7 Stages of Grief for the Anthropocene

Loss: Some of us have only known a life accompanied by facts of the climate crisis. Others remember decades of growing awareness around global heating and decades of inaction. In both cases, grief first grew out of knowledge—knowledge of what has been, what is, and what will be lost.

Sorrow: Our word sorrow comes from the German sorge, which means “worry.” Your ravaged homescape keeps you up at night. You look in the mirror and try to read between the new lines etched on your face. Note that there is no etymological bridge between sorrow and sorry. Moving through grief is not as clear-cut as our old-growth forests.

Rage: Confronted, sorrow shifts. The damage could be so much less if its products weren’t lining the pockets of the very few. A sticky “everything is fine” spun-of-your-daily-routines web pins your arms to your sides and makes you furious. Or maybe your sadness turns to anger when you hear of the human-made toxics found in every inch of the way from the North to the South Pole.

Bargaining: There’s plenty of advice out there if you want to save the planet: Take shorter showers. Use different lightbulbs. Ride your bike. Recycle, or maybe even reduce. No shortage of people want you to believe that isolated individuals can solve our environmental crises by changing their consumption habits.

Dread: But if you’re reading this, you probably also read the news for at least two minutes this morning—long enough to discern that, despite the good intentions of many, we’re still on a collision course with widespread ecosystem collapse. After wallowing through mucky emotions and emerging to take action, you find it disturbing that your hands still aren’t clean.

Despondency: Proffered solutions wither as you mentally chart progressively grim predictions. With snowballing dread, you wonder if the moment for a superhero to materialize has come and gone, if the credits are already rolling. Who
knows what you should do now? If grief is loving an absence, you deflate to shrink-wrap yourself around it.

Engagement: But in vacancy lies also space. When you rise up from the tear-stained earth you see others working to be a part of something sane. In refusing to accept the way things are, you accept instead the old adage that everything you do, or don’t do, is political. Now the dirt of dedication streaks your palms—clean hands are for chumps. Sowing gratitude becomes a subversive act: full, we are a harder sell. This web is my home! you roar, spinning another strand.

Miranda Perrone is a writer, outdoor educator, activist, and cartographer whose work promotes socioecological change.

Illustration: “Charcoal Boys,” by Roger Mello

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1 thought on “7 Stages of Grief for the Anthropocene

  1. Everyone needs to get their head in the game and stay in the “rage” stage until justice is done and a pound of flesh is exacted from each of the evil doers who are destroying the planet. Nothing is more pathetic than the impotent hand wringing of effete, ineffectual “weak sisters” who run around saying how “sad” it all is while doing little or nothing to stop it. These are the we-are-the-world wets, the hands-across-the-aisle compromisers who advocate bringing a hug to a knife fight. Only cowards sit around waiting for “karma” to happen when their Mother (Earth) is getting mugged, as we speak, by packs of greedy, selfish thugs.

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