Environmental and Ecological Grief
Once a name is put to any type of symptom or feeling, people are generally able to move forward and begin the healing process
Kriss Kevorkian’s ‘Environmental Grief’ presentation at our Orca Network workshop truly resonated with us. In a sincere and sometimes humorous way she validated the despair we had all been feeling over the losses of our beloved Southern Resident orcas. She assured us that what we were feeling was normal and even left us with a sense of empowerment and some positive actions we can take to combat the current assault on the environment. Her words remain with us, give us strength, and connect us as we continue to fight for the survival of the whales we love. ~ Cindy Hansen, Education and Events Coordinator, Orca Network
Am I experiencing environmental and/or ecological grief?
These forms of grief including climate grief stem from environmental issues in the world today
We pollute, destroy, and reshape our planet, eliminating animal habitats and ecosystems to fit human needs. These all result in climate change, and ecological disaster including ecocide. People conscious of the plight of these events react to this decline by experiencing grief and anxiety. Whether you label this emotion eco-anxiety, climate grief, or environmental grief the feeling of reacting to the causes of climate change and other modern environmental issues is real.
Environmental grief is defined as the grief reaction stemming from the environmental loss of ecosystems caused by natural or man-made events. If we look at the definition of environmental, we find that it relates more to the impact of humans on the natural world. We’re looking at this grief reaction from a larger perspective such as the loss of a forest or species due to humans. I’m reacting with environmental grief to the decline, and perhaps extinction, of the Southern Resident Orcas in the Salish Sea.
Ecological grief is the grief reaction stemming from the disconnection, and relational loss, from our natural world. In this case, I feel ecological to be more like our relationship to physical surroundings and living organisms like the trees in the neighborhood. Ecological grief would be the reaction I’d have to those trees being cut down. Not only are the trees being killed, but birds and other animals that call those trees home are either being killed or having to find another place to live.
I often remind people that when they are struggling to cope with grief, that taking action really helps. Do something. That’s not to suggest we ignore, suppress or deny our grief. It means that we do not allow the grief to consume us. What helps me cope with environmental and ecological grief is being a part of the rights of Nature movement because I feel like we are actually making a difference. I founded Legal Rights for the Salish Sea in 2016 along with friends in my community, and in 2018 we were fortunate to partner with Michelle Bender at the Earth Law Center. Our work is focused on saving the critically endangered Southern Resident Orcas. (They were the focus of my research on environmental grief.) On December 5, 2022, we made history thanks to Mayor David Faber of Port Townsend, WA, who signed a proclamation recognizing the inherent rights of the Southern Resident Orcas! This was the first city to do so! A week later, Mayor Markley of Gig Harbor signed a similar proclamation! This was huge! But we still have a long way to go. We’d like to see more cities/counties adopting similar proclamations. And of course, we will not stop until the state of Washington passes a bill recognizing the inherent rights of the Southern Resident Orcas, the lower Snake River dams are breached, and Tokitae/Lolita/Sk’aliChelh-tenaut is returned to her family in the Salish Sea. If any of this resonates with you, I hope you will join us.
What can I do about eco/climate-anxiety?
Please know that you are NOT alone. I hope you’ll acknowledge this anxiety and honor yourself for being sensitive enough to feel such an emotion. Given all we’re dealing with today, anxiety is growing, and can easily become overwhelming. If you’d like someone to help you through this anxiety, and give you some tips along the way on how to cope, please contact me.
Grief Support Group
I offer a support group for those who are concerned about the climate crisis and mental health issues including environmental grief, ecological grief and eco/climate-anxiety. If you are interested in participating in a remote support group, please contact me.
It is always good to have a chance to talk about our tough moments in our fight for a better world with people who understand our feelings and challenges. I think the Environmental Grief Support Group offers an opportunity of connection and tools to deal with our moments of pain and despair in the face of social and environmental impacts and injustice caused by the decisions we make as a local and global society apart from nature. I am grateful for being part of this group.
~ Elis A., Climate Leader
For those who experience environmental, ecological and/or climate grief, as well as eco/climate-anxiety, I’m here to support you
Schedule a Mourning Meeting
CHAPTER/ARTICLES I’VE WRITTEN ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL AND ECOLOGICAL GRIEF
- Environmental Grief in Non-Death Loss and Grief: Context and Clinical Implications
- Ecological Grief: A Little Hope Remains
- On Environmental Grief and the Rights of Nature in Seeing the Woods: A Blog by the Rachel Carson Center
- How Al Gore and 799 New Friends Helped Me to Become a Climate Leader in The Revelator