Climate-grief and grief over the degradation of our natural world, unlike ‘ordinary’ grief over the loss of a loved one, never lessens. Because these emergencies will define our entire lifetime, and at present are still getting worse. Thus, while a healthy reaction to grief over a lost loved one is to grieve deeply and then gradually to recover, there is no 'recovery' from ecological grief. The only recovery from it that is possible at all is for us to change the world such that it no longer keeps deteriorating. This is how eco-grief, grief at the tearing from us of what we love and are not willing to do without, leads into radical eco-action. When we finally allow ourselves to face the full terrible reality of what our species is doing to our home, our kin and our very future, then, to avoid getting stuck in depression or despair, there is no alternative but to struggle. This is how grief expresses and powers the love that is the one thing that might yet save our future from being - to vary Orwell - a boot stamping on the faces of all beings (humans included) forever.
There is a vast 'mental-health crisis' coming. Those suffering from eco-grief are in the vanguard of it. This crisis — a pandemic of grief, depression and plain terror that will rise in intensity as the world’s citizens wake up to the slow death-march that their ‘leaders’ and the world’s rich and powerful are laying on for them — may yet, however, be the making of us. For what powers rebellion is facing the terrible truth of the decaying future we/they have manufactured; what enables us to face up to that truth, after we work through denial and depression, is our grief. Because grief is an expression, above all, of a profound love.
About the speaker
Professor Rupert Read
Rupert Read is a professor of philosophy at the University of East Anglia. He is a former chair of Green House think tank, a former Extinction Rebellion spokesperson, and a former Green Party of England and Wales councillor, spokesperson, European parliamentary candidate and national parliamentary candidate. His new book Parents for a Future (2021) is out now.