Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Political activist Laura Schmidt has created the “Good Grief” support group, to help depressed eco-activists work through their climate grief.
Sad about climate change? There’s a support group for that.
A new program, reflecting lessons from Alcoholics Anonymous, aims to help people work through their grief about climate change. The first step: Admit we have a problem.
The gathering is the brainchild of Laura Schmidt, who described the meeting in a recent Skype interview. Schmidt’s day job at HEAL Utah is to rally others to support clean air legislation in the state. By night, she’s been organizing this monthly “Good Grief” group, which focuses on working through heavy feelings about difficult societal problems, especially climate change.
There’s no clinical definition for “climate grief,” but for Schmidt, “It’s that feeling at the pit of your stomach when you realize that people – probably even the ones we love – and wildlife will suffer as the impacts of climate change become more prevalent. It’s the ache we feel when we see how non-existent or slow ‘progress’ to combat warming is.”
A master plan to cope with climate grief
Two years ago, while pursuing a master’s degree in environmental humanities at the University of Utah, Schmidt set out to answer a question: “How do we create resilient humans?” She says she wanted to understand how people could become better able to keep up the difficult fight to address climate change.
To answer her question, she interviewed people who spend a lot of time focused on the subject, such as climate scientists and activists. She says she hoped to find out what sustains those people in what can seem like an uphill battle.
Through conversations with the likes of author-activist Terry Tempest Williams and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, Schmidt says she discovered clear themes. The people she spoke with seemed unafraid to say they felt sad or mad or angry. They also drew strength and joy from a strong connection to the natural world. And they had a community they turned to for support.
“When things got really depressing for them, they could take a break and let their community care for them a little bit – and then go back out and fight or talk about climate change,” she says.
8. Look for beauty and meaning. Some stories from the Holocaust suggest that finding even the smallest examples of beauty, like a tiny flower in otherwise barren earth, can give people something to hold on to, even through horror, Schmidt says. She points to science that suggests different parts of the brain are responsible for triggering different responses: the reptilian part of the brain, which causes flight-or-fight fear responses, or the mammalian brain, which is what urges us to look more deeply at any given situation. “What’s cool about brain science,” she says, “is that with practices like meditation, we get to choose what part of our brain responds to these threats.”
The reference to the Holocaust IMO is outrageous – comparing self indulgent climate angst to the hideous mental torment endured by the survivors of a brutal programme of mass extermination insults the memory of the victims of national socialism.