Choose hope

In the 1940s, naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote that one of the penalties of an ecological education is living “alone in a world of wounds”.

In 1989, environmentalist Bill McKibben described his preference to walk in the woods in winter, “when it is harder to tell what might be dying.” In 2019 climate justice writer Mary Heglar identified “climate vision” as the unwanted ability to see climate projections all around you – sudden flashes of rising seas, dead people, deserted communities. As our collective anxieties rise, “climate grief” rhetoric is increasingly prominent in our public conversations about the climate crisis. Opposite are a few of the headlines from the past year.

As a climate activist, writer and researcher, there is a tipping point for knowledge about a dying world, where my grief cannot be undone. I have reached that tipping point and cannot go back, no matter how much I try to guard myself against exposure to the relentless cycle of bad news. This is only heightened by the current pandemic – it feels like a foretaste of the global threats ahead. I live alongside my grief, even as I declare my faith in a God who resurrects and redeems the world. What does it mean to have hope in a renewed heaven and earth? How do we support each other, and especially younger people, whose futures are wrapped up in this threat?

We live in a time where “hopeful” news on climate and ecological breakdown is so rare as to be almost non-existent. We can’t rely on external sources to give us feelings of hopefulness as our motivator for acting, and if we do, we’re going to create despairing tendencies in each other.

Feeling hopeful has very little to do with being hopeful. Hope, much like love, is a choice.

But hopeful living does not replace or erase our grief. On the contrary: hopeful living needs grief and anger. Why? Because grief and anger express knowledge that things can and should be different.

Anger and grief are appropriate responses to the climate crisis. They are part of being truthful. But they are also a tool for change. They remind us that this greed, destruction and death is a choice – is sin. It doesn’t have to be this way.

It is possible for us to live differently. In a climate anxious world, teach yourself and those you care for to grieve, to be angry, and to choose hope.

Words: Hannah Malcolm

Climate despair is making people give up on life, July 2019

How scientists are coping with ecological grief

The Guardian, January 2020

Climate change: Iceland holds funeral for melted glacier, August 2019

Derby staff and students given climate change anxiety therapy, January 2020

Need help?

Anxiety is a very real and suffocating condition. If you are experiencing panic attacks or worrying all the time, please talk to your GP or another medical professional. There are also plenty of resources that can help, including Overcoming Anxiety by Helen Kennerley. Mental health charity Mind also has advice, tools and resources to help:

Apocalypse got you down? Maybe this will help

NY Times, November 2019