Out of grief, and into anger
I’ve been stuck in a self-centered emotional loop for weeks now. I'm ready to be pissed off for the planet again.
The author before she went outside for a socially distanced rage workout on 4/5/2020
I’ve been struggling to report. I’ve been struggling to write. I’ve been struggling to think. It’s been this way for weeks now. But I think I’ve figured out how to fix it.
Since COVID-19 confined me to my home, I’ve been stuck in a self-centered emotional loop. I’ve been consumed with grief over the loss of normalcy in my own life: the loss of plans, the loss of parties, the loss of physical touch. I daydream about grasping barbells, clinking beer glasses, and exchanging high-fives with my friends. The other day, I choked up when I ran my fingers over my palms and felt that they were soft. Over a year of physical work undone by a month of forced inactivity.
I’ve also been consumed by guilt about my own inability to snap out of sadness and into my work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m working—but not with the type of focus, direction, or intensity I’d like to. That kills me, and not because I have some messed up American obsession with productivity. It’s because the public need for accurate, up-to-date information and analysis is greater than ever. The fossil fuel industry is working overtime to use COVID to its advantage. And I’m sitting here too consumed by sadness and guilt to do much about it. Lucky them.
I know grief and guilt are normal. They’re part of the process; we’re going through a collective trauma; blah blah blah, I know. But they’re also paralyzing emotions, precisely because they are often self-centered. And I don’t know about you, but when my own well-being is the primary reason I need to do something, I have less motivation to do it. To really feel motivated and focused, I have to center others—particularly people who are less fortunate than myself. And I have to be pissed the hell off on behalf of them.
I don’t know why I’m just realizing this now. I literally created this newsletter to channel the power of righteous anger to combat injustice—climate change being the greatest injustice of all. Perhaps it’s because, when I started this project, I had already gone through the grieving and personal guilt stages of climate change, and decided those didn’t work for me. Perhaps I just had to go through those same stages during COVID, too.
I’d like to move on and be an angry bitch again. I drop this Jack Newfield quote so often I should probably get it tattooed across my back, but I’m going to drop it again now, as a much-needed reminder. “Compassion without anger can become merely sentiment or pity. Knowledge without anger can stagnate into mere cynicism and apathy. Anger improves lucidity, persistence, audacity, and memory.”
There are plenty of reasons to be angry right now: number one being that fossil fuel interests are using the COVID emergency to push through projects and policies that will worsen the climate emergency. Worsening the climate emergency means sacrificing millions of lives and trillions of dollars in economic damage. The people most impacted by the climate emergency are the same people most impacted by COVID-19—low-income, minority populations. And people in these communities often do not have the luxury of advocating for themselves, especially now. Our political leaders, mainstream journalistic institutions, and corporations are certainly not advocating for them.
I feel a responsibility to turn the guilt and grief I feel for myself into anger and outrage on behalf of those communities. Because the fact that we’ve allowed the COVID crisis to erase climate change from our collective memory is truly fucked up and irresponsible. I may be suffering now, but my suffering pales in comparison to most. I am healthy. My loved ones are healthy. I can afford rent and food. I’m also lucky to even be able to do this job right now, considering how fast this industry is bleeding out alongside the rest of the economy.
I think making this mental change will break me out of the funk I’ve been feeling. Research shows, after all, that acting to help others is often beneficial to your own mental health. I know that when I am angry, I am driven to act. I know that when I act, I feel better.
I’m writing this in the first person because I understand everyone’s situation is different. I don’t want to presume to tell others how to behave or feel in a crisis. But perhaps you are also a Climate Person in a funk, wondering how to break out. Perhaps you also hold immense privilege compared to others. Perhaps you need someone to snap you out of your own self-pity and snap you back in gear. Perhaps I can be that person for you.
I am hoping you can be that person for me. Before COVID, I was so pissed off about the climate crisis that there was no way you could shut me up about it. I need more things to not shut up about. If you know of any reasons for me to be angry—especially if they are climate- and COVID-related—email me: email@example.com. Let’s not let the planet burn without a fight.
HOT ACTION: Show solidarity with scientists, make a face mask
HEATED veterans likely remember Hot Action, a once-in-a-while section of the newsletter where readers suggest actions individuals can take to help solve the climate crisis. I sort of stopped doing it after the paid launch back in December, because I had other priorities. But now seems like a good time to bring it back, no?
I’ll get Hot Action re-started with a suggestion of my own. As you may have seen, the CDC now recommends wearing cloth face coverings when out in public to slow the spread of coronavirus. The president, however, says he will not wear a mask, using the extremely adult rationale of “I just don’t want to wear one.”
It’s very on-brand of Trump to do the opposite of what the nation’s best scientists recommend. (See: climate change). But if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it should be that listening to scientists saves lives. So consider wearing a facemask as a show of solidarity with them. Wearing a mask also doubles an act of community solidarity, as Yes magazine argues, “showing people around you that you care about protecting them as much as keeping yourself protected.”
Personally, I found the activity calming as hell—and I got to express some *creativity* in the process.
The CDC has guidelines for making facemasks HERE.
Have an idea for individual climate action you want to see featured in HOT ACTION? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHAMELESS PLUG FOR TEAMWORK
Another thing that’s been helping me feel better and motivate me to get off my ass for the climate is working with other people. It helps hold me accountable and feel less alone.
I normally do this newsletter by myself. But last week, I wrote and reported a story on the state of household recycling with Cheddar’s Megan Pratz. Check it out if you missed it.
I’ve also been awestruck and inspired by my podcast production team. They are working so incredibly hard to make our limited-release series on the connections between COVID-19 and the climate crisis. My co-executive producer Mikel does it while running his own business and homeschooling two kids! Meanwhile, I’m sitting in my apartment whining about how I haven’t had the time to finish Tiger King yet. I’m the worst.
ICYMI—which I can’t imagine you did, because I haven’t shut up about it for a week—our first episode was with Bill McKibben, who laid out lessons climate activists can learn from COVID-19, and our second episode was with Kate Aronoff, who explained why it’s stupid not to address climate change in our economic relief spending for coronavirus.
New episodes of the HEATED podcast drop Wednesday and Friday this week. Episode 3 will be with climate justice activist Anthony Rogers-Wright, and Episode 4 will be with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, pediatrician and interim director at Harvard C-CHANGE.
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Stay hydrated and I’ll see you soon!