Sustainable Soul: Eco-Spiritual Reflections and Practices.




About Rebecca

Natural spirituality writer, deep thinker, mom of 3, adjunct professor, resident of Earth
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