Rising Grief and Rising Tides

Future Frogmen thanks Gabriella Blatt, a sophomore at Yale University, for her contribution. She reflects on the climate crisis, capturing the emotion of a generation facing an uncertain future.

As I strolled through the streets of New England this past break, I started to think of a future here. I lost myself in a daydream where I had a career that I loved, I had started a family and I didn’t have a care in the world. That is, until I remembered the latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which predicted that we could witness a major environmental catastrophe, such as massive food shortages, droughts, wildfires, and more, in as early as 22 years. For context, that’s 2040, which means the future that I was daydreaming about seemed like it was falling faster than the leaves around me.

Climate change wasn’t new to me. I was born in 1999 and grew up learning about it from photos of polar bears and melting ice. I’d heard it debated countless times, taken my share of environmental studies classes, and stayed active in school environmental groups.

I even experienced it first hand, growing up in a period of extreme drought in Montana. The physical world around me has been changing my entire life. I should be used to it by now. But since the report’s release, I am feeling like I’m watching a ticking doomsday clock that only I can see.

I’ve become hypervigilant about my actions, including keeping track of the daily resources I use. I even recounted many times I had ever used a natural resource (did I really have to take a plane home last winter break?). I also beat myself up over attending (and benefitting) from a University that is invested in the fossil fuel industry. Recognizing how my choices contribute to climate change, gave me anxiety. Amid this anxiety, I felt grief about the environment that I was slowly losing. What was the point in caring about the future when it looked so grim? What was I doing, imagining a life in some New England town when I should be preparing for what seems like the end of the world? What’s the point in even trying to stop climate change when everything seems so far gone? I was used to climate change affecting me physically, not mentally.

Yale campus as it stands today. Photo by Chris Randall.

Yale campus as it stands today. Photo by Chris Randall.

On the way back to Yale, I finally broke and told my friend that I’d been feeling hopeless about the future of our planet. I was expecting to be alone in my thoughts. What person in their right mind gets anxious about the heating of the planet? To my surprise, however, my friend was feeling similar emotions.

To think about nature – the source of feelings such as happiness and hope - as a source of grief, is rarely discussed. When I heard that my friend was also dealing with similar emotions, I was shocked that I wasn’t alone. There were other people who were just as anxious. This anxiety even has a proper name: ecological grief. Ecological grief is defined as “The grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.” It has been linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety and stress disorders.

Grief is an emotion that shows us what true sorrow feels like. It shows us what it feels like to lose something and to be left hopeless. It’s easy for us as Yale students to let grief take over. It is easy for us to hide behind our ivy walls and forget how our climate is changing. We can distract ourselves with extracurriculars. We can justify our University’s investments in the fossil fuel industry because it “pays for our education.” We are complicit in the fact that climate change won’t hit us as hard as it will hit more vulnerable populations: indigenous peoples and developing countries. 

However, grief also puts perspective in our lives. It shows us what matters to us. When I realized that I was dealing with ecological grief, the importance of the environment was put into perspective for me. There are things that we will lose because of climate change and more grief will come because of these losses. Yet, it’s this grief that can help save us.

The IPCC report caused grief, yes, but it also provided the blueprint for what needs to be done. The work will be hard, but it is necessary. I no longer want to hide behind these ivy walls. Rather, I’m ready to use my grief to protect the future of the planet, our collective future. I’m ready to do what I can to mitigate climate change - such as following a vegetarian/vegan diet and producing less waste. I’m also ready to push for broader institutional change, such as fossil fuel divestment.

I hope other Yale students will join me in this fight. I hope that we will realize that even ivy walls can’t protect us from grief and rising tides.

 

Richard Hyman