Over the past few years, it has become increasingly difficult to manage the overwhelming emotional response to the degradation of our planet. The established term to describe these feelings of anxiety, fear, and hopelessness is climate grief. The nature of this grief is unique because there is no single loss, and it isn’t something of the past. This is a communal experience as we collectively grieve the rapid decline of our planet. Climate grief is worsening as the dangers and outcomes of climate change feel more imminent. Our earth changing is no longer something to anticipate; we are seeing it happen in real-time. We see it with extreme seasons, both hot and cold; fires and flooding, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, species extinction, and countless other losses. Despite the tangible evidence of climate change and 97 percent of climate scientists agreeing that climate change is real, environmental justice is still a foreign concept to many individuals. 

We can’t effectively discuss climate change if we aren’t also discussing environmental justice. Most of us are familiar with climate change but what is environmental justice? It is the idea that all humans, despite socioeconomic status or race, deserve to live in a healthy environment. This concept was introduced in the 80s by a Black community on the East Coast that was being negatively affected by the hazardous waste landfills in their city. Sadly, this is not a unique experience for many non-white, low-income communities. Dr. Robert Bullard, a revered activist, named the “Father of Environmental Justice”, began his work with Black communities in Houston, Texas who were experiencing a disproportionate number of landfills and incinerators in their neighborhoods. He has been working for over 40 years to merge human rights and environmentalism. Racism is still an active threat to environmental justice, and we must join in this work to achieve environmental justice for all. We must fight for everyone’s right to a healthy environment and remain acutely aware that climate change does not impact us all equally. We must rally for the communities that have poor air quality and higher rates of asthma due to incinerators, those who do not have access to clean water due to fracking, and those who are losing their homes due to rising sea levels.

Recently, the U.S. celebrated the 54th national Earth Day but it can be hard to feel joyful or optimistic during these times because climate grief has begun to feel insurmountable. It’s frustrating to know that this grief and the decay of our earth could’ve been slowed, or avoided altogether. While the existence of climate change has been noted for over a hundred years, the term global warming was coined in 1975.

If we’ve been discussing this since at least ‘75, why has nothing been done about it?

The deliberate avoidance of tackling climate change is no coincidence. To tackle climate change once and for all, many major corporations would have to take responsibility, which costs a lot of money. They want us to feel responsible for the climate crisis so that the spotlight is taken off them. Big Oil popularized the concept of the “carbon footprint” in the early 00s, to shift the responsibility from the corporate to the individual level. We cannot let this continue. Younger generations are an excellent example of how to not lose hope during these uncertain times.

Emerging data have shown that younger generations are more likely to experience climate grief, but they are also more likely to feel motivated to tackle issues related to the climate crisis. They are being confronted by the climate crisis in a way past generations have not. Due to their unique motivation to save our planet, younger generations are at the frontlines of the fight against climate change, and they need our support. They may not be responsible for the origins of climate change, but they will be the ones to fix it. 

It is crucial to remain engaged in the fight for environmental justice AND it is an act of protest to stay hopeful during these trying times. While we keep hope alive, we could all use a serving of climate relief alongside our climate grief. So, if reducing our carbon footprint isn’t the solution, what CAN we do?

  1. Avoid over-consumption. You don’t need four colors of the same Stanley cup. Before you purchase something new, pause and think if it is something you will use repeatedly and keep for a long time. Reuse the same items and be a proud outfit repeater. 
  2. Reduce single-use plastics. Reduce, reuse, and recycle still rings true (for the most part). When possible, don’t use disposable plastics. If you have the funds, invest in some reusable items such as coffee cup cozies, steel or glass straws, reusable grocery bags, washable food storage containers, etc. There are also quite a few plastic-free household cleaning and personal care brands. 
  3. Limit food waste. Food waste is also a contributing factor to rising CO2 levels, so the less food we waste, the better! 
  4. Go geocaching. Do you like treasure hunts and being outdoors? Geocaching may be the perfect activity for you. Use GPS technology to discover geocaches hidden all around the world! It’s a wonderful activity to connect with nature and exchange some trinkets. 
  5. Discuss climate change through family board games. We must begin – or continue to – discuss climate change. We need to be aware of the issues if we plan to solve them and what better way than to engage over a family board game? 
  6. Evolution: CLIMATE
    1. https://www.northstargames.com/products/evolution-climate 
  7. Daybreak
    1. https://www.daybreakgame.org/ 
  1. Know the power in your dollar. In a capitalist society, there is power in where we spend our money. If you are able, research the companies, brands, stores, and restaurants where you choose to spend your money. Look into their environmental impact, their working conditions, their workers’ pay, etc. because if we aren’t buying, they lose control. 
  2. Vote for candidates who support climate justice. This may feel difficult when you have candidates who say they want to address climate change and then continue fracking…But when possible, it is important (and effective) to elect Indigenous folks into office, specifically in positions that relate to climate change. 
  3. Get involved here in Portland. Are you looking for ways to get involved in your community? Here are some organizations around the area. 
  4. Do what you can. Conscious and informed decisions are key. No one is perfect and remember, climate change is not your fault, nor is it yours to solve alone. You’re not a bad person for using that plastic straw or treating yourself to a new pair of jeans. Connect with nature when possible. Touch your toes to some grass, listen to the birds sing, and take in a deep breath of fresh air.