Grieving for our planet

Coming to terms with the fact that humanity’s killing the planet

I was 14 years old when the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970. In that exhilarating time, there was cause to believe a real awakening had occurred. In 1976, we had the audacity to elect a president with the audacity to ask the American people to question their consumption habits. Four years later, America dumped Jimmy Carter for Ronald Reagan—and in an act of pointed symbolism, Reagan immediately stripped Carter’s solar panels off the White House roof. America’s love affair with environmentalism was effectively over. We hired the guy who said, “Party on!” And party we did, for 35 years.

Fast-forward to 2015: The world’s population has doubled, along with energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Half of vertebrate life on Earth—land, sea and air—has disappeared since the first Earth Day. Our climate is changing at an alarming rate and the Sixth Great Extinction is underway. All the while, a recent Gallup poll actually showed a drop in environmental concern from a year ago. About a third of Americans are seriously concerned about environmental issues—and of the third that are concerned, very few are interested in making more than ritualistic lifestyle changes.

In environmental circles, “We’re screwed!” is becoming a mantra. And, I’m pretty sure we are screwed. To think otherwise, I’d have to deny every trend I’ve observed in my lifetime.

In such a circumstance, I find an “Earth hospice” model to be increasingly useful. It allows me to organize my thinking and feeling around the notion that Earth is probably dying—at least Earth as we know it. It allows me to mentally absorb this “diagnosis” and to be more fully alive in the face of this loss. Grieving is becoming a central focus.

I haven’t given up, any more than it would make sense to give up on life because I’m presented with a terminal diagnosis. Instead, I try to engage the experience of living on this sacred planet with more appreciation. Knowing that nothing is permanent and that this moment still calls for rebellion against our eco-toxic way of life, even as spring becomes ever more silent.