Grieving the Anthropocene

Cousin David-happy days

My cousin David died last week. He had a go with cancer, and the cancer won. We have a big family- my Italian immigrant grandparents had eight children- two of them died in childhood, but the other children went on to have big families too–except my mom– she and my dad only had two kids. So, when David left this world, he left showered in love of a mother and sisters, and aunts and uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews, and a wife and two young sons that he was saying good-bye to way too soon.

At the end of David’s illness, I spent a lot of time thinking about death. It is after all, the one certainty we can expect from life. Some people check out at the height of their creativity. What’s that about? That seems even more tragic. Or depart when they have young kids, like David. What does it feel like looking out into the abyss of unknowing and mourning those kid’s baseball and soccer games or graduations or weddings that you won’t see?

Somewhere in this contemplation, I thought about climate change. And pondering the demise of life itself, the death of future generations, was way more overwhelming to me than thinking about my own death or even a loved one. In fact, it takes my breath away.

Is looking out into the abyss and seeing the inevitable results of our Business as Usual scenarios extreme? Well, if you are reading this, probably not. I once started a talk with my story of passing through the five stages of grief on a daily basis and everyone in the audience could relate.

Just in the last several weeks, we’ve had a new IPCC report- bad news; the US has released a The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) – more bad news; and we’ll seen emissions for 2018 increase 2.7% — an all time high. At the same time you have the Trump Administration at #COP24 in Poland working with its allies Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait to derail “welcoming” the text from the IPCC report into negotiations.

You couldn’t script a thriller with higher stakes with the window for opportunity to course correct speeding by faster and faster.

A few days ago, I watched 24 Hours of Reality— a yearly show produced by the Climate Reality Project. Looking at Al Gore’s pleading eyes as he wrapped it up, I felt fear; fear that we really might not make it. By make it, I mean agreeing that the most important thing we can do right now is to work towards solving the climate issue; and then implementing everything we need to do all at once with Kennedy to the Moon urgency, so that we don’t doom future generations to an inhospitable planet.

Some days I feel low. I grieve, but I also know I’m here now and so are you, so that means it’s necessary for us to engage. I also think that some of the most important stuff that  goes on at the COP events happens in civil society. There are people there doing real work, engaging and meeting other people working on solutions. So even though the COPs always seem to fall short on policy, they are big on movement building.

So in my users guide to the Anthropocene, I say lean towards the problem. Your strength lies in knowing that you and all of us are vulnerable. Speak out. Join groups. Write letters to the editor and Congress. Engage. Start a carpool program at work (lots of great carpool apps now). Familiarize yourself with Project Drawdown and Designing Climate Solutions. Eat less meat. Go solar, Go talk with your mayor and your Member of Congress.

Act like your life depends on it; because really, it’s even bigger than that.