*Images in this post not mine. Header image PC Reuters.
With the fires currently devastating the rainforest in Brazil I’ve been thinking a lot about ecological grief.
Millennials such as myself have grown up in a world where ecological spaces unmarred by some human-caused destruction are rare. All around us we witness the natural world being squeezed out like a rag, bones cracking, in pursuit of ‘resources’ and wealth. The cycle of damage is our reality. My generation has never known anything else. While I believe that every generation has been burdened by its own narrative of doom (the Depression, the Cold War) there is no doom quite so all-encompassing as ongoing environmental devastation that appears to have no end. The system that allows human life to exist at all is threatened beyond imagining and so far we have been unsuccessful in our rescue attempts. It is no surprise that we grieve.
Ecological grief is a strong indication that we are not distinct from the natural world. We are in pain because Mother Earth is in pain. Unfortunately, our Euro-Western society has been designed to discount and discredit emotional intelligence and connection in favour of rational money sense. Because of this, pain and grief are not thought to be reason enough to halt wanton environmental exploitation.
Photography is a natural tool for witnessing ecological grief. The images that come out of environmental destruction are striking and visceral, beautiful and terrible. As a medium of communication though, sometimes the photograph misses the context. It can be difficult to photograph a crisis moment while it is happening. There is too much confusion, too much smoke. The image that develops is necessarily removed, calmer. There is a stillness to photography that belies the horror that the photographer has witnessed.
Still, the same way that images may evoke the purest awe for the Earth, images can move us, revolt us, shame us.
We should try to harness that feeling when fatigue causes us to push the climate crisis to the back of our minds. Greta Thunberg had it right when she said that our house is on fire. Our very lungs are on fire and we grieve, but let us also act.
If we allow ourselves to renew our connection to the Earth, to build it into our communities and recognize our emotional relationship, we can change the way that the Earth is used and abused. We know better than our fathers did, we know that the Earth is not here for us to harvest. We need to change the power dynamic of that relationship by moving towards greater humility and gratitude.
What more can you do? Organizations like WWF and Rainforest Alliance have suggested some tangible strategies to take action.